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Visualizing Peace(ful Cities): The Invisible Urbicide Project

    In autumn 2022, I created the Invisible Urbicide Project to encourage a general audience to visualize peace architecturally, since I believe that the built environment is overlooked as an actor in contemporary crises. The Instagram profile which I created as the hub for the project poses two questions: 1) Is the city dying, and if so: what implications does that have for peace?, and 2) Can architectural theory help us reimagine urban space and rediscover our sense of place, with positive benefits for peace? I have focused particularly on producing thought-provoking content in response to the first question, because visualizing the fragmented city is essential to visualizing the cohesive, inclusive, sustainable city. 

    The concept of ‘place‘ structured my methodological approach to visualizing the fragmented city, as well as possible ways forward. ‘Place’ foregrounds cultural renewal and placemaking instead of techno-centric design and extensive construction, which feature heavily in the urban models I have reflected on in my Visualising Peace(ful) Cities series linked below. 

    As my poem, featured above, concludes, ‘belonging is peace in its most potent form’. Through digestible posts on the Invisible Urbicide Project Instagram, from accessible reflections on relevant scholarship to interactive activities, I examine peace through the lens of place. I aim to explore how the concept of belonging, and alienation in its absence, disrupts standard imagery of peaceful environments, usually comprised of utopian public spaces, abundant nature, and affluent private architecture, to encourage more inclusive, human-centric, and community-led design thinking and placemaking.     

    Invisible urbicide is based on the concept of urbicide, which is defined as the killing of a city. It is usually used to describe the military strategy of urban destruction. However, in my research it was not mass destruction, loss of resources and infrastructure, or military defeat that was emphasized as the goal of urbicide, but rather the destruction of civilian homes – and the sense of belonging that is bound up with them. (This podcast offers an excellent introduction to this kind of urbicide, as part its wider discussion of ‘the architecture of war and peace’.) In other words, as well as demolishing physical objects, urbicide destroys something that is not entirely tangible: sense of place.

    I observed that digital technology and consumption, among other factors, are diminishing people’s connection to nature and community, ‘killing’ the distinct identity of the environment in which they reside. Therefore, sense of place is being lost in cities that think they are protected from bombs and war. They are experiencing invisible urbicide. The aim of the project is not to equate invisible urbicide with military urbicide, but rather to destabilize the Global North’s false assumption that peace, prosperity and safety are synonymous in their cities. Furthermore, I want to explore how invisible urbicide, which is universal in nature, reveals the interconnection of the world’s disparate built environments.  

    Initially, I wanted to know what peacebuilding architecture looks like. Is there a specific aesthetic or architectural school that could combat invisible urbicide? I found no answer to this question. But I now realize that it was a futile question to pose in the first place. What I discovered in my research was that architecture is perpetually reconstructed. Every time a building is experienced by someone, it emerges anew. Therefore, all architecture has peacebuilding potential if it is able to be experienced and understood. This recognition of place, the feeling that you are somewhere rather than anywhere, has less to do with where you are, and more to do with who you are. Your experience of architecture is as much shaped by the environment itself, as by your memories, culture, heritage, degree of familiarity, etc. Therefore, it is architectural theory (what narrative does architecture tell us about humanity?), rather than architecture (what can we build?), that I aim to explore as I grow the Invisible Urbicide Project. 

    What do you think?

    • Do you think the city is dying? If so, how have you observed the deterioration of urban functions and community identity where you live or in cities you have visited?
    • Do you think your sense of place and sense of peace are connected? If so, how do you visualize their intersection?
    • Do you think that being engaged with the digital world has in any noticeable way altered your experience of the physical world? Has this shift affected your sense of inner peace?

    If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

    You might also enjoy ‘Visualizing Peace(ful Cities): The 15-Minute City’, ‘Visualizing Peace(ful Cities): The Line in Neom’, ‘Visualizing Peace(ful Cities): The Experimental City’, and ‘Visualizing Peace(ful Cities): Arcosanti’.

    Eleni Spiliotes, December 2022

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