Complex Design – Syrian Voices or the Displacement of Progress

Complex Design – Syrian Voices  or the Displacement of Progress


How can we create hope in times of darkness? 
The traditional way is to create an Utopia, located in a future society and a presence of an idea or  a paradise in our minds and hearts, its source located beyond the material world.
How can we create hope in the Middle East? Hope in Syria? Can heaven, technology and social justice move together?
Some people say there is no hope in this world, only in heaven. And they cry for lost children and parents, friends whom they will meet over there, on the other side.
Deleuze and Guatarri tell us that we will all be like little bees, or ants in a root system, a big collective without the rigid striated spatial hierarchy we used to have – also without strong individuality. From now on, we can imagine society and power relations like rhizomes, a network of roots under the ground, instead of trees and pyramids.
Belief allows us to know about eternal heaven, and the inner peace and dignity of the poor. Belief has a strong call for the poor, but the diversity of religions leads to war, when people misunderstand and try to implement the sovereignty of divine power to social power relations or modernist political parties and military machines, while the real hidden reasons for the war are decreasing resources.
Design and architecture find a new source in Social Design in the 1970s, and we can see in the reality and practice of recent decades an explosion of Viktor Papanek’s early social design theories, Design for the Real World.
Papanek laid the foundation for creating objects that help the poor, rather than increasing consumption through packaging and branding.
How do architecture and design, two modernist fields or genres, relate to the call of the Good, and to the chaos of power relations, or to the cruelty of the anachronistic military machines?
How do forms change in the moment of decentralised power and knowledge? How do they change in times of self-publishing, when self-publishers and autodidactic architects continuously overwrite the aesthetic canon and modernist forms, which have survived as the product-aesthetic of brands? How does form change when the genius and the dilettante come so close to one another, as it happens in the rhizome-like space of the internet and its self-published webpages?








                               Home-made vehicles for abandoned train tracks ( photo from a Hungarian website for second hand goods)


What happens when the centre and the periphery have for a few decades similar access to knowledge production and know-how?
How does the archaic relate to the modern?  
Urban gardening is created as a socio-aesthetic system with exemplary value and aesthetical display in big cities like Paris and Berlin. At the same time, urban gardening is practiced for survival in all forms in the besieged cities of Homs (food transports are blocked on the road by the regime for the past year), as those who have remained go on the internet, log in and look for the know-how to create their own urban roof-gardens in Homs, to increase the chances for their own survival.
One of my anchor-points in this discourse relates to the archaic forms of one of the old adobe domes in Syria. The formal aspect of these domes and my childhood memories creates stability. 
The round shape is tranquilising and warm. Later, I discover that this form offers a natural air conditioning system, and I start to think about the possibility of building adobe houses for the displaced people in Syria, instead of tents. Meanwhile, the Swedish company IKEA develops flat-pack houses for refugees. What a new life-style, Buy your flat-pack house, if you are a refugee: take it home and mount it, within an hour. Solar cell and wifi included! In actual fact, Syrian people like it.
A few months later, Syrian architects send me a link to Nadel Khalili’s new technique of “super-adobe” domes, which he developed for NASA to be built on the moon, and which look like the homes of my village displaced on the moon, among all the hi-tech NASA equipment. I have also discovered Magnus Larsson’s invention, a bacteria, Bacillus pasteurii, which should repair concrete cracks and stop the spread of the desert. Biology works in architecture. I discover Papanek’s late traces in India, the Mitticool (mitti means mud): a refrigerator that works without electricity.
I discover Hassan Fatih, who proposed adobe building for the poor in Egypt in the seventies. His research was blocked, mainly by the concrete and cement lobby. And he was placed as an architect in the aesthetical realm of art schools.
But times change, and the lack of fossil energy and resourses is growing. Many states bring new laws to support alternatives, and shut down their nuclear power plants.


This is the point when an extended research begins.

Syria’s horror and human suffering informs us about our own nature and presence – and our future. The slogan of the revolution was “The future will be sweeter”. Can we still create or map our future with the means of aesthetical research?
Of course, mapping creates striated space, according to Deleuze and Guatarri, but we can still explore the complex development of objects, forms and buildings in the moment of transition.


This is the point when an extended research begins.
January 2014, Róza El-Hassan






(all rights the author and Syrian Voices – Mediation and Art section)


first published on




Cubs (Anient  adobe doms),  old postcard from Syria







                                                              Mobile medical station in the Sahara, Africa              













   Urban gardening in Homs


IKEA design for transitional shelter



Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, two French philosophers, wrote a number of works together (besides both having distinguished independent careers).Their conjoint masterpiece was Capitalism and Schizophrenia. A two volume work, consisting of Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980). The famous rhizome theory is introduces in A Thoasnd Plateaus.


Victor Papanek (22 November 1923, Vienna – 10 January 1998, Lawrence, Kansas) was a designer and educator who became a strong advocate of the socially and ecologically responsible design of products, tools, and community infrastructures. ·  Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, Pantheon Books . ISBN 0-394-47036-2.


·  Papanek, Victor & Hennessey, Jim (1973). Nomadic furniture: how to build and where to buy lightweight furniture that folds, collapses, stacks, knocks-down, inflates or can be thrown away and re-cycled, New York, Pantheon Books . ISBN 0-394-70228-X.