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In the Great War, modernity first manifested itself at a grand scale. A hundred years later, a number of developments, such as drone warfare and the ever-expanding battlefield can be traced back to that time. By looking at these big issues and understanding their development in an historical perspective of one century, we can become better equipped to deal with future challenges.

In 1914 aviation became the ultimate way of seeing. Manned flight enabled the production of uninterrupted streams of images and millions of negatives were produced in order to capture daily conditions on enemy territory. It was the first military industrial conflict. The occupation of airspace was primarily a conquest of a space for the sake of seeing. The core of this practice was a mechanism of distant and covert inspection that allowed one territory to apply military supremacy over another.

The vertical perspective, and the view of the world from above emerged during World War I by the use of zeppelins and airplanes. The aerial photograph documented large areas of land, the battlefield, cities and landscapes. The ability to see the ground from above became a fundamental instrument of modern warfare, and of planning. It changed the way we perceive and relate to our living environment. It liberated thought and the imagination from the limitation of the horizontal perspective. The representation of the view from above, the photograph, led to the invention of tools to analyse the view, codify it and turn it into visual information, such as detailed map and plans in different scales. It changed not just the battlefield, but also the approach toward urban design, including the relationship between the city and the countryside. It helped to relate territories and programmes to each other - connecting, overlapping or separating them.

The conquest of the vertical space that started in WWI is continuing today with the drone.

Aeroplanes change the way we see the world; drones change the way we see, feel and interact with our surroundings.

The intuitive movement of the drone; its sensors and the way it can be controlled from afar allow us to see things not just from above, but from all directions, vertically horizontally and any angle in between, both in the outside space and indoors. We can see heat and sound. The analytical capacity of the images not only can monitors objects and movement in space. It can recognise social connections and relationships between people. 

The information that is captured from above and the act of seeing the ground is becoming more and more articulated and detailed. The drone and its technology, similarly to the groundbreaking transitions and inventions in WWI, are changing, once again, our relation with our living environment.


Malkit Shoshan

May 2014