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Broken cities

Picture: courtesy of

With recent reports that ISIS have re-captured the ancient city of Palmyra, it is another reminder of the 2,000 year old temples and other monuments that were left in ruins by the terrorists and the possible danger to other sites.

While development activity in the Middle East has seen some remarkable buildings created in Dubai, news reports detail the destruction visited on some of the great cities of civilisation: Nimrud, Nineveh / Mosul, and Hatra in Iraq, Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Bosra in Syria. All are extensively bomb damaged, as are the other two UNESCO world heritage sites in Syria – Krak Des chevaliers and Baal Shamin.

There has been an appalling human cost along with significant architectural and cultural loss. However the West - columnist Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian recently - has a moral duty to help rebuild these monuments and these cities, and use all the modern technology and construction methods at its disposal to honour the historic sites while enhancing a better life for the inhabitants.

The opportunity, he reports, will be to re-envision how to build cities where the architecture and fabric encourages tolerance and community.

Sir Simon, who has been editor of both The Times newspaper and the Evening Standard, and Chair of the National Trust, will be speaking at our Future Cities Forum on 6th March 2017 on this topic.

Marwa Al-Sabouni, an architect and writer living in the half destroyed Syrian city of Homs, has also talked eloquently about this (and written about it in her book “The Battle for Home”), particularly on the theme of how the built environment has divided communities and contributed to the civil war.

These broken, destroyed neighbourhoods and historic centres challenge us to ask the question: what are cities for?

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