Perth Writers Festival Blog

5 Questions with Marwa al-Sabouni

Thursday 17 November 2016

Marwa al-Sabouni is a young architect, teacher and visionary based in war-torn Homs. Driven by a love of her home country – and deeply influenced by the philosophy of architecture – Marwa’s internationally published memoir The Battle for Home explores how a once beautiful and tolerant land reached its current state of violence and displacement.

Marwa will join us in Perth to deliver the 2017 Perth Writers Festival Closing Address to discuss how the built environment directly affects the community that inhabits it. But before then, we took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

For those who haven’t read your book, can you briefly describe it?

The Battle for Home is a book that tells three stories; the story of my city before and during the war, the story of my experience from within the war in Syria, and the story of my country and how architecture laid the foundation to its ongoing war. It has architectural descriptions, social analysis, and stories of corruption and immorality. It also draws on the hope that there is still something left in Syria; something worth fighting for.  ​

How did you end up drawing a connection between conflict in Syria and architecture?

Architecture becomes a way of thinking; I see it as philosophy, namely a major that all of us can engage in because it is inseparable from our lives. Everyone is around architecture all the time, and it affects the lives of all of us.  ​

Why do you think that architecture, or the built environment, is so often overlooked in areas of conflict?

​Because it is not a matter of life or death. It surely leads to such ends, but its effect is incremental and long, so there is no time to reflect on it when all people are thinking about is how to survive here and now. However, as I try to show in The Battle for Home, the cost of overlooking architecture and the built environment is never getting out of conflict. ​ 

What kind of buildings are we seeing being built in the Middle East and how are they influencing the way people engage with their environment?

​The Middle East is a very wide term and it is very often related to few sets of stereotypes, however, for the lack of a better term we have to use it. The point is, some countries in the Middle East have similar cultures while some others are very different from each other and almost unrelated. Hence, the way of building is accordingly very variable. Nevertheless, there's undeniable effect coming from the Gulf countries where the power of investment is imposing the same kind of gigantic empty towers which inevitably promote no other values than consumerism and ostentation.

People are more and more alienated from their built environments and surroundings and the gap between the society classes is continuously widening. More people are being pushed to the city peripheries while the centres are increasingly isolated and given away to the 'elite'. Above all, our cities are giving up their identity in trade of what is 'exported' and this has proved to be devastating to the lives of the cities economically, socially and culturally.     ​

You ask in your introduction, ‘how should we rebuild what has been destroyed so that it will not happen again?’ Have you found an answer to this question?

​To a certain degree I can say I feel closer to the answer than ever before. The book has helped me explore more in looking for an answer to a question that occupied so many people; architects, philosophers and thinkers –'How should we build' – especially after destruction. But it is a continuing search and I don't think that such a search should ever be over or 'reached'. I mean, the answer will be evolving as human life is, but it also has to have invariables that relate to basic human nature.

Program Manager: Perth Writers Festival

Written By Katherine Dorrington

Constantly switching between her left and right brain, Perth Writers Festival programmer Katherine Dorrington spends half her time with her nose in a book (the real thing ­– no reading tablets here) and half her time crafting a Festival that is best described as a book club on steroids.