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When Syria‘s uprising began, there was hope in Homs. A drab and fading industrial city, Homs had suffered for years in the shadow of both Damascus, the capital to the south, and Aleppo, Syria’s economic hub to the north. But then Homs became the self-described cradle of the revolution. Many of its neighborhoods were early flashpoints for anti-regime protests, which brought crackdowns that sparked some of the first armed opposition to Bashar al-Assad. His forces made rebel-held districts like Baba Amr and Homs’s Old City into examples for other rebellious quarters — by pummeling them with artillery and airstrikes and starving them into surrender. Five years later, Homs is the image of destruction brought on by five years of civil war.
Since a ceasefire took effect late last year, some life has returned to Syria’s third-largest city. But two-thirds of its urban fabric is destroyed, including much of its historic center, and Baba Amr, on the edge of town, lies in ruins. “Homs is the only city in the whole of blood-soaked Syria that has had its market and center destroyed and completely shut down,” Marwa al-Sabouni writes in The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria. Sabouni, a native Homsi, has stayed in her city throughout the war. The architecture studio that she shared with her husband was in the Old City; like the rest of the area, it is ruined. “The undoing of the urban fabric has advanced hand in hand with the undoing of the moral fabric,” she writes. “And that is what is written in frightful scars on the face of Old Homs.”
In Homs, as throughout Syria, people “have lost their homes and their cities, sometimes destroying them with their own hands, sometimes helplessly watching them disappear beneath the rubble.” The Battle for Home is Sabouni’s elegy to her devastated town, a memoir about survival, and a kind of manifesto, stressing the importance of architecture and urbanism for our understanding of the deeper roots of Syria’s conflict and the seeds of civil war.
Why talk about architecture when so many people are losing their lives? Sabouni contends that Syria’s built environment helped create the conditions for a popular uprising-turned-civil war. She isn’t suggesting that architecture or urban planning were the main causes of the conflict, but she makes a convincing case that they reflected the Assad regime’s corruption and increasingly sectarian agenda. […]