Guest Contribution | Marwa Al-Sabouni on A NEW NORMALITY in Homs is delighted to present you a new collaboration with Syrian architect Marwa Al-Sabouni. Born and living in Homs, Syria, Al-Sabouni’s texts offer special insights on life in her war-torn home city and Syria – from an architect’s point of view.

Marwa Al-Sabouni has finished her PhD research on Stereotyping in Islamic Architecture. Her articles were published in RIBA Journal, WSI mag, Architectural Review, and others. will publish a selection of her articles within the next weeks.

Recently, Marwa, together with Khaled Komee, has won the UN Habitat student competition for mass housing, launched in September 2013(more info). Their concept for Homs was awarded a first prize for Syria. Congratulations!

text (c) Marwa Al-Sabouni


Finding yourself in Homs

If you ever, in some bizarre accident, found yourself in Homs nowadays, you’ll find certain things that might be too much for you; but now it has become normal for the people of Homs, for example:

It’s normal to see huge columns of black smokes coming up at anytime, anywhere.
It’s normal to see that all the shops and city market have opened on the pavements of the remained city.
It’s normal to see that the whole population which was spread over nearly 15 sq. Miles; now has narrowed to fit in 5 main neighborhoods occupying approximately only 1/5th the space!
It’s normal to be faster on your feet than in car.
It’s normal to be late standing on a check point.
It’s normal to spend your day just to provide to your home; everything is hard to get.
It’s normal to be talking to a friend in the street in complete calmness, and turn your head to find him down; hit with a bullet had lost its way down.
It’s normal to hit a wall at every turn; concrete walls had been constructed between different areas closing 90% of the back streets.
It’s normal to be kidnapped for any reason.
It’s normal to pick up the phone one day, and hear that someone is asking for a huge ransom to return one of your loved ones, or just to tell you come pick up his body.
It’s normal to bury your lost ones alone.
It’s normal to say good bye to one of your family members for the last time any time you close the door, and never hear anything about them, to lose them forever without knowing if they’re dead or not.
It’s normal to lose people for heart attack or even losing mind!
It’s normal to lose your entire savings and real-estate.
It’s normal if you left your home due to one of the ongoing battles, to come back and find it- if not down- wiped off clean, robbed till the last water tap and even power keys; to be back on structure.
It’s normal to find your personal photos flying in the streets of your disaster area.
It’s normal for cats to disappear for months because of the conflict.
It’s normal to prefer dying to getting sick; with so much limited medical care.
It’s normal to walk in a crowded street and hear only silence!
It’s normal for those who are getting married to have weddings in their apartments at noon!
It’s normal to forget the shape of the moon or the blackness of the night; because you are at much greater risk with no sun.
It’s normal to see broken car windshields that their owners had become too tiered of changing them over and over.
It’s normal for your home to rock from voices.
It’s normal to see families “chose” to live in incomplete residential buildings and have cardboards as windows and cement as their flooring.
It’s normal to see homeless asking for money with their kids.
It’s normal to see at nearly every corner a group of unemployed men sitting as mini coffees.
It’s normal to become numb and lose the energy to have sympathy.
It’s normal to never flinch to a massive voice of explosion.
It’s normal for kids to play in the streets under the voices of shooting and hitting.
It’s normal that they don’t get proper education.
It’s normal to go back to the same place that a Hawn had hit, only after few minutes, wash the bloods off the street, and continue your work; or you’ll die of hunger. To become like ants; leaving the ones who died and back in line to the same job.
It’s also normal not mention all that.

None of that was acceptable or even imaginable; at first the whole city used to go on a curfew if someone heard a bullet. A lot of people had several homes. The questions that we’re asking after these huge transformations are; what kind of life these people will go for if they managed to stay alive after all this is over? Will they buy homes, or will they be too afraid to do so and go for rent? Will they buy new stuff? What is the quality of materials will they put in their buildings? If the city can go this small, even after the travelling ones come back, how much space do we really need? If the whole trade area (city center) is now a restricted area; what kind of centers do we actually need? and what form of planning is needed?

We are standing on a rare cross road in history, architecture and urban planning have a unique chance to change in this unfortunate situation, the important question is who will take it and how?

Published first by Wall Street International Magazine

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