With nearly 100,000 Russian troops situated on the Ukrainian border, it seems as if war in Europe is imminent for the first time in decades. While it may not necessarily be fought on the front lines, heavy artillery and cyber attacks can easily cripple each nation, and weaken their infrastructure, both virtual and physical.

When war strikes, damage follows. Structural damage. Societal damage. Cultural damage. Century-old buildings and institutions can be levelled with a few artillery shells, and with it dies the history and heritage of many cities’ cultural icons. 

While architects aren’t typically involved in the immediate responses to disaster, attention eventually turns to the rebuild, or the restart. Many architects aim to simply rebuild fallen buildings to their every crevice, ensuring every detail remains as identical to its predecessor as possible. Others use it as an opportunity to contemporarily update former buildings, channelling the character of what was there previously and allowing for modern architectural learnings to strengthen a building.

What can also be done, and is typically unorthodox, is to start from scratch and create something else entirely. When Britain was decimated by German bombs following World War II, the general notion across the board was to start fresh, utilising the knowledge on offer and lessons from the past in order to shape what came next. What came of this planning were the English council estates that have lasted generations and housed many a British citizen.

Many wartorn countries have had their cultural icons and institutions targeted, in an attempt to erase the identity of a city. Urbicide, meaning ‘violence against a city’ is common in Gaza and Israel, Syria and Libya, with those attacking the cities looking to cripple a city and diminish its spirit. The damage can be permanent, and as a result the cultural significance of the building may not ever be felt again.

ukraine building destroyed war

This building in Lysychansk, Ukraine, fell victim to bombs in wartime. Are we to see more Ukrainian buildings destroyed in the coming months?

But the solution may lie in preparation, not reparation. Architects in Syria are documenting the design features, history and character of buildings in case they may fall victim to a bombing. While many may argue time has run out for the cities of Russia and Ukraine, the architects and urban planners in each country may well benefit from any work they may get done before the alarms sound. Building Information Modelling technologies have given us the ability to recreate physical buildings within a virtual context, making it far easier to identically rebuild should the situation arise. 

Arup Analyst Ammar Azzouz is a former Syrian architect now based in London. Originally hailing from Homs, a city that has seen 50 percent of its buildings destroyed, the Analyst says assistance from practitioners from outside wartorn countries will give the architects on the ground the resources and backing required to allow for every corner of the city to be documented. Some of the ideas floated by Azzouz include:

  • Form research collaborations and partnerships with universities outside the country
  • Transfer knowledge through online workshops and academic courses
  • Develop online libraries to share learning materials, educational tools and project case studies
  • Translate materials into local languages
  • Provide training opportunities outside the country, via conferences and other programs

In wartime, it becomes inevitable that infrastructure and buildings of significance will be destroyed. Given the knowhow of modern architects and the technologies on offer in order to collate and maintain the data of said buildings, we are better equipped now more than ever for the rebuild, should it ever be needed. The situation in eastern Europe is being watched by the world with baited breath, but while attention is rightly focussed on whether or not a shot is being fired, attention should be paid to the built environment, and the potential destruction of the significant buildings of each nation, and what can be done to guarantee that the character and form of each building is maintained, irrespective of whether or not it is blown to pieces.

Image: Wikipedia