During World War II, the U.S. Army was so concerned about Japanese air attacks that they camouflaged entire sections of Burbank with green cheesecloth netting. In other areas, they put up fake-out towns and suburbs. The remarkable photos have achieved cult status among architects and planners.
Asher J. Kohn, an American law student profiled by The Atlantic Cities website this week, imagines architects using the same principle to outsmart a very 21st-century form of warfare: the unmanned drone. Shura City is Kohn’s proposal for a theoretical “droneproof” community. Patterned netting is just one of the devices Kohn imagines; minarets and badgirs confuse flight paths, and a precise climate control system befuddles heat-seaking sensors.
Shura City is both an architectural polemic and an exercise in law. Kohn tells The Atlantic Cities’s Sarah Goodyear:
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. Architecture can work where law cannot by giving dignity and safety to people physically when they are not afforded those privileges legally.
The project has particular weight this week, as the legality of a leaked Obama administration memo defending the legality of using drones to target American citizens has ignited contentious debate. But as Kohn implies, in some parts of the world, drone warfare isn’t a legal screed—it’s a fact of life.