Photo: Park in Future Aleppo by Mohammed Qutaish. (Mmuseumm)
FROM THIS EPISODE
"Future Aleppo" by Mohammed Qutaish
Photo courtesy of Mmuseumm
The will to invent can flourish even in situations of extreme duress. You’ll find the evidence of that in Future Aleppo, an installation at the Skirball Cultural Center. The four-by-four-foot model was made by a young Syrian boy and aspiring architect named Mohammed Qutaish. He made it with the help of his father between 2012 and 2015 while living in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.
As he watched his city get demolished, Mohammed carefully crafted his vision for a future Aleppo using paper, wood, colored pencils, and glue. He lovingly recreated destroyed landmarks, like the medieval Citadel and his favorite park, and added imaginary, forward-looking buildings and design features: gardens, rooftop pools, bridges, roads, solar panels and helicopter pads.
While much of his model was destroyed when Mohammed and his family fled to Turkey, the surviving portion was brought to the US by Alex Kalman, founder of Mmuseumm, a pop-up gallery in Manhattan. Kalman talks to DnA about this “powerful symbol of creativity and resilience.”
DnA also spoke to Marwa Al-Sabouni, who grew up in the city of Homs in western Syria, the third largest city after Aleppo and Damascus. She was trained as an architect and was running an office with her husband when rebels took hold of her city. The Syrian government retaliated, and the three year siege of Homs left thousands dead and its buildings in ruins. Al Sabouni stayed put, but had to give up designing buildings and opened a small book store.
She wrote a book The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria,” out in paperback in September, in which she argues that even before the bombs started falling, her hometown’s buildings bore all the tensions that were unleashed in the conflict.
She says old Islamic cities like Homs were planned in a way that enabled Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic communities to live, trade and worship in harmony. This balance was thrown off first by French colonial planning, then by modernist urban renewal, and then the extreme corruption of today’s Syrian authorities and the “cream-taking class.”
Our conversations by Skype and phone were repeatedly interrupted by the daily power outages, as Al-Sabouni told DnA about the urban perils of separating and isolating groups from each other.
See Future Aleppo, a 3-D architectural model that imagines a post-war Syria
How Skirball's Future Aleppo exhibit shows teen's vision, optimism
Mohammed Qutaish's Future Aleppo is a beacon of hope in the midst of war
Aleppo rebuilt, with cardboard and colored pencil
The 14-year-old Syrian refugee who built the Aleppo of his dreams
Marwa Al-Sabouni: How Syria's architecture laid the foundation for brutal war
Do you feel overwhelmed by huge technological change? Well, imagine how folks felt when they saw Futurama, a model of a Utopian future city shown at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
The huge model displayed cars racing down seven-lane automated highways between suburban homes and high-rise office towers, floating airports and experimental farms.
Shot of Futurama's interior (1939 New York World's Fair)
Six hundred visitors at a time flew on a simulated airplane ride across this vision of America circa 1960. General Motors sponsored the immersive exhibit which cost today's equivalent of $90 million and attracted around 27 million people during its two-season run.
The designer Norman Bel Geddes created Futurama. Born in 1893, he was a ninth-grade dropout who went on to become a towering innovator of the early 20th century -- shaping products, advertising, stage design, buildings, aircraft, dance clubs and cities. His designs ranged from an Art Deco cocktail set to the bright orange, round-cornered Patriot Radio, a streamlined ocean liner, the Palais Royal nightclub in 1922, and plans for a pilot television studio for NBC in 1954.
Photo of B. Alexandra Szerlip by Adam Keker
But he never got his due, says writer B. Alexandra Szerlip, and was upstaged in design history by near contemporaries Frank Lloyd Wright and Raymond Loewy. So she decided to correct the record by writing a book about him, called The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America. The book traces the journey of a penniless man who made his way from the Midwest to New York, armed with the gift of drawing and plenty of grit.
B. Alexandra Szerlip, author
Inside every Utopia is a Dystopia
The Believer: Colossal in scale, appalling in complexity
Back to the future with Norman Bel Geddes
Rediscovering Norman Bel Geddes, the visionary who laid out America's future
B. Alexandra Szerlip
More From Design and Architecture
Designing in the fire zone, LACMA's bridge Fires in Southern California have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes. Author and designer Wade Graham says we are "enmeshed" in fire-prone landscapes and need to respond through smart design and policy. And LACMA’s proposed expansion by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor is nearing reality. Will the gallery spanning Wilshire Boulevard feel like a freeway overpass, or a sculptural work of art?
Skirball Fire threatens Getty Center The Skirball Fire east of the 405 freeway has made the commute through the Sepulveda Pass a scary experience. And the nearby Getty Center has closed because of outside air quality. But management is confident the buildings -- and the art -- will come out unscathed.
Wedding cake, Museum of Failure, Syd Mead We love a good success story, but we love an epic fail even more. DnA visits the Museum of Failure. We also talk to "visual futurist" Syd Mead and architect Craig Hodgetts about creating a "plausible reality." And we hear about the art of cake-making from a West Hollywood baker.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
DnA’s favorite films about design and architecture The boom in documentary filmmaking has spilled into design and architecture; maybe because the design world is brimming with driven and colorful characters that make for great stories. Among those… Read More
LACMA builds a bridge to the future. Icon, or eyesore? LACMA’s redesign is undergoing environmental review and you can add your comments through Friday. But the Draft EIR doesn’t accept notes on the design itself, which contains a controversial bridge over Wilshire Boulevard. DnA reports. Read More