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Post-Conflict Cities Lab Launched at GSAPP

Columbia GSAPP Establishes the Post-Conflict Cities Lab With an Inaugural Project Receiving Support from the Ford Foundation
Press Release
11 December 2018

The Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Columbia GSAPP) is pleased to announce the formation of the Post-Conflict Cities Lab, a groundbreaking research initiative focused on developing equitable, inclusive, and socially-cohesive post-conflict cities. Led by Hiba Bou Akar, Assistant Professor in Columbia GSAPP’s Urban Planning Program, the Lab will focus particularly on post-conflict urban planning and will engage in research on the ways in which planning practice in contested cities has been simultaneously a tool of pacification, conflict, and development.

The Post-Conflict Cities Lab’s inaugural project is funded by a $350,000 grant from the Ford Foundation that Professor Bou Akar received to study “Urban Research and Practice in Post Conflict Settings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region,” particularly around questions of access to housing for low-income Lebanese and Syrian refugees in Beirut, Lebanon. Partnering with the American University of Beirut’s recently established Urban Lab at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Public Works, a Beirut-based non-governmental organization, and with regional support from Columbia GSAPP’s Studio-X Amman, the project will bring together planning research and practice expertise from Beirut and the MENA region to address urban research and practice in post conflict settings. The project also aims to engage local residents and urban practitioners as active participants in advocating for and shaping inclusive post-war reconstruction planning practices and policies.

The Lab’s core mission is to provide an alternative to current post-conflict planning and reconstruction projects, which often increase exclusion of vulnerable populations and harden religious and segregation, causing new rounds of violence and sowing the seeds for future conflict. Bou Akar’s research work on these questions resulted in her recently published book, For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut’s Frontier (Stanford University Press, 2018), which examines how Beirut’s post-civil war peripheries have been transformed through multiple planning exercises into contested frontiers that are mired in new forms of conflict. Based on ethnographic and archival inquiries that build on ten years of research, planning, and design experience in Lebanon, the book focuses on the role of religious political organizations in shaping Beirut’s contested geographies and contributes to planning thought by studying planning practices within a framework of past and anticipated violence.

The Post-Conflict Cities Lab further galvanizes Columbia GSAPP’s position as a world-renowned hub for advancing research on cities and the built environment, dedicated to training future design and planning leaders who are committed to more equitable, sustainable, and resilient cities and societies. The school has a long history of working closely with disadvantaged communities to advocate for spatial justice and social change in support of peoples of diverse backgrounds, and GSAPP’s faculty has been key in guiding organizations and individuals to apply this knowledge in communities throughout the United States and globally.

About Hiba Bou Akar
Hiba Bou Akar is an Assistant Professor in the Master of Science in Urban Planning program at Columbia GSAPP. Bou Akar received her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California at Berkeley. She holds a Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Bachelor of Architecture from the American University of Beirut. Before joining Columbia GSAPP, Bou Akar taught at Hampshire College and the American University of Beirut, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center. She has also worked as an architect and planner and as a research consultant with local NGOs and international UN organizations in the Middle East. She is the co-editor of Jadaliyya Cities, an online electronic journal addressing urban issues in the Middle East region.
About Columbia GSAPP
Among the world’s leading research universities, Columbia University in the City of New York continuously seeks to advance the frontiers of scholarship and foster a campus community deeply engaged in the complex issues of our time. Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Columbia GSAPP) offers a range of programs in architecture, historic preservation, planning, real estate development, and urban design that bring together imagination, experimentation, and critical thinking towards new forms of practice. Columbia GSAPP is committed to shaping a more equitable, sustainable, and creative world by engaging architecture and the built environment from diverse and global perspectives. The school functions as an urban condenser of ideas and drives innovation and change through the leadership of its faculty, the excellence of its academic programs, the expansion of interdisciplinary opportunities as well as the richness of its research initiatives and events.
About the Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.