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February 18 2017 / 865 Saint Marks Ave



Is a wall an interface between those who erect and those who confront it? In what ways is power embodied and enacted by a wall? How is that power communicated, and does one respond? How does the construction of walls and their communicative aspects relate to the ways people deal with space and information?


Walls can be understood of as physical structures, supporting other structures or providing physical barriers between spaces, territories, and bodies. Simultaneously, however, a wall has qualities that make it communicative: its location and scale; its surface condition; gaps and continuities; and its material construction. These features constitute a medium through and upon which messages can be transmitted.

The talk considered a range of examples (from corporate offices, conceptual art, biblical tales, protest graffiti, and more) of walls used as a medium or interface, and probed the ways in which we are affected by those communicative acts. This might be as subtle as mottoes or whiteboards in corporate offices that subconsciously shaping our behavior and expressing corporate culture. It might be as aggressive as the fiery writing on the wall foretelling the doom of Belshazzar, or the separation barrier between Israel and Palestine admitting no ambiguity about its presence and purpose. Walls also can host calls to violent action against governments, or provide technological cover for acts of organized resistance. It is even possible that walls can enable engagement and encourage democracy, as in the case of Labrouste’s text-filled walls at Ste. Genevieve in Paris. Finally, we speculate on opportunities for productive exchange between those who build walls and are engaged with them in the hope that our understanding of walls as ways of speaking can do more than produce separation and enact the divisions of power.




Throughout history, defensive walls have responded materially to the increased force and capabilities brought about by developments in military technology. These walls have been used historically to both protect against physical damage and, more importantly, to protect information. As the military technology used to access these protected zones has shifted away from the physical realm, defensive walls have dematerialized in response.


In 17th century France, fortified towns became the primary method of defense against potential invading armies. The town's defensive walls served both to protect the inhabitants and their resources from physical harm, but more importantly, the walls obscured what was inside. Spies would travel behind enemy lines to gather information about the layouts of towns and locations of resources to gain strategic advantage.


In order to maintain military control of these fortified towns, Louis XIV kept a large collection of highly detailed scale models of the towns. These models were heavily safeguarded and used as strategic decision making tools. As word spread of their existence, the knowledge of the models because a psychological defensive wall deterring potential attacks. Louis XIV would later show the models to visiting dignitaries as a symbol of his omnipotent power.


With the creation of aerial intelligence gathering and warfare, these fortifications moved away from cities to avoid large numbers of casualties, they thickened in response to the heavier artillery, and what was being protected moved underground, protected from view.


In WWII, the Maginot Line was formed to protect France from the invading Nazi army. These underground fortresses were compared to ships, with full armies and armories housed within. As word spread of their creation, propaganda was published depicting the fortresses as sprawling interconnected underground militarized cities as a method of intimidating enemy forces. However, it was one company with the blueprints of the forts that caused the Maginot line to fall.

The technological advancements of WWII brought about the creation of the internet and satellite technology in what is known today as “The Information Age.” In our modern era of satellite surveillance and cyber warfare, a physical wall becomes an illogical defense against information based weapons. This once physically fortified barrier has materially disintegrated into technological air gaps and purposefully disseminated  misinformation with the one goal that has existed for centuries - power through knowledge.



Security lies at the origins of urbanization and the architectural enclosure and fortification of urban space and the evolution of cities is intricately connected to the history of political technology and violence. “Post-Occupation Segregation in Baghdad" outlines the unprecedented shock and disruption to Baghdad's contemporary urban landscape in the immediate aftermath of the foreign occupation in 2003 and as a result of a sharp increase in sectarian violence.

Between 2003 and 2006, almost 1.6 million residents of Baghdad were driven from their homes as sectarian violence escalated. This population displacement resulted in a substantial reconfiguration of the city’s neighborhoods, which became increasingly homogeneous. To curb the violence, architectural devices, intended to separate and divide were deployed, disrupting flows of traffic and people and transforming the city into a chaotic, unrecognizable maze of concrete slabs. The research investigates the architecture of war, the radical effect it has had on Baghdad’s morphology, resulting in segregated neighborhoods that are sharpening and reinforcing sectarian tensions, which, as more time goes by, abate any hopes for reconciliation.



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