Andrew Herscher


On his book Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict

Cover Interview of August 01, 2010

A close-up

Much of Violence Taking Place appears to be dedicated to violence “over there,” apparently far away—politically if not geographically—from most readers in the Global North.

But in one section of the book, a supplement on NATO’s 1999 air war against Serbia, I suggest that architecture functioned in that war in just the same way as it functioned on the ground in Kosovo—as a way to make manifest otherwise inchoate or invisible presences.  For NATO, those presences were the Serbian “war machine,” “command-and-control system,” “military network,” and “infrastructure”—the explicit targets of NATO’s violence.  Yet those targets were made available to NATO and subject to destruction by representing them architecturally, as the different sorts of buildings which came to be included in NATO’s every-expanding “target set.”

At the same time, the representation of targets as architecture and not as human beings allowed NATO to leave the human targets of its bombing campaign—both members of Serbian armed forces and civilians alike—unrepresented.  NATO represented its war by images like videos shot by cameras mounted on precision-guided weapons or by surveillance photographs that showed buildings before and after they were attacked.

But these images displaced other images and even knowledge of other destruction, inflicted on human beings whose injury or death was only noted as “collateral damage.”  Human bodies were often violated in the course of violating buildings; in these cases, then, the videos shot by precision-guided weaponry were snuff films screened as architectural studies.

NATO’s air war was imagined and narrated as a “humanitarian war,” conducted in the name of human rights (those of the Kosovar Albanians besieged in the violent Serbian counter-insurgency) by the seemingly humanitarian means of precision-guided weaponry.  The humanitarian nature of the war, however, was a fully architectural production, represented by architecture that seemingly allowed the targets of the war to be attacked and that allowed the human victims of that war to be left invisible.