Elements of Drones and Honeycombs


[Installation, May 2014, HNI]

I. Conflict & Innovation: 2014-1914

The view from above

In the Great War, modernity first manifested itself at a grand scale. A hundred years later, some developments, such as drone warfare and the ever-expanding battlefield, can be traced back to that time. By looking at these big issues and understanding their development in a 100 years historical perspective, we can become better equipped in dealing with future challenges.

In 1914, aviation became the ultimate way of seeing. Flying allowed the production of an uninterrupted stream of images, million of negatives were produced to capture daily the conditions on the ground of the enemy. It was the first military industrial conflict. The occupation of airspace was primarily a conquest of space for the sake of seeing. The core of this practice was a mechanism of distant and covert-inspection that allowed applying military supremacy over another territory.

The vertical perspective and the view of the world from above emerged during World War I by the use of zeppelins and airplanes. The aerial photograph documented large areas of land, the battlefield, cities, and landscapes. The combination of the ability to fly, see the ground from above became a fundamental instrument of modern warfare, and of planning.

It changed the way we perceive and relate to our living environment. It liberated the thought and the imagination from the limitation of the horizontal view. The representation of the view from above, the photograph, led to the invention of tools to analyze the view, codify it and turn it into visual information, such as detailed map and plans in different scales. It changed not just the battlefield but the approach toward urban design, like the relation between the city and the countryside. It helped to relate territories and programs to each other – connecting, overlapping or separating them.

The conquest of the vertical space that started in WWI is continuing with the drones. Airplanes change the way we see the world; drones change the way we see, feel and interact with our surrounding.

The intuitive movement of the drone; its sensors and the way it can be controlled from afar allow us to see things not just from above, but from all directions, vertically horizontally and any angle in between. Both in the outside space and indoors.We can see heat prints and sounds. The analytical capacity of the images can read not just objects and movement in space. It can recognize social connections and relationships between one person to the other.

The information that is captured from above and the seeing of the ground becomes more and more articulated and detailed. The drone and its technology, similarly to the groundbreaking transitions and inventions in WWI, are changing, once again, our relation with our living environment.

[Download the installation handout The view from above 2014-1914]


II. The Drone Salon

Drones are unmanned aircraft. They are either controlled by ‘pilots’ from the ground or, increasingly, autonomously following a pre-programmed mission. Over time, drones have become smaller, faster, and better accessorized. They can fly alone or in swarms. They are not as expensive and big as airplanes. They are easily adaptable and can be used for different purposes – from surveillance to monitoring agricultural fields and wildlife poaching; from carrying bombs, to delivering books and pizza; from targeting and killing individuals to providing medical and first aid assistance.

The intuitive movement of the drone, its sensors and the way it’s controlled from afar, allows us to see things not just from above, but from all directions; vertically, horizontally, and at any angle in between. Both outside spaces and the indoors are visible. We can see heat prints and sounds. The analytical capacity of data reads and visualizes not only objects and their movement in space, but also recognizes social connections and relationships between one person and another.

The drone and its technology are changing our relations with our living environment.

The Drone Salon aims to provide a multidisciplinary overview of challenges, opportunities, and speculations on future transitions caused by the use of drone technology both on the battlefield and in the civic realm.

This seminar is punctuated by short presentations and longer conversations between Malkit Shoshan, Ethel Baraona Pohl and experts in the field: lawyers, activists, civic and military drone operators, artists, writers and designers. Amongst the participants are Quirine Eijkman (Targe- ted Killing reports, Amnesty International and expert in international law), Catherine Harwood (expert in international law), Lt. Col Pieter Mink (senior advisor Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Royal Netherlands Army Command), Matthew Stadler (writer), Liam Young (futurist, critic and curator), Eyal Weizman (Forensic Architecture), Ruben Pater (artist) and Yael Messer (art curator).

The seminar is done in collaboration with dpr-barcelona.

[To view the program download: Drones Salon Handout]

Watch the Drone Salon on Vimeo

[Lecture, essay, exhibition]


Drone attacks target mostly civic infrastructure like homes and cars, public spaces, and places of public social interaction like schools, markets, mosques, and hospitals.

In an essay published in The New York Times in mid-2012, the criteria of threat deployed for ‘signature’ drone strikes in Pakistan were criticized as too lax. For example, three male adults doing jumping-jacks in space could implicate a terrorist training facility and therefore could be targeted.

The consequences of counterinsurgency – first by soldiers and now by drones – on the communities and spatial environments in targeted areas is dire. During COIN operations, civilians are routinely killed and civic environments are systematically targeted. The UKbased non-profit organization Bureau of InvestigativeJournalism notes that in these operations the divide between ‘militant’ and ‘civilian’ is itself problematic given the absence of due process for the people killed, and the legal ambiguity of what a militant is.

The Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law note that civic space and communal life in these areas of combat are severely threatened. Many community members shy away from social gatherings, including important tribal meetings and funerals; parents keep their children home as schools are often targeted. The markets are vacant. Human Rights Watch reported recently that a new trend is emerging in the drone-target zones, namely, humans retreat from the civic realm out of fear.

As civic spaces become associated with drones and thus with threat, it generates an intense fear not just from the drone itself, but from all that it targets, among other things architecture and the built environment.

Frightened individuals find escape in nature. They leave their homes and families and start leading a life of solitude out in the wild, far away from culture and far from the matrix of disposition.

2. Compounds

The Netherlands is famous for its professional design practice, both small- and large-scale. It is also known for its humanitarian missions and investments in development projects around the world.

There used to be a clear distinction between war zones and the peaceful civilian world. That distinction seems to have dissolved: war has become part of the public space.

Compounds represent the spatial infrastructure and the buildings that are being constructed to host the temporary international presence overseas, mainly, during peacekeeping and reconstruction missions.

In the process of the research, two workshops were organized by Malkit Shoshan and held at HNI.

In the first workshop, we seek to investigate an inclusive design approach and asking questions such as: Can compounds be planned for multiple usages? When a force leaves its compound, can the compound adapt a second civic life and be more resourceful for the local community?

With Dutch forces deployed at a speedily constructed base in Gao for the peacekeeping mission to Mali (part of the UN’s MINUSMA initiative), a second workshop was initiated. It brought together Netherlands Ministry of Defence engineers plus experts from various fields to consider how this compound, and other bases, might leave behind a constructive legacy.


The workshops included representatives of the Dutch ministries of defense, foreign affairs and development, private consultants, architects, landscape designers, anthropologists and economists.

[Research and seminar]

3. Missions & Missionaries

Missions & missionaries – from the “love doctrine” missions that sent missionaries around the world to help people in need, or to propagate conversion to Christianity – have always been situated at the boundaries between development and humanitarian aid and the promotion of other grand agendas.

The seminar will navigate between territories, scales, and agendas – from religion, migration and economy to war, peace and diplomacy – to explore contemporary global missions and their meaning for architecture and planning, in particular for the reorganization of the civil space.



In the name of peace, Another Civic, An Other Law by Malkit Shoshan

The Legacy of Peacekeeping Missions:Pre-cycling the compound by Malkit Shoshan

Link to the exhibition BLUE: Architecture of UN Missions.

Link to Design for Legacy initiative.

Further information can be found at the online Drones & Honeycombs dossier at The New Institute website.