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Study of Perspective, Tiananmen Square, 1998, Ai Weiwei

When recently we initiated a debate on the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on cities that led to MONU's issue #33, we had the hope that the crisis would make people and governments cooperate more strongly with each other and thus enable them to tackle major problems of all sorts making our cities more habitable and affordable than ever. That expectation was supported by the fact that city governments were very capable, when they wanted to, to swiftly establish new policies, like the ones for the lockdowns during the pandemic, revealing an effectiveness and power that one would usually not expect, which convinced us that they could do much more than they actually do.

However, retrospectively it becomes ever clearer that the pandemic, due to its power to reveal the massive economic and social inequities in our cities, triggered first of all an enormous number of conflicts culminating in mass protests in cities around the world, as we demonstrated in MONU #34. But today we know that this was just the start of our troubles and "you'll see your problems multiplied" as Depeche Mode once sang in the "Policy of Truth".

According to the United Nations we have just entered a new era of conflict. Conflicts are on the rise, with many conflicts today waged between non-state actors such as political militias, and criminal and international terrorist groups. Unresolved regional tensions, a breakdown in the rule of law, absent or co-opted state institutions, illicit economic gain, and the scarcity of resources exacerbated by climate change, have become dominant drivers of conflict. Separately, technological advances have raised concerns about lethal autonomous weapons and cyberattacks, the weaponization of bots and drones, and the livestreaming of extremist attacks. There has also been a rise in criminal activity involving data hacks and ransomware.

The conflict with the biggest impact on cities is probably the armed one, i.e. war. Currently, there are more than 50 ongoing armed conflicts that are taking place around the world, including major wars, minor conflicts, skirmishes and clashes. Some of the current major wars are the Myanmar civil war, the Israel-Hamas war, the Mexican drug war, the War in Sudan, and the Russo-Ukrainian War. And although there is no clear link between the pandemic and the rising number of conflicts in the world, especially armed conflicts, one must see the irony in the fact that Russia seemed to have waited exactly "forty days" - and thus a period of a "quarantine" - to invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022 after the last lockdown in the world ended on January 14, 2022 in the Netherlands (leaving aside for a moment the lockdowns in China and North Korea).

Thus, with this new issue of MONU on "Conflict-driven Urbanism" we aim to investigate how conflicts in the past have formed, currently shape, and in future will influence cities and buildings, whether these conflicts are armed or unarmed conflicts. Therefore, we are interested in how conflicts "drive" urbanism, both in a positive and a negative way, as struggles and clashes of interests, opinions, or principles, no matter whether they are based on personal, political, or international motivations. And we want to include all possible types of conflicts into the discussion on "Conflict-driven Urbanism" as processes that are manifested in incompatibility, disagreement or dissonance within or between social entities, either triggered by superiority, injustice, vulnerability, distrust, or helplessness.

Certain articles in some of our past issues touched on the topic of "Conflict-driven Urbanism" briefly. In MONU #24 we proposed that the battlefields of the future will probably not be found in the open deserts or jungles of conflicts past, but will infiltrate the very fabric of the city itself - a fabric mostly composed of homes, not headquarters. This is becoming evident as a growing number of military training sites in the US and abroad are simulating domestic environments of cities around the world. The city of Jerusalem has been, as long as it has existed, the cause and breeding ground of conflicts, as well as the target and site of dispute and war, as we pointed out in one of our very first issues MONU #5, stressing how fundamental urban planning tools can be in conflicts.

The fact that Jerusalem can be both victim and weapon suggests that not only conflicts impact cities and buildings, but that the design of them can create conflicts too, an aspect that we would like to address with this new issue as well. Other questions that intrigue us are: which types of conflicts influence our urban realm most - the interstate conflict, the intragroup conflict, the interpersonal conflict, or some other type of conflict? How forceful are conflicts of interest, cultural conflicts, ethnic conflicts, organizational conflicts, social or political conflicts when it comes to "Conflict-driven Urbanism"? When are conflicts most powerful as a city-shaping force: before a conflict while preparing for it, during a conflict once reacting, or after a conflict following the reflection on it?

When thinking about how to prepare for an armed conflict, Le Corbusier's infamous Ville Radieuse comes to mind, for which he anticipated defensive need, arguing that spaces between buildings were designed to combat gas attacks as well as bombs. That armed conflicts can spark the creativity of architects during a conflict, we are currently witnessing in the Russo-Ukrainian War, where demountable and scalable schools are being designed, windows are collected for reconstruction, and shells are turned into lamps. How Syria's blasted landmarks are starting to rise from the ruins can be observed in the aftermath of the Battle of Aleppo, which has been described as a form of "urbicide" when many parts of the city suffered massive destruction between 2012 and 2016.

Ultimately, we want to discuss too what function and responsibility we as architects, urban designers, and urban planners might have and what role we might play in processes of conflicts in particular, and in "Conflict-driven Urbanism" in general. And since conflicts must not always be destructive, but can indeed be constructive too, we wonder how we can contribute positively to the resolution of conflicts, facilitating understanding, tolerance, learning, and effectiveness? Ultimately, how can the design of our urban spaces, whether they are exterior or interior, private or public, help overcoming conflicts or minimizing their negative outcomes?

To define what "Conflict-driven Urbanism" means today, how it appears, and where and how it is most powerful these days, we invite you to submit conflict-driving projects, conflict-solving strategies, visionary theories, creative thinking, historical analysis, future outlooks, powerful images, illuminating photography, and courageous artworks. Abstracts of around 400 words, and images and illustrations in low resolution, should be sent, together with a short biography and a list of publications, as one single pdf-file that is not bigger than 1mb to before March 31, 2024. MONU's issue #37 will be published in October 2024.

Bernd Upmeyer, December 2023