What caused the war in Syria? Oppression, drought and religious differences all played key roles, but Marwa Al-Sabouni suggests another reason: architecture. Speaking to us over the Internet from Homs, where for the last six years she has watched the war tear her city apart, Al-Sabouni suggests that Syria’s architecture divided its once tolerant and multicultural society into single-identity enclaves defined by class and religion. The country’s future now depends on how it chooses to rebuild.

Marwa Al-Sabouni suggests that architecture played a crucial role in the slow unraveling of Syrian cities’ social fabric, preparing the way for once-friendly groups to become enemies instead of neighbors.

Marwa Al-Sabouni was born in Homs, a city in the central-western part of the country, and has a PhD in Islamic Architecture. Despite the destruction of large parts of the city, she has remained in Homs with her husband and two children throughout the war. In her just-released book The Battle for Home (Thames & Hudson, 2016), she explores the role architecture and the built environment play in whether a community crumbles or comes together, and she offers insights on how her country (and a much-needed sense of identity) should be rebuilt so that it will not happen again.