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The Bride of the Desert

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posted on 06.12.2021, 23:22 by Hunter-Wilson, Megan

The Syrian civil war has caused the largest global migration in history, where more than 11 million refugees have been forced to leave their home country due to political conflict. In January 2016 Angela Merkel announced that Syrian war refugees in Europe would be repatriated once the Syrian war is over. But for many Syrians, their homes have been destroyed.  The problem for the returning Syrian people is more than simply providing housing - even more important is how to provide a renewed sense of community as well as cultural and place identity for the returning refugees. This thesis reflects on how architecture can make a difference in helping to re-establish the cultural and place identity of a war-torn country. The investigation takes a speculative approach to this topic with the principal objective being to provoke discussion and awareness about the fragile future of war-torn historic cities like Palmyra in Syria.  The investigation explores how architectural narrative can be perceived metaphorically as a guardian or a hero sitting within or on the outskirts of a devastated city, watching over it, in a place where it can reflect upon the historic symbolic attributes of the city that once provided its place identity. The Syrian site of this investigation is in Palmyra, and for this site the most important attributes are: the historic Roman ruins to the south (past), the new city being rebuilt in the north (future), the community camel racing track in the west (recreation, freedom) and the Tadmor Prison in the east (imprisonment, restriction). These four sites can be understood as icons of the city’s ongoing time line, and acting as catalysts for new development that ensure the continuity of the community’s past and future.  The final design proposition is to establish a metaphorical sanctuary for returning Syrian refugees, a place that functions as: 1) a memorial to ensure remembrance of the devastating crisis, 2) an archive of broken cultural artefacts, and 3) a place where returning refugees can come to understand the war as but one chapter in an ongoing cultural heritage that has endured the past and will move forward proudly into the future. This metaphorical sanctuary acts as a ‘guardian’, meant to greet the refugees upon their return to their homeland. As a sanctuary, they ‘inhabit’ it while awaiting the rebuilding of their homes - and by inhabiting it, they become a community with others who have suffered devastating loss, others who are determined to remember, and to move forward. This speculative sanctuary design has been conceived to aid them in the essential process of recovery, as an architectural exhibition. Like similar work of Woods and Libeskind, it is buildable architecture, never intended to be built.  Through this memorial/sanctuary, the devastation of war and tragic loss can be reflected upon as one segment of an ongoing eternal time line linked back to their ancient civilization, so that the recent war is not perceived as an ending of their community, but instead as an important reminder of a greater narrative that everyone shares, a narrative that can help define their strength and resilience as they move into the future.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Brown, Daniel