A city designed to foil the drones: U.S. student creates a stir with his concept for a community built in response to UAVs


Drone strikes and surveillance are increasingly part of everyday life in the 21st century. Barely a week goes by without news of a fresh attack by the machines somewhere in the world.

According to the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a minimum of 2,629 people have so far been killed by drones in Pakistan alone, with many more in other countries like Yemen and Somalia.

And it is not only people living in predominantly Muslim countries who find themselves targeted, as police and spying agencies are increasingly using the aircraft as a covert means of surveillance at home in the West.

It was recently revealed that the U.S. military drones with surveillance capabilities so powerful they are able to track the movements of an entire medium-sized city all at once.

A city designed to foil the drones U.S. student creates a stir with his concept for a community built in response to UAVs

Mr Kohn, who is currently based in the Netherlands, came up with the idea for his drone-proof city for a class on ‘Extreme Architecture’ he was taking at the Sam Fox School of Design in St Louis, Missouri.

He told MailOnline: ‘I was assigned “military architecture” and realized that for every huge military advance that made it easier to blow up urban areas, there was usually a passive response invented within a generation.

‘So I was wondering what the response would be for drones if drones are the next great advance like artillery and airplanes were.’

However, despite the widespread, and unexpected, publicity the design has been given, he said he was nervous about calling it a ‘full’ design’

‘It’s really just an idea,’ he said. ‘These aren’t blueprints, it’s not like this little 10-page thing is enough for some guy to decide to build his own.

‘It’s really just a conversation starter. I didn’t take even take the class for a grade.’

Attack of the drones: Tribesmen gather at the site of a drone strike in Tappi, a village 12 miles east of Miranshah, near the Afghan-Pakistan border, which killed six peopleAttack of the drones: Tribesmen gather at the site of a drone strike in Tappi, a village 12 miles east of Miranshah, near the Afghan-Pakistan border, which killed six people

In the paper, Mr Kohn writes: ‘Architecture against drones is not just a science-fiction scenario but a contemporary imperative.

‘Such creations are not needed for the John Connors but for the Abdurahman al-Awlakis.

‘The successful check against the machines is not a daydream but an inevitability, and the quicker more creative solutions are proposed, the more likely such answers can be disseminated widely and kept from the patent-wielding hands of some offshore-utopian type.’

Shura City, provocatively named for the groups of elders who take decisions in the Islamic communities which are the principal targets of drone strikes, is a product of Mr Kohn’s fascination for ‘drones’ existence in a post-legal world’.

Ringed by minarets and built from concrete, which drone sensors cannot penetrate, its layout would be specifically designed to confuse from the outside – foiling the airborne watchers’ ability to dish out targeted death from above.

‘The goal is not defense-through-hardening, but defense-through-confusion,’ writes Mr Kohn. ‘By turning the entire community into a closed circuit, drones targeting individuals will not be able to select and detect the individuals they desire once they enter the city.’

Windows of the city would be made from multi-coloured blocks of glass, to further foil drones’ attempts to get a fix on to their targets.

‘The changing colours make it more difficult for electronic cameras to peer in and make out one person from the next without hints of skin tone or clothing colour,’ says Mr Kohn.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone: According to the UK's Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a minimum of 2,629 people have so far been killed by drones in Pakistan alone, with more elsewhereA U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone: According to the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a minimum of 2,629 people have so far been killed by drones in Pakistan alone, with more elsewhere


A sinister airborne surveillance camera gives the U.S. military the ability to track movements in an entire city like a real-time Google Street View.

The ARGUS-IS array can be mounted on unmanned drones to capture an area of 15 sq/miles in an incredible 1,800MP – that’s 225 times more sensitive than an iPhone camera.

From 17,500ft the remarkable surveillance system can capture objects as small as 6in on the ground and allows commanders to track movements across an entire battlefield in real time.

The Argus array‘It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist,’ said Yiannis Antoniades, the BAE engineer who designed the system, in a recent PBS broadcast.

The aerospace and weapons company developed the ARGUS-IS array as part of a $18.5million project funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).

In Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes, guardian of the heifer-nymph Io and son of Arestor, was a primordial giant whose epithet, ‘Panoptes’, ‘all-seeing’, led to his being described with multiple, often one hundred, eyes.

Like the Titan of myth, the Pentagon’s ARGUS-IS (a backronym standing for Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System) works by stringing together an array of 368 digital camera imaging chips.

An airborne processor combines the video from these chips to create a single ultra-high definition mosaic video image which updates at up to 15 frames a second.

Dr Steven Wein, director of optical sensor systems at BAE Systems, said: ‘The ARGUS-IS system overcomes the fundamental limitations of current airborne surveillance systems.

‘Very high-resolution imaging systems required for vehicle and dismount tracking typically have a “soda-straw” view that is too small for persistent coverage.

‘Existing wide-area systems have either inadequate resolution or require multiple passes or revisits to get updates.’

A further addition to the fenestration could be the addition of high-tech equivalents to traditional Arabic mashrabiya – the delicate carved lattice-work which are often seen on windows in Middle East cities.

In Shura City the mashrabiya would be movable and able to form new patterns – even QR codes which would make any interloping drones spontaneously self-destruct.

‘Today, the codes are often shoehorned unattractively into advertisements made for human eyes. This is ugly, stupid, and ineffective,’ writes Mr Kohn.

‘Tomorrow, a drone trying to peer through a window could get guillotined by a mashrabiya contorting itself into a self-destruct code. Now that’s more like it’

At the head of Shura City would be a roof, as a physical barrier to prevent drones coming too close, but criss-crossed with lines to break up the profile of the buildings below.

Making the city a closed environment would also allow it to be climate controlled, in such a way that heat-seeking cameras would be ineffective at picking out the inhabitants outside.

Mr Kohn first submitted the concept for Shura City in spring last year, but his design has been widely reported on the web in recent days.

He has predictably come in for some criticism, moral but also practical, like Forbes contributor Michael Peck’s claim that Mr Kohn is trying to fight a ‘lost battle’.

‘It is much easier and quicker to improve drone aircraft, software and sensors than it is to change a building or a city to fool them,’ writes Mr Peck.

‘The 1990s Global Hawk was the size of a small passenger jet. Now drones are the size of insects.

‘If we can’t keep mosquitoes out of our homes, a mosquito-sized drone won’t be any easier to swat.’

He adds: ‘However, the truth is that while police drones overhead are bad, living in a jail is worse. It is not a good trade if the price of privacy is quality of life.

‘Twisting streets to confuse drones? Wait until the pizza delivery guy or your grandmother can’t find your house.’

But Mr Kohn makes no claim to have created the be all and end all of drone-proof cities, but says he merely wants to provoke discussion of the implications drones have for how future societies might be structured.

‘What this project proposes is a new way to think about space,’ Mr Kohn writes. ‘Drone warfare proposes that every inch of land is (and all of its inhabitants are) part of the battle space.’

He concludes: ‘Shura City is about using architecture to create aspace for humanity in an increasingly inhuman sphere.’

Mr Kohn added to MailOnline: ‘A few people have told me that hiding from drones is illegal, which I find hilarious, because, wait, we’re expecting people to just be totally on-board with fiery death coming down from the sky without a moment’s notice?

‘I’m just using the vocabulary of architecture to point out the shortcomings of drone warfare. My whole point was that law has nothing to do with it.’

An Architectural Defense From Drones by AJKohn

2 Responses

  1. les hulse says:

    its true with a large catering baked bean can, you can redirect any wireless module, back to were it originated or into local lake,

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