The “extreme architecture” of “a drone-proof city”

With the recent talk about drone use, here is an interesting thought exercise: how to best build a city that limits the reach of drones?

Kohn’s envisioned drone-proof community, which he calls “Shura City,” is a thought experiment, a provocation (shura, Arabic for consultation, is a word associated with group decision-making in the Islamic world). It’s a self-contained environment with elaborate architectural devices designed to thwart robotic predators overhead. Minarets, along with the wind-catching cooling towers called badgirs, would obstruct the flight path of the drones. A latticed roof, extending over the entire community, would create shade patterns to make visual target identification difficult. A fully climate-controlled environment would confuse heat-seeking detection systems. He has not included any anti-aircraft weapons in this scenario…

Kohn writes in his proposal that he envisions Shura City as a brick-and-mortar response to a 21st-century conundrum, a world in which war is ill-defined and combatants on both sides live in an extrajudicial limbo…

Kohn says that he thinks it is a duty for his generation to challenge the newly mechanized means of warfare that have become routine over the last 10 years. “If people are going to create new and exciting ways to kill people, I think there’s no harm in pushing the envelope of peace technology,” he says. Imagining Shura City is part of Kohn’s personal response to that challenge, a way to hack the machines of modern war.

“There is a deliberate impudence to the City,” he wrote to me. “Drones rely on data mining of individuals and tracking of individuals, kind of like Facebook. The City hides the individual in the embrace of the community, using human traits drones cannot understand as protection. The City subverts the aggressor.”

Peace architecture vs. war architecture. Cities with the ability to hide people vs. the ability of drones to find people. There are some interesting contrasts here. Many urban sociologists like to promote public spaces where people of all backgrounds and circumstances can share physical settings (see the example of The Cosmopolitan Canopy by Elijah Anderson). But what happens if the public spaces that perhaps mark democratic society are places citizens are afraid of being spotted from above? Can cities more closed to above still be open in the sense that we think of them?

While this particular example may be far-fetched, it wouldn’t surprise me if some cities around the cities attempt to limit the effectiveness of drones.

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