As I Was Saying / Ben Frankel Architecture as a helpful metaphor

Published 3 January 2006

Nicolai Ouroussoff, the capable architecture reviewer of the New York Times, last Sunday offered an interesting analysis of the wall, or barrier, Israel is now building to separate itself from the Palestinian population in the West Bank. The barrier stands for more than an architectural monument: For the critics of the wall it represents an approach, a disposition. Ouroussoff was especially persuaded by the arguments of Shimon Navez, a retired brigadier general in the Israeli Army. General Navez now directs the Israeli Defense Forces’ Operational Theory Research Institute, which trains senior military staff in innovative war tactics. The general has little faith in the barrier, which he called “too simplistic, too vulgar” to accomplish its task. “It is a tragic regression in terms of strategy,” he told Ouroussoff. “It derives from a necessity, but in the longer range it will create a lot of damage - a lot of antagonism. It is a huge violation of space that will be hard to remove.”

General Navez is interested in those architectural theorists who sought to break down the hierarchies of postwar society. As did several French architects in the post-1968 era, General Navez speaks of “striated” and “smooth” spaces — of a world shaped by solid walls and a more fluid one that is virtually without boundaries. In General Navez’s view, the West Bank is already an example of smooth space, monitored by satellite and aerial surveillance which has become ubiquitous. General Navez also cites the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, saying that as long as Israel controls the air space, what happens on the ground is essentially irrelevant from a security standpoint. “The main idea is that we can see and do what we please,” he said.

General Navez’s views have exerted an influence over a small group of Israeli generals who are referred to as his “disciples.” He has also met with officials at the Pentagon and at think tanks such as the Rand