The Architect as a Poetic Migrant
In a poetic perspective, architects are migrants in spirit. Aurelio Galfetti says the architect leads a double life: rooted into one place while seeking to escape it.
Each project demands a profound understanding of the reality of that specific place, regarding its building culture and environment, also its culture and anthropology and so on. The project of architecture is contributing to the uniqueness of that place. Moving from one project to the other is somehow a kind of journey, changing the scenery and the direct vicinity and the light, or even working within a new cultural frame. Even when thinking about references the architect travels from one place to the other in order to understand the pertinence of the architectural built form in relation to local habits, light, climate, construction technique, materials and so on. To do all these, the architect recurs to his/hers journeys and experiences in various places and cultures; the memories and direct impressions of the precedents of the history of architecture in their own physical reality are of great importance.
Migration of architects reflected in their projects
On a more factual level, architects have themselves been migrants. It might be surprising to think to the most acclaimed architects of the mainstream architectural history: Le Corbusier, born in Switzerland moved to Paris in 1917 at the age of thirty, after experiencing a five years period of working and travelling in various countries such as Germany, Italy, France and his famous Orient journey; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe left the Nazi Germany in 1937, aged fifty-one, to settle in Chicago for the rest of his life; Louis Kahn was born in Estonia at the time part of the Russian Empire and in 1906, when he was five years old, his family emigrated to the United States as they feared that his father would be recalled into the military during the Russo-Japanese War.
As no one escapes history, the migration had a powerful impact even on the thinking and imagination that precedes the project design phase. It might be speculative, but take a look at Mies’s houses from his European period – when he employed brick and he worked within a clear heavy tectonic of the built form (Lange-1928, Esters-1930, Tu¬gendhat-1933). Coming to America, his projects came to a lighter tectonics in the use of metal, a new spatiality and, most importantly, to the way in which the house rests on the ground and raises upwards to the sky (Resor - 1939, Farnsworth - 1951, Lake Shore Drive - 1951).
There is a certain reverse resonance to Mies’ journey in the beautiful evocation of Ryan Kennihan who shared with MZCH his fascination towards the building culture in Ireland as opposed to a certain lack of depth of the one from the States. Coming from America to Europe, he immediately valued the employed materials, details and built typologies – all somehow synthetized into the heaviness of the European walls which he seeks out in his projects. This fresh, exterior perspective can reconnect things to their core meanings. And when he went back to the States as a foreigner this time, the long period in Ireland would allow his view on American architecture to shift: ‘I could see architectural potential in the sticks, the glue, and even the tar paper. It became clear that the outsider’s perspective was merely a way of seeing, a perspective that could reveal architectural potential anywhere.’ And, as Laura Cristea adds, having the freedom to migrate and choose your home in various places of the world might be ‘a chance for architects to quit styles and contextual clichés’.
Migration of ideas vs. Permanence of the built
Architects and ideas migrations are reason to one another.
Robert Verrijt, a Dutch architect working in Mumbai underlines the convergence of the global and the local: ‘Ideas are like a seed, transported by birds, wind and sea currents, transported into other ecosystems to intermingle and transform’. Maybe this dynamic is possible exactly because architecture builds into permanence the travelling ideas and conceptions. Jonathan Sergison brings into discussion the Brick Lane Estate in London designed by Thomas Stibbs in 1743. This house is a symbol for the history of migration as it sheltered three different religious communities: it was a Christian church, a synagogue and a mosque. The value of architecture might reside in the silence of its architectonic qualities that allow various people and generations and uses to deploy within its boundaries. It is within the power of architecture to welcome ‘others’ that enrich the host communities with ‘layers of cultural accretion’.
Migration and Architecture ?
As Markus Breitschmid firmly believes, a direct teleological relationship between migration and architecture is difficult to ascertain. Architecture can only be a good background for the unfolding of life: ‘As an architect, I say: “Migration does not influence buildings – at least not in any direct way.” [..] The social task of the shapes and spaces of each building is to a) cause repercussions in the people who use these buildings; b) make these people creative; and c) thus extend their possibilities – for a migrant or anyone else, as we are all migrants in our non-referential world.’
Inhabited and Imagined Places
Before being labelled architecture or urban, the inhabited environment is perceived as a series of places, revealing to us in an unfiltered way, unfolding their beauty as strangeness. Samuel Penn talks about such manifestation of places which appear to us as ‘exotic and which must still exist somewhere’. ‘Things always seem extraordinary from a distance but invariably transform into something familiar as they draw near. It’s this unavoidable familiarity that makes me question my place in the world ‘. This might be an important part of the mechanism that triggers us to want to discover other cultures and their way of being.
Echoing the exotic, Tudor Vlăsceanu brings into play the strangeness of ‘residual, forgotten or left-over spaces. [..] I see immense potential in these spaces, as I see immense potential in people that are actively looking to their own universal way of belonging. Architecture is a fundamental factor in this equation. [..] .Migration means change, adaptation, bottom-up, informal, reuse, challenge the status quo, inclusiveness, juxtaposition, living the everyday. Migration is a phenomenon of belonging.’
Migration and the Good Government of the City
The city is a huge concept, engulfing architecture, urbanism, economy, anthropology, sociology, ecology, philosophy and so on. Talk¬ing about the impact of Migration on the City is more natural; today it is even an imperative. In a world where certain nationalist and separatist conceptions seem to gain momentum from time to time, it might be the moment to recognize the obvious fact that cities have coagulated and grown in scale and complexity exactly as a result of people who decided to migrate here. Ákos Moravánszky underlines this historic perspective: ‘big cities developed as they accommodated migrants who brought their own energy, knowledge, skills to build and shape the metropolis. Without the steady influx of immigrants, urban growth would be inconceivable. [..] Therefore, the task is to accommodate those who contribute to urban wealth in the city, regardless of their roots, of their immigrant or non-immigrant status, by providing a range of housing al¬ternatives, according to the financial possibilities of the inhabitants –affordable living space, kindergartens, schools, playgrounds, and meeting places. This would be an incentive for the citizens for upward mobility. To achieve such goals is a challenge for politicians, economists, urban policymakers, planners and architects – but the future of our cities depends on the responses to this challenge. 'At this point, essential is the politics, the ability of the communities to organize themselves and take wise, long term decisions. Ákos Moravánszky talks about Good Government of the City.
As El Sindicato synthesizes, urban management historically has oscillated between ‘left or right policies – the main issues being that of housing and of public space’. Yet our times demand overcoming generic ideological perspective by continuously being aware of particular urban realities that need to be seen and addressed within politics that involve public and private interest. El Sindicato has observed that ‘urban growth leaves abandoned or underutilized spaces within the consolidated zones; our projects should seek the use of these buildings, condition them to new ways of life and create living spaces for those who need it most. With these public policies and the development of projects such as “Casa Parasito” we seek to create socially, economically and environmentally conscious options for habitability.’
Reversing the perspective and adhering to a pragmatic, right sided and polemic stance, Șerban Țigănaș thinks of a world where ‘cities will compete for attracting migrants, but will also try to filter them, at the gate or later. [..] Migrants will first discover, then select, enjoy, and enrich the Citynet.’
Inhabiting the city is both an individual and a collective story. Housing acquires meaning only when contextualized in a public sphere: in philosophical and physical perspectives; and vice-versa. This obvious fact needs to always be remembered by us architects, as Jeannette Kuo beautifully writes: ‘Public spaces, playgrounds, schools, markets, parks – these are all important anchors for a collective culture. Our greater challenge is to reconceive collectively on spatial terms in contexts defined by individualism: the rural peripheries where the single-family home and private property still reign as the predominant logic. [..] The question isn’t how migration will influence architecture and the city but how we can transcend the differences and face each other as humans to design with empathy, openness, and optimism.’
Mutation 1. During Quarantine
Fading Borders and How Will Migration Influence Architecture and the City? have been started before the current pandemic. Everything got put on hold. Everyone, us included, started to question if our ways of seeing and doing things will still be pertinent in the new mutated world by the changes induced by the pandemic. Of course there is much emotion at play here, but it is obvious that certain questions are important and should be dealt with.
As an answer to the 1748 Nolli plan that displayed the urban spaces of Rome, Homu updates that plan to the contemporary quarantine situation: ‘today, thanks to digital technologies, we can represent a new public domain, in its contemporary and temporary version, as a disconnected system, where urban squares, streets, markets, plazas and so on are implemented by the network of domestic rooms connected online.’ And they conclude that ‘migration is assuming a new complete meaning during these pandemic times, while we are forced not to move, transforming the way we live and work.’
Mutation 2.Alternative to the City – the Rural
It is said that man’s greatest invention is the city – the birthplace of civilization and of the dissemination of culture. Yet, as the city becomes global and generic and as we know, inhabit and exploit all the places around the world - our common place naturally becomes the planet itself. In this context and the one of the omnipresent internet, the city is anew challenged by the rural as a possible home that can provide all the mod¬ern life’s aspirations. Working in the Nordic setting, Gustav Jeppsson observes that ‘over the last year there has been a constant flow of people looking to escape the “infected” cities in search of the countryside. This out-migration can be seen globally to an even greater extent. A complete reverse to the vast urban flight for the last 100 years. Previously, cities have represented opportunities and the exotic, but over the last year the countryside have taken that role.’
The Big Image
This pandemic will pass and the world will change; but we should not forget the long perspective history provides us. As Roberto Masiero states, ‘we have always been nomads. We are curious, possessive, aggressive, invasive, dominant. If this was not the case, we would not be what we are: the world itself. [..] Architects work within an alleged order of nature [..] architecture has the difficult task of designing spaces as social devices, cities as great artifices for shared survival, homes as a way to rediscover our very human daily life peer to peer, territories to act on local and global collective identities; in short, ways of coexistence, inclusion, sharing, socializing; and pyramids that teach us to be together.
Renato Rizzi underlines the cardinal importance of our cultural heritage: ‘since the world began, people have always been either nomads or sedentary; either iconoclasts or conformists. But at the same time, there were also migrations of thought, knowledge, experience. The spirit of Europe, its civilization, was founded precisely on this grandiose dialectical movement of opposites. This is the great privilege of our cultural heritage.’
And coming back straight to the core issue, Dorin Ștefan concludes: ‘At the end of the road, Migration is a matter of integration or assimilation. Integration is an option; assimilation a matter of ideology. [..] In order for us architects to maintain our place and role in this complex world, we should rely more on conscience and intuition and less on logic, mathematics, ideology and politics; and maybe, in this way, we will be able to produce a more authentic architecture.’
As containers of life, Architecture and the City offer balance to the growing speed of society’s technological and political changes. Their time is longer than the one of the contemporary cultures of the internet, mass-media, tourism, ideological clashes, and society of consumption. As a discipline, Architecture evolves within its own history: structure, material, orientation, light, tectonics, proportion and scale – all these within a specific culture. As such, it can only mirror the tumultuous events of history. Architecture is silent, history is polyphonic. Migration is simply an essential part of our times which everybody feels in various ways: by actually going to live in other parts of the world, by welcoming (or having difficulties) migrants as neighbors, by dreaming to other parts of the world or just measuring your own existence on the background of the available kaleidoscope of ways of life from everywhere.