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How To Drone Proof A City


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Foucault may not be rolling endlessly in his grave quite yet, but the day could be close. Just look at DARPA's latest aerial spy venture, the titanically-named ARGUS, a camera system toting 1.8 gigapixels worth of sensors capable of 5-megapixel resolution and of scooping up one million terrabytes--that's 5,000 hours--of high-definition surveillance every day. If indeed we are approaching a day when even the new anti-drone stealth wear just isn't enough, what's left for those peaceable non-militants across the Middle East who'd rather not continue living under an unmanned gaze? Or at the very least, who'd stand to gain a little dignity and comfort by turning the robo-gaze on their watchers?

Take the drone-proof burqa, law student Asher Kohn says, and stretch it over an entire community. At least that's the idea behind Shura City, a conceptual drone-proof town laid out in Kohn's capstone project. With nods to Orientalism and an emphasis on communal living, Shura is clad with various spoofing features that in theory could add up to a clever, inverted sort of consensual non-surveillance that's wildly greater than the sum of its parts.

Drones exploit patterns--a worker's daily walk to and from the fields, a child's playful front-yard romp or, increasignly, a suspected militant groups' late night caravan. Disrupt or confuse these pattern-seeking capabilites, the thinking goes, and you're on your way to architectural cloaking. If you can't rid the world of invasive aerial spy ware (because let's be real), in other words, why not flip "technology, reorder, and arrogance"--the combination of which Kohn considers the empire's greatest, most troublesome power--against the man?

"It is at best expensive and at worst impossible to build armor that can deflect any American bomb," Kohn writes. "Shura City instead uses inscrutability as its armor."

It's as elegant as it is impenetrable--again, this all in theory. Shura is a so-called 'black box' that locks out data miners and military personnel. Yet "it is not a prison," Kohn adds. Rather, it's a gated community that just so happens to afford its citizenry with ample sunshine and safety from the prying eyes of the outside (Western) world.

Here's how it would work.

Window Jammers


Chill. Shura is not a windowless warren. The city's windows are one-way--being clad with computerized mashrabiyas "that blink and recombine into various QR codes" to scramble prying spy drones, residents will still be able to look from within at, say, the watchers.

LED-Backlit Latticework


To cloak Shura's expanive commons, latticework backlit by color-shifting LED windows would create the sort of changing color blocks and shadows that are able to throw off a lot of facial-detection software. "The zebras know each others’ names," Kohn says, "but the lion only sees stripes." And the windows, of course, would still allow natural lighting "for children and stars for young lovers."

Temperature Swings and Signal Spires


The "gate" in Kohn's gated community comprises 11 badgirs and three minarets, similiar to that seen above. The badgirs (windcatchers) help snuff out any individual's heat signal--paydirt for infrared imagers--by widly fluctuating Shura's termperatures. The minarets here would serve to disguise high-wattage radio towers that beam out intense signals in hopes of interfering with the drone's wireless communications.

Mobile Inner Walls

But it's not all specs and reserved optimism. Shura's outer wall would be fixed, yes. But the city's inner walls would be able to be moved around as residents see fit--"to provide for growing families," Kohn says, "heated feuds, or just for the change of it when Farah Abla decides she wants to be an interior designer."

Kohn assures us he is no architect. Neither am I. I'm also not an engineer, or a physicist. Whether or not Shura City could prove a feasible working model for the coming architecture of confusion is hard to say. But it's certainly a start.


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