Paul Virilio, a great theorist of war, in his book “War and Cinema” focuses on the image and its dramatic role in the course of conflict. His insight into the value and potential of the image for its ability to effect perception and also act as a weapon are alarming. An aspect of his theory I find interesting is the assertion of the importance of the image over the object. Through developing military technology the “eye’s function has become the weapon”, and guns have been replaced by images. Inherent in this argument is the element of distance. Virilio speaks to this distance both physically and perceptually. The targets are now hundreds if not thousands of miles away from where they are spotted on a video screen and button is pressed and perceptually they are equally distant.
This leads me to wonder about architecture’s specific part in conflict and the first thought that comes to mind is that of a target. It seems the built form’s role in all conflicts is a target, whether because of its programmatic importance or because of its function simply as fortification. How does one remove architecture from the firing line?
Perhaps this is an argument for a new type of camouflage. Visibility exists in different forms. There’s visibility to the naked human eye, and there’s visibility as Virilio is referring to through the electronic eye whether as a video image, infrared, radar, etc… If according to Virilio the new mode of conflict exists solely through this new electronic visualization, it might be easier to make the built world around us invisible and remove it from harms way; to create an “aesthetic of disappearance”.
If you think about it the technology already exists to “hide” machinery of war and even the built form through stealth, electronic jamming and good old fashioned camouflage. Why couldn’t these principals be applied to non-military buildings? How hard could it be to fool someone at a distance?
The problem is that contrary to Virilio its not the distance that really matters anymore. What Virilio describes is “conventional warfare”. Conflict defined through its technology and as a result distance. What we are seeing more and more of today is the use of non-conventional guerilla warfare which has proven remarkably effective at handicapping larger, better equipped opposition using conventional techniques. This poses big problems for our “aesthetics of disappearance”. This isn’t to say that I think its impossible to achieve. We must now however consider more than ever, both the distant electronic and the immediate real image of our work.