The Architectural Aesthetics of Counter-Terrorism, by Peter Mörtenböck & Helge Mooshammer

The first state visit by a French President in Britain in the 21st century took place at the Emirates Stadium in London, a building recently hailed as ‘a prime example of elegant counter-terrorism design’: Large concrete letters displaying the name of the football club Arsenal outside the stadium are built to block vehicle-borne bombs. Similarly, two cast iron guns on garrison carriages, part of the club’s insignia, are not just there for nostalgic reasons – weighing several tons each, they can stop moving vehicles at a critical access point. Given this whole gamut of aesthetic deceit, it may come as no surprise that the stadium’s fanshop is proudly labeled, in bold letters, as an ‘armoury’. What at first sight may look like mere decoration is the minutely calculated camouflage of crisis planning hidden behind a harmonising façade.

‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’ has not only been a long standing motto to adorn the crest of London’s Arsenal football team from the post-war period to the end of the last century, it is also the battle cry of an almost unmappable intrusion of security-oriented forces into our lives and into the structure of urban cohabitation. The case of Arsenal provides an example of an expanding programme of security-conscious planning which aims to implement anti-terror measures without affecting the aesthetic appeal of the urban environment. This liaison between military organization and urban aesthetics has come to epitomize the twofold transformation of urban public culture underway in the Western world: first on the level of political agitation, and second, on the level of practical manifestations in architectural design which have been brought forth in particular historical, cultural and social contexts.

Its artful disguise of mock urban features is to propagate a visual culture of innocent looks: barriers that double as planters, concrete bollards in the shape of giant letters and Chinese Cypress trees of the kind planted at Canary Wharf in London.

This paper argues that there is a certain proximity of today’s urban security policies to a more general complicity of contemporary visual culture and urban warfare. In this militarized urban landscape, the state of being human is defined by a matrix of inclusions and exclusions in which spectral existences justify an endless warfare against the phantasmal infinity of the enemy. No wonder then that pebble-dash fronted terrace houses in suburban England, of all places, have in the public imagination become an iconic image of global terrorism. Less controlled and bastioned than the dense metropolitan environments that are deemed to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, they are now regarded as hideout, breeding ground and launching pad of terrorist networks. In her book Precarious Life (2004), Judith Butler has noted that in the light of such exclusionary practices it ‘is not a matter of a simple entry of the excluded into an established ontology, but an insurrection at the level of ontology, a critical opening up of the questions, What is real? Whose lives are real?’

Peter Mörtenböck & Helge Mooshammer, Vienna University of Technology, AT & Goldsmiths, UK

Harvard Citation Guide: Mörtenböck, P. and Mooshammer, H. (2012) The Architectural Aesthetics of Counter-Terrorism, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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