Theses (Historic Preservation)

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Gruendel, Emily (2017). Architecture + Havoc: The Agency of Historic Sites During Conflict. (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.


For the fields of architecture and preservation, havocked environments are catalysts for our work managing, manipulating, and reviving the built condition. Over the last few decades, however, technological advancements have transformed the way in which the world sees conflict. No longer must we wait for a peace—havoc reveals itself immediately on our screens. It is critical for the fields to extend their role beyond pre-conflict preparations and post-conflict response. The built environment has just as much agency as warring parties do, and it is essential to critically engage with the physical and humanistic realities of conflict zones.

This thesis proposes a new paradigm for the designer–that of an activist and enabler. By developing an arsenal of spatial tactics, the designer supports civilians of embattled places to sustain life and culture within their built environment. With the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and former battlefront of the Syrian War, as the area of study, this thesis undertakes a speculative reimagining of the historic fabric of the city as a malleable asset for survival. By means of an alternative narrative, Aleppans, through a series of enclaves and networks, transform their city into an archipelago of politically autonomous territories. While this thesis does not offer a solution for conflict nor its prevention, it does aim to mitigate urbicide by empowering people to preserve the tangible and intangible properties of their heritage. This alternative narrative reconsiders design thinking as a tool for intervention and endurance vis-à-vis grassroots action.


Syria, UNESCO, civilian, tactics, war



Date Posted: 26 May 2017