The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect

If we can no longer recognise our surroundings as a shared home it becomes easier to contemplate their destruction.

The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect by Marwa al-Sabouni is a profound, understated meditation on architecture’s capacity both to civilise and destroy, written while the author witnessed first-hand the destruction of her native city of Homs.

Al-Sabouni argues that years of misguided and corrupt urban planning have ripped apart the delicate urban and social fabric of Syria’s ancient cities, facilitating the conditions for violence between segregated communities living as strangers in fractured landscapes they can no longer recognise as their own.

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Zaha Hadid’s radical geometries

Some time in the mid-1970s a student came to London from Iraq with a vision of how architecture could remake the world. Remarkably – and eventually – she succeeded.

Zaha Hadid’s untimely death deprives the profession of one its most belligerent, brilliant and fascinating talents at the height of her powers.

After decades of failing to get any of her radical designs built her practice now realises dozens of projects every year for corporations, governments and private individuals across the world.

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Roman pastoral

Here are some images from a visit to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, part of the National Roman Museum.

The Museum has an overwhelming collection of art from ancient Rome – sculptures, mosaics, paintings, inscriptions – and I photographed myself stupid (like all of the city’s museums they seem happy to allow you to snap away as long as there’s no flash).

I was particularly fascinated by the mosaics and paintings on the museum’s top floor, much of it recovered from the first century villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus. These are decorated with little vignettes of everyday scenes, quite different from the monumental art usually associated with ancient Rome. Many of them look like they were dashed off by the artist in a few minutes, and they retain their freshness and humour 2,000 years on.

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Futurism amidst the ruins

One of the many remarkable things about central Rome is its aesthetic consistency. Everything is carefully presented to evoke a sense of fading grandeur. Unlike, say, London, where the hyper-modern arises side-by-side with the ancient, Rome is a vast sepulchre, decaying in the most elegant fashion.

Modern Rome can be found a few metro stops away in the suburbs, but the city centre is a beautifully curated museum Yet there are signs here and there within the centre of visions of a quite different city that could have been. Mussolini’s attempt to impose a Fascist neo-classicism on the city didn’t get too far – fortunately – but he stayed around long enough to make a mark, particularly evident in the Via dei Fori Imperiali highway that bulldozes through part of the Forum, and the imposing Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II.

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