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Into the Desert:
Questions of Coloniality and Toxicity
2020 Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lectures
Department of Architecture, AAP, Cornell Universoty
Convened by Samia Henni
October 5 - November 30, 2020

Deserts are not empty as they have long been seen and represented. Deserts (both hot and cold) have often served to search, extract, and transport various natural resources, such as oil and gas, as well as to design and build new cities, infrastructures, tourist complexes, farming systems, solar power plants, climate, and aerospace research centers, chemical weapons testing complexes, nuclear weapon research centers, and testing sites, and other settlements. How were these designs managed and implemented? What were their impacts on nomadic, semi-nomadic, and sedentary populations and their environments? To what extent did these deserts' transformations influence the politico-economic assets of the governments in question?

The 2020 Preston H. Thomas Memorial Symposium explored the ways in which politicians, scientists, and architects developed, exploited, colonized, transformed, urbanized, militarized, or polluted the underground or overground territories of a number of deserts in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The symposium featured a series of virtual lectures convened by Samia Henni, who is working on a book project on French nuclear testing sites and military bases in the Sahara Desert. Occurring weekly, scholars, curators, artists, and architects will each approach the topic from a different perspective and discuss one of their current research projects.

The aim of the series was to offer a multiplicity of readings of the desert. Each speaker introduced the spatial possibilities or limitations of the desert under study. Taken all together, the lectures staged an intersectional understanding of the spaces and places of the desert. Speakers included:

-Ariella Aisha Azoulay: "Palestine is There, Where it Has Always Been," 10/5
-Dalal Musaed Alsayer: "The U.S. Suburb in the Desert: Aramco, Dharhan, Saudi Arabia," 10/19
-Paulo Tavares: "Plantation Deserts," 10/26
-Asaiel Al Saeed, Aseel AlYaqoub, Saphiya Abu Al-Maati, and Yousef Awaad: "Space Wars: An Investigation into Kuwait's Hinterland," 11/5.
-Nadim Samman: "The Antarctic Imaginary," 11/6
-Menna Agha: "Architecture as Governance: Displacement, Resettlement, and Power Tensions in Nubian Resettlement Villages," 11/9
-Alessandra Ponte: "Matters of Extraction: The Lithium Triangle (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile)," 11/16
-Solveig Suess: "Overland, There's Shorter Time to Dream," 11/23
-Zoe Samudzi: "Fraught Desert Memorials," 11/30

The Preston H. Thomas series is funded through a gift to Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning from Ruth and Leonard B. Thomas of Auburn, New York, in memory of their son, Preston. The symposium lectures are free and open to the public.

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UNLEARNING
December 9, 2020
A workshop organized by Urban Humanities Working Group:Peter Christensen, Lawrence Chua, Samia Henni, and Lisa Trivedi
Supported by Central New York Humanities Corridor

The events that occurred during Ariella Aisha Azoulay's lecture, "Palestine is There Where it has Always Been," convened by Samia Henni on October 5, 2020, as part of the Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lectures, "Into the Desert: Questions of Coloniality and Toxicity," at the Department of Architecture, Cornell University, call for a reconsideration of the roles of institutions, pedagogies, and sources in academic practice.

Borrowing the term unlearning from the titles of several publications, including Swati Chattopadhyay's Unlearning the City (2012), Azoulay's Potential History, Unlearning Imperialism (2019), and the Black Faculty of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation's statement, Unlearning Whiteness (2020), this workshop seeks to engage in a collective and scholarly exchange about normative roles and our agency as historians of architecture and the built environment in the processes and mechanisms of acting conscientiously and correctively as researchers, teachers, and members of academic communities.

The Central New York Humanities Corridor's Working Group: Urban Humanities, which includes Peter Christensen (University of Rochester), Lawrence Chua (Syracuse University), Samia Henni (Cornell University), and Lisa Trivedi (Hamilton College), is pleased to host this workshop. We have invited Swati Chattopadhyay (University of California, Santa Barbara), Charles Davis II (University of Buffalo), Ana Maria Leon (University of Michigan), Lesley Lokko (City College of New York), Victoria Young (University of St. Thomas), and Mabel O. Wilson (Columbia University) to share their experiences, concerns, and hopes in an era of institutional change that promises the prioritization of diversity, equity, inclusion, in pursuit of justice.

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Architecture and Wars:
Forms of Construction and Destruction in War Zones

Convened by Samia Henni
June 2-3, 2017
gta Institute, ETH Zurich
supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Chair for the History of Art and Architecture Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung, the Chair for the Theory of Architecture Prof. Dr. Laurent Stalder, and the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich.


In everyday parlance, a war zone suggests a region in which a war is being waged. In the context of international law, a war zone refers to a demarcated area, on land or at sea, within which the right of neutrality is not respected by belligerent nations. After the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, theaters of war became gradually blurred and often undeclared, and the very form of warfare changed significantly. Wars implied not only conventional symmetric models – armed conflicts between two or more military authorities in a defined battlefield – but also asymmetric conflicts and in some cases total wars. Whereas an asymmetric war is an armed struggle among state or non-state powers whose respective military resources are unequal, a total war mobilizes all civilian-associated means and ends. However, symmetric, asymmetric, and total wars do not exclude one another; they frequently interact or coexist.

In recent decades, critics and historians of the built environment have paid particular attention to the implications of the Second World War and the declared and undeclared war zones of the post-Second World War era in the design of infrastructures and buildings; in the execution of extrajudicial territorial occupations; in the urbanization of warfare; in the mechanisms of destruction, surveillance, and security; in the “Global War on Terror”; and in the mapping of discontinuities and differences among various military schools. The conference aimed at highlighting the legacies connecting nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonial wars and twenty-first-century counterinsurgency and disclosing the intersections between the history of the built environment, colonial practices, and military operations.

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