Asher Kohn isn’t an urban planner, but he has managed to draw up designs for an entire city — and a drone-proof one, at that. But according to Kohn, a town that’s impermeable to the newest instruments of war isn't just a novelty. It's a necessity.
“Architecture against drones is not just a science-fiction scenario but a contemporary imperative,” says Kohn, a 25-year-old American-born law student who is currently living in the Netherlands. And although architecture and urban planning are rarely core classes of most law school curricula, earlier this year Kohn handed in a simple blueprint for an assignment offered by a professor at the Sam Fox School of Design in St. Louis, Missouri.
“I was assigned ‘military architecture’ and realized that for every huge military advance that made it easier to blow up urban areas, there was usually a passive response invented within a generation,” he tells Britain’s Daily Mail. “So I was wondering what the response would be for drones if drones are the next great advance like artillery and airplanes were.”
A hypothetical answer is presented in Shura City, a fictional compound that Mr. Kohn’s drew up earlier this year and published online, garnering a fair share of attention from bloggers and reporters in the weeks since. But since Kohn isn’t exactly a trained architect — and says he wasn’t even taking the Sam Fox class for credit — his blueprint is one that doesn’t necessarily examine the most aesthetically pleasing building options. Instead, Kohn favors components that could keep a small civilization in tack as the use of drones escalates and the unmanned aircraft launch missiles around the world on a daily basis.
“As a law student, I am fascinated by drones’ existence in a post-legal world,” he writes in his report. “Architecture can adapt, and this project clearly aims to show just those adaptations, but American jurisprudence is simply not capable of making clear, comforting, adjudications on drones and the sorts of crimes they have been created to deter. Architecture as a discipline has a long history of being capable of developing within the cracks left by law.”
"In the case of drones, the current legal regime is just wholly unprepared for warfare by algorithm," he explains. "Architecture can work where law cannot by giving dignity and safety to people physically when they are not afforded those privileges legally."
Kohn’s explanation could be considered quite the bummer, but it isn’t without reason. With the United States governments largely defending the extrajudicial killings of American citizens with drones as the program expands overseas, the bad guys in the eyes of Uncle Sam aren’t just al-Qaeda’s top-guns anymore. In late 2011, a drone strike in Yemen killed Abdurahman al-Awlakis, the 16-year-old American son of a suspected al-Qaeda operative. The White House stands by the killing. Speaking of Shura City, Kohn says, “Such creations are not needed for the John Connors but for the Abdurahman al-Awlakis.”
By using minarets and wind-catching cooling towers called badgirs, aerial drones would ideally be kept out of the Shura city limits because navigating through a series of obstacles would create a nuisance for the drone pilot, who could be located as far as thousands of miles away, in the case of the US drone wars. But those structures wouldn’t even be a starting point. From Kohn’s report:
“Somewhere between the figurative embrace of the St. Peter’s Square and the chain-link fortification of Pablo Escobar’s compound, there has to be a happy medium. Shura City needs a roof because without one it is just a gesture, a Disney-ified attempt at safety. An open sky is an invitation for the patient masters of the air, and those drones feel no need to RSVP.”
Within the city, he also calls on specially-made windows, ones that beam self-destruct codes at drones that have managed to enter Shura from the outside. By implementing QR codes — the same kind of technology that sends commands to smartphones with a single glimpse — he says he’d have yet another form of fortification. That isn’t to say, though, that there’d be no escape.
“The city is a ‘black box’ impenetrable to data miners and military-trained individuals but it is not a prison. It is instead a gated community, providing its society with sunshine and safety from the scary world outside,” he writes.
In other words, though, Kohn suggests that the need for a drone-proof city might soon be imperative. With the right planning, Shura City could exist as a city that serves as a safe-haven and not a prison-walled facility where a step outside means guaranteed execution.
"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 tells Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities.
“I wanted to create a vibrant, colorful, fun and peaceful place for the populations victimized by drone warfare. I wanted to give them the opportunity to create their own community far from the invasive eyes, nose, and tongue of otherwise-faceless robots. I wanted to create the same gated community I was fortunate enough to grow up in and export it to people facing far worse fears than small drugs and sleazy parties.”
Speaking to RT, though, Kohn says his dream might not be a reality anytime soon. The odds of having his design implemented in real life are “pretty much slim-to-none,” he says.
“The relationship between drones/warfare-by-algorithm in cities is way too complex to allow this sort of thing to happen in urban areas,” says Kohn. “And there's no way the sort of people who have a 24/7 eye in the sky would let something like this to be built in the rurality, which was where my idea was.”
“Technology will always out-pace [architecture],” he adds. “But what I think is interesting is how much can be done without technology. The assumptions of human behavior drone warfare relies on is simply not actual human behavior; thus the disconnect, thus the (literally) uncountable dead, the mistaken identities and ‘double-taps’ and ‘military-age males.’ And the State Theory the war has relied on also is remarkably disconnected from lived reality.”