The House of Osama bin Laden

In 2002 Ben Langlands & Nikki Bell spent two weeks in Afghanistan as ‘war artists’ , commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in London to design the house of Osama bin Laden. They visited a former dwelling of the jihadist at Daruntah and developped a design in which the public can stroll with the help of a joy stick. Osama’s house as a computer game called Quake, developed by ID Software. The house they found stands on a promontory over looking a lake in the mountains east of Kabul. It consists of several structures set in an area of rough ground, littered with discarded spent and live munitions. The buildings comprise a modest house with four rooms, a small terrace and an external kitchen, a small mosque and a bomb shelter/bunker. The latter two had been added by Bin Laden specifically for his own use. Langlands & Bell discovered what they call a ‘ language of intentions in the character and fabric of the structure’. The architecture, in other words, tells us a lot about the owner: this is the house of a sober, religious, determinated, shrewd and visionary man, who insists on privacy and secrecy. His assistants/servants would live in another building, just like the women.  You can look outside from the house and spy, but from the outside you will see nothing happening in the buildings. Osama’s  bedroom is filled with bright cushions and carpets. Red, yellow, green. An electric ventilator instead of air conditioning. Praying carpets on a roof. Peace and silence fill the other rooms that probably were hardly furnished. No need to be armed: no one will be able to come here.

It is fascinating to discover the similarities of Osama’s ‘invented’ house and the real one found in Pakistan on May 1st. I wonder whether the special forces are aware of this or were they actually inspired by ‘war artists’ to look for certain details, like high walls, barbed wire, splendid isolation within a village setting, soberness and yet perfection.

(Never underestimate artists when it comes to serious matters like terror, war and jihad.)

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