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Column Marianne Loof | Political Architecture

05 May 2017

Cobouw marianne loof 170718 politieke architectuur

Last Friday, the Instituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia opened its doors for the final symposium of its yearly workshop WAVE. During this three-week pressure-cooker workshop, more than a thousand students work together in groups with local and international architects on exciting projects. This year’s theme: ‘Syria – the making of the future’. The central problem in all 28 final projects was the question of how a city that has been destroyed by war and social turmoil can best be brought to life in times of peace.

It seems like an absurd question to ask at a time when an end to the conflict seems so far away. Yet, a Dutch example shows it needn’t be, as shortly after the start of the second world war plans for the redevelopment of destroyed cities like Rotterdam were already being made, such as the so-called ‘Basic Plan for the Reconstruction’ (Basisplan voor de Wederopbouw).

In Venice, the hypothetical future peace in Syria was being approached as a neutral space in which architects can make valuable contributions. One question that no one seemed to be asking was whether it matters which of the fighting parties will come out victorious, and so who would eventually be helped by the efforts of these thousand students and their supervisors.

Indeed, did it not occur strange to anyone that one the head-members of the jury and sponsors of the workshop was a former minister of the Assad regime? Probably so, but since mister Dardari has been appointed by the United Nations itself as Deputy Executive Secretary to the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, all would seem alright. Dardari has since taken the lead in the international conversation about Syria’s post-war reconstruction, a topic with billion-euro funding potential in the international community.

Architecture is about building a society. In that sense, the university of Venice has been highly successful with this year’s workshop. But Dardari’s presence shows that the motivated and eager students unknowingly entered a space of complex political games in which good and bad are not so easily distinguishable.

July 2017,