The British philosopher and architectural theorist Roger Scruton, whose 1995 book The Classical Vernacular is one of my bibles, has recently written “Rebuilding a new Syria without the divisions” for The Times of London. Syria’s history as a French protectorate weaves the incongruous link: Baron Haussmann ripped down the hovels of central Paris and replaced them with boulevards, an act that today might be likened to America’s disastrous urban renewal, except for one thing: Haussmann’s renovation of Paris was classical. That made all the difference. In this essay, Scruton explains why classicism made all the difference, and expresses hope that a young female Syrian architect, Marwa al-Sabouni, can transform her hometown of Homs and perhaps Damascus some day. Here is a passage from Scruton’s essay:
Although it would be wrong to pin the civil conflicts that have swept through the Middle East on architecture, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that western town-planning and modernist building-types, acting upon the indigenous sense of inferiority, have had a part to play in the destruction. If you wipe away settlements that have been home for centuries, and replace them with faceless blocks that might have been anywhere and are felt to be nowhere, it is not surprising if residents feel that they are already in conflict with their surroundings, and only one step away from conflict with their neighbours as well.
Marwa al-Sabouni’s new book, The Battle for Home, has just been published in Britain by Thames & Hudson, and will be published in America May 17.
The situation of Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and other cities being destroyed by civil war in Syria strikes me as the obverse of the continuing destruction of London. Foreigners blasted London during the Blitz, but its destruction was completed by British architects. Syria is being destroyed by its own people, yet many of its greatest cities had already been largely destroyed by foreigners wielding modern architecture and planning, as Scruton explains in his essay. Perhaps Syria’s cities, at least, might someday be rebuilt with sensitivity to human nature by architects like Marwa al-Sabouni.
Here is “Kismet, but not in Mecca,” a post I wrote a couple of years ago on this general subject of the West’s brutal recolonization and resulting destruction of Third World cultures by invading armies of architects.