The relation between architecture and war is ancient; one could argue it is foundational, connected to the function of architecture as spatial claim and the territorial imperatives of the state. Some of the most famous architects, from Giuliano da Sangallo to Mimar Sinan, were trained as military engineers, and even those who did not design fortifications, such as Andrea Palladio, had an abiding interest in military engineering.1 The talents of architects before and after the Renaissance have been necessary ingredients of defense, conquest, occupation, espionage, and war memorialization. An architectural monument that has survived the ages speaks of the builder-patron’s ability to harness resources, a process that is more likely than not linked to war. It is therefore puzzling how little of war we include in our research and teaching of architectural history, even though we routinely use battles and revolutions to organize our chronology and historical context.2

Let us consider this journal. Founded in 1941, the Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians, the parent publication of JSAH, took an active interest in the ongoing world war and its effect on architectural monuments. It reported on architectural “casualties” of war, reprinted notices from the British War Office that were originally published in Architectural Review,3 and voiced its polemic on the war in Europe and Asia and its effects in shaping the landscape of the United States.4 Indeed, in those early issues, preservation of historical buildings was seen in the light of a continuum of war- and peacetime events. Relatively little on war, however, has appeared in the pages of the journal since. Except for a two-page review of a 1947 exhibition titled Washington after the War, I could not locate any until Robert Koch’s 1955 article on the New York Armory, and then again three years later in an article on Godefroy’s Battle Monument by Robert Alexander, followed by Christian Otto’s article on town planning in Nazi Germany in 1965.5 Six years later appeared Willard Robinson’s article on French colonial fortification in Mobile Bay, and then none for another decade.6 Most of the articles relating to war, or the context of war, have been published in the last two decades, and I could find twelve between 1982 and 2011, but that was after broadening the parameters to include the architecture of totalitarian states.7

The JSAH articles relating to war, published in the 1990s and 2000s, suggest a growing interest among architectural historians in both defense architecture as well as the effects of violent conflict: destruction and rebuilding of the urban fabric in the aftermath of war, the changes in architectural and urban culture brought about by war, and the cult of war memorials.8 A spurt in the publication of architectural history books devoted to war and its effects in the last decade confirms this trend.9

In 1993, Nicholas Adams, then the editor of the JSAH, made a plea in the wake of the conflicts of the early 1990s—the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, bombings in Italy, and the destruction of the sixteenth-century Babri-masjid in Ayodhya, India—that architectural historians make their voice heard in these matters.10 He urged his readers to abandon the chauvinism that only some buildings and monuments matter, referring to our collective failure in recognizing the architectural losses in Bosnia-Herzegovina:

The Italian bombings with their superstar subjects have easily found the front pages of our newspapers and our concern. A professor at the University of Rome was quoted in the New York Times (3 June 1993) as saying that, while it would be difficult to defend all of Italy’s monuments from terrorists, because the Italian heritage was so rich, New York would present little problem, he thought, because there were relatively few monuments of value here. It is precisely this kind of chauvinism that we should reject in others, and in ourselves.11

The losses in the Balkans and in hundreds of other locations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, seem not to have registered sufficiently in the annals of architectural history. The chauvinism to which Adams referred is indeed a failure to recognize paradigm shifts in both architectural history and war; Adams’s cautionary note was thus also prescient. In February of that year a “truck-bomb” was detonated in the parking structure under the World Trade Center in New York City. It might have been possible to view the 1993 bombing as just another instance of insurgency against the state in which civilian structures have been made targets because of their strategic and/or symbolic importance. That reading, however, could not be sustained, untroubled, after the 2001 attack that destroyed the twin towers. The attack, the loss of lives, and the mangled corpse of the edifice registered as a historical rupture. Primarily viewed in its singularity, it engendered a different political landscape globally; it produced a paradigm shift.

If war confers significance on buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures beyond the given and accrued, then that monument-making or signifying process deserves analysis. Conversely, the ordinary buildings and sites destroyed in battles and in reprisals, the faint traces of which may only have survived in archives as the “prose of counter-insurgency,” require bringing to architectural history techniques of analysis honed in studies of military history, peasant rebellions, urban protest movements, and guerrilla warfare.12

Does it take away from the importance of military architecture and the effects of the great wars, if all forms of armed conflict (even when the armament is meager) are brought within one conceptual umbrella, puncturing the notion that the term “war” should be retained to denote conflict between legitimate states? That is, does it detract from analytic rigor if we cross-reference different forms of passive and active warfare and rebellion to take into account state as well as nonstate actors? If war is no longer an exception but a rule of political engagement, a process at the core of modern nation-state formation that exceeds the bounds of the Clausewitzian aphorism “politics by other means,” we must attend to both the strategies of the state in controlling and producing territory and the means by which it arrogates to itself the right to violence, as well as the myriad ways in which states and nonstate actors mimic each other in their tactics of armed conflict. Ruth Dusseault’s Field Notes essay on photographs of military training grounds in this issue indicates how deeply the war landscape is integrated with our everyday landscape: our entanglements with the infrastructure of war are so extensive that images of war landscape often appear uncanny, producing a strange sense of familiarity and placelessness at the same time. As Fernand Léger’s Le tronc d’arbre sur fond jaune suggests, a landscape composed of the detritus of modernity may well recall a landscape of war.13

This special issue on war landscapes, then, is an attempt to reintroduce architecture into the context of war, and to question the characterization of architecture as the “text” and the war as “context,” to understand the far-reaching effect of armed conflict in the ordinary and exceptional moments of our lives. The point is not that we should all focus our research on military architecture; rather it is that we should ask what might be gained by seeing the buildings and cities we study through a different lens, thus highlighting connections and processes that were until now invisible. A good example of such a changing optics might be Chandra Mukerji’s method in Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of Versailles (1997): refracted through the lens of an absolutist state keen on asserting its territorial control, the scale and aesthetic grandeur of the gardens of Louis XIV’s château emerge as a material embodiment of a militant state. Through Mukerji’s reading, war as technique and metaphor implicates a wide swath of French culture, from clothing to food consumption.14

The four articles in this issue address four distinct ways of seeing the landscape of war, the commonality being their attempt to excavate the lines of communication, power, and architectural practice that provided the rationale for and gave significance to acts of war and memorialization. Saygin Salgirli makes visible the manner in which the Ottoman state and its subjects understood the relations between buildings—their ideological and everyday architectural import—which in turn prompted the canny selection of the execution site of a rebel leader in the fifteenth century. Reading these buildings through the state’s violent act foregrounds the structural conditions guarding the hegemony of the Ottoman state that were usurped at the moment of rebellion. Karen Weitze’s article on the British and American war efforts, and the creation of testing grounds for air raids on Germany and Japan during World War II, brings out the extraordinary and elaborate process of cross-referencing and knowledge sharing involved in the creation of that war landscape. The involvement of modernist architects in this endeavor—the list of architects involved in that war is a veritable who’s who of twentieth-century modern architecture—and the development of new visual and cartographic techniques generated a new landscape of war. This landscape was abstracted and clarified in maps to facilitate the discernment from the air of specific ground targets. But it was also abstract, both in the sense of modernist compositional choice and as a distancing device that enables “seeing like a state,” to use James Scott’s phrase.15 Jill Pearlman’s article on Soviet espionage in the 1930s and 1940s and the role played by a modernist landmark in Hampstead addresses the abstract formalism of high modernism from a different perspective and by pinning down its historical contingency. She excavates the social and intellectual milieu of Hampstead within which the modest, efficient accommodations of the Lawn Road Flats came to be seen as suitable for operating “under cover.” As Pearlman shows, it was a peculiar conjuncture of events and people during the time between the world wars that created this association and use, meanings the building’s architect could not have anticipated. The problem of unintentionality is at the core of Mecthild Widrich’s analysis of Vienna’s Judenplatz in view of the discovery of medieval archaeological remains underneath the plaza and the problem of historical continuity those remains produced. She traces the search for authenticity in the competition design and building of the Jewish memorial to the modernist obsession with the subjective experience of the viewer, rather than to historical accuracy and the stubborn presence of historical remains. Widrich asks, “Just what kind of history is being commemorated by the dizzying manipulation of remains?”

That seems to me, as I write this editorial in a month studded with dates of World War II remembrance, a good question to ask about all war landscapes and how we go about inscribing them into history.



Guido Beltramini, ed., Andrea Palladio and the Architecture of Battle with the Unpublished Edition of Polybius’ Histories (Venice: Marsilio, 2009).


See Jean-Louis Cohen’s remark about this omission in the context of World War II in Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Paris: Éditions Hazan, 2011), 12.


“In-Memoriam-Monumentorum,” Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians 4, no. 2 (Apr. 1944), 42–43, 52.


See, for example, “The Baedeker Bombings,” reprinted from the New York Herald Tribune, in “In Memorium Monumentorum,” Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians 2, no. 1 (Jan. 1942), 39.


Robert Koch, “The Medieval Castle Revival: New York Armories,” JSAH 14, no. 3 (Oct. 1955): 23–29; Robert L. Alexander, “The Public Memorial and Godefroy’s Battle Monument,” JSAH 17, no. 1 (March 1958), 19–24; Christian F. Otto, “City-Planning Theory in Nationalist-Socialist Germany,” JSAH 24, no. 1 (Mar. 1965), 70–74.


Willard B. Robinson, “Military Architecture at Mobile Bay,” JSAH 30, no. 2 (May 1971), 119–39.


Since then, three articles in the September 2012, one article in the March 2013, and another in the June 2013 issue of the JSAH have dealt with war.


See, for example, Sheila Crane, “Digging Up the Present in Marsaille’s Old Port: Toward an Archeology of Reconstruction,” JSAH 63, no. 3 (Sept. 2004), 296–319; Florian Urban, “Recovering Essence through Demolition: The ‘Organic’ City in Postwar Berlin,” JSAH 63, no. 3 (Sept. 2004), 354–69; Despina Stratigakos, “The Professional Spoils of War: German Architects and World War I,” JSAH 66, no. 4 (Dec. 2007), 464–75.


For example, Nicholas Bullock, Building the Post-War World: Modern Architecture and Reconstruction in Britain (London: Routledge, 2002); Paul Hirst, Space and Power: Politics, War, and Architecture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005); Robert Bevan, The Destruction of Memory (London: Reaktion Books, 2006); Beatriz Colomina, Domesticity at War (Barcelona: Actar, 2006); Eyal Weizman, Hollowland: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2007); Andrew M. Shanken, 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the American Home Front (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009); Martha Pollak, Cities at War in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Cohen, Architecture in Uniform; Gary A. Boyd and Denis Linehan, eds., Ordnance: War + Architecture & Space (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013).


Nicholas Adams, “Architecture as Target,” JSAH 52, no. 4 (Dec. 1993), 389–90. See also Nicholas Adams, “Churches on Fire,” JSAH 55, no. 3 (Sept. 1996), 236–37, 363.


Adams, “Architecture as Target,” 389–90.


For the techniques of reading insurgency in the archives, see Ranajit Guha, “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency,” in Culture, Power, History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory, ed. Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 336–71.


See the cover image and Karen Weitze’s article in this issue.


Chandra Mukerji, Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of Versailles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).


James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998).