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Architecture, Migration, and Spaces of Exception in Europe

Itohan Osayimwese

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Europe

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XXe siècle
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  • 1 Exceptions include research on migrants in Australia, detention and incarceration in the United Sta (...)

1Despite a recent surge of interest in how conflict, violence, and memory interact with the built environment, the contemporary crisis in the Mediterranean has attracted little attention from the architectural community.1 But the issues raised by irregular migration (the legal definition of what is happening in the Mediterranean) have implications for how we frame Europe and its architecture.

  • 2 “Key Migration Terms,” International Organization for Migration, URL: http://www.iom.int/key-migrat (...)
  • 3 Giorgio Agamben, “We Refugees,” Symposium, vol. 49, no. 2, Summer 1995, p. 114–119, translation by (...)
  • 4 Ibid., p. 114.

2Irregular migration is defined as an unauthorized breach of the territorial boundaries and regulatory structures of a nation state by a foreign national.2 As Giorgio Agamben has pointed out, the refugee challenges the “identity between man and citizen, between nativity and nationality […] the old trinity of state/nation/territory.”3 The arrival of the refugee marks the clash between two orders: the territorially-determined nation-state and the creeping configuration of the “political community to come.”4 The state meets the refugee challenge by designating a state of exception in which military authority is expanded into the civic sphere and the laws that protect individual liberties are suspended around the person of the refugee. This construct of legal illegality allows states to defend their slipping sovereignty.

  • 5 Anna Triandafyllidou and Ruby Gropas, What is Europe?, London: Palgrave, 2015 (21st century Europe)

3These observations about citizenship and migration rely on spatial concepts like territory, the sea, the wall, and the camp. Perhaps the most provocative of these is the sea. Since the beginnings of documented history, definitions of Europe have shifted back and forth between maritime and land-based visions. For example, for the ancient Greeks, Europe meant the Aegean, the Mediterranean, and surrounding coasts. This topographic definition has always worked hand-in-hand with a cultural definition and, more recently, with the idea of Europe as a political unit.5

  • 6 Anthropologist Michel Agier considers the sea as one of many walling techniques—albeit a unique “li (...)
  • 7 “Irregular Migration by Sea,” Forced Migration Review, vol. 51, January 2016, p. 27; Charles Heller(...)
  • 8 Joshua Derman, “Carl Schmitt on Land and Sea,” History of European Ideas, vol. 37, no. 2, 2011, p.  (...)
  • 9 Rhys Williams, “Recognizing Cognition,” op. cit. (note 8), p. 629.

4What is extraordinary and remains largely untheorized is the role of the sea as a route for irregular migration to Europe today.6 Because it is difficult for European states to control their maritime borders, sea travel has become the only means to enter Europe for refugees for whom few legal pathways exist. As the case of the “left-to-die” boat in March 2011 reveals, European Mediterranean states have created a system of oversight over the sea that allows them to evade the responsibilities toward human life enshrined in international law.7 The sea is a space of exception—a point that is emphasized in the contemporary utopian discourse on “seasteading” or “creating permanent dwellings at sea outside state territory,” which has its basis in a long history of maritime utopias.8 The precise history of the exceptionality of the sea is complex but it owes something to its distinctive spatial and material character—its “conceptual featurelessness” and the unlimited “possibility of action and freedom of movement” that it suggests.9

  • 10 Migrations are common within and from the Caribbean to the United States, between the Indian Ocean (...)
  • 11 Iain Chambers, “Adrift and Exposed,” Revista de Estudios Globales y Arte Contemporánea, vol. 1, no. (...)
  • 12 Cf. John Feffer, “The New Middle Passage,” The Huffington Post, September 3, 2015, URL: http://www. (...)

5Irregular migration by sea is itself unique neither to the Mediterranean nor to our age.10 Perhaps the best historical analogy is the forced migration of Africans to the New World. Though the causes and scale of this transatlantic migration were radically different, a comparison to today’s Mediterranean might be useful. The sea has again become an involuntary tomb teeming with “contorted black [and tan and olive] bodies gasping in the foam.”11 Scholarly responses to the Middle Passage offer us a model for conceptualizing this “New Middle Passage.”12 Black Atlantic theory theorized the dispersal of Africans across the world and the production of a vital new culture. The brutal Atlantic, its interconnected coasts and hinterlands, and the slave ship itself as dwelling place and tomb, gained a new African identity and became instantiations of Africans’ foundational participation in modernity. The Mediterranean is playing a similar role in the creation of modern-day diasporas—the constituencies of a new Europe.

  • 13 For an example of how Atlantic history spawned a new methodology, see Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Re (...)

6Given the interconnected sea-and-land model of the Black Atlantic, the long-term inhabitation of the oceans, and the modern technologies that enable us to build static and moving marine structures, it is incumbent on architectural historians to consider the sea. Just as the Black Atlantic has spawned “Atlantic history,” so too might we think in terms of “Mediterranean” history.13 This approach should not attempt to incorporate the Mediterranean into Europe in an imperialist gesture of appropriation. Neither should it replace existing national and continental frameworks. But it should transform them.

  • 14 See Michel Agier, Borderlands: Toward an Anthropology of the Cosmopolitan Condition, op. cit. (note (...)

7How might we apply such a lens to the current crisis? Building on the ethnographic work of Michel Agier and others, we could map the geographies and document and interpret the spaces and structures of refugee life in and around the Mediterranean—the shipwrecks and camping sites in places like Lesbos and Melilla, the anonymous graves and mass cemeteries of recovered bodies, private search-and-rescue ships like those belonging to the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, and “floating prisons” like those used to house refugees in Palermo in 2011 and proposed in Bremen in 2015.14 What does the floor of the Mediterranean between Italy and Tunisia look like now? Is it a veritable city of ruins, a dystopian nightmare being colonized by marine species? Will it eventually fill in and reconnect Europe and Africa in the vision imagined by artists like Francis Alÿs in his 2008 Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River? Extending the analogy to Atlantic history, we could analyze links between specific migrant communities and individuals and their places of origin and transit points. Are these routes and spaces, like the transatlantic Middle Passage, commemorated by those who experienced them? Are refugee commemorations different from those in destination societies like Mimmo Paladino’s migrant memorial Porta di LampedusaPorta d’Europa (2008)? Do these places play a role in migrant routes of return?

  • 15 The number of refugees and distance walked varies in media reports.
  • 16 Women in Exile and Friends, “Frauen in brandenburgischen Flüchttlingslagern,” October 2015, URL: ht (...)
  • 17 Giorgio Agamben quoted in Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir, “The Monster’s Tail,” in Michael Sorkin (e (...)
  • 18 For a taxonomy of camps, see Michel Agier, Managing the undesirables, op. cit. (note 14), p. 36–62. (...)
  • 19 I borrow this phrase from Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, “Emergency or Development? Architecture as Indust (...)

8In 2012, two hundreds refugees in Germany (now Europe’s primary destination for migration) walked six hundred kilometers from Würzburg to Berlin.15 This Herculean feat was an act of resistance against concepts of citizenship at odds with contemporary global realities.16 When the refugees arrived in Berlin, they occupied a public square, Oranienplatz (Kreuzberg), and went on a hunger strike until their “tent city” was demolished in 2014. This tent city, which they named “Lampedusa Village in Berlin,” was a distinctive type of camp. A camp is an “enclosed space in which law has been suspended and power works through a series of spatial segregations.”17 Camps materialize what has become an almost permanent state of exception in spatial form. They are defined by boundaries that enable processes of exclusion. They are also extra-territorial by dint of being located in liminal places.18 They have the distinctive temporality of transient permanence. Unlike many camps for migrants, “Lampedusa Village in Berlin” was not part of the “humanitarian industrial complex”19 that typically manages camps in a manner that preserves their precarious status. Rather, this was a self-built and self-managed camp. Policed by the local government and supported by various philanthropic organizations, “Lampedusa Village in Berlin” nevertheless preserved many of the important features of the stereotypical camp.

  • 20 Naor Ben-Yehoyada, “The Clandestine,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 21.
  • 21 Women in Exile and Friends, “Frauen in brandenburgischen Flüchttlingslagern,” October 2015, URL: ht (...)

9But the name “Lampedusa” hinted at something beyond the conventional. The name united the individual migration experiences of the camp’s inhabitants into a shared identity. Lampedusa is, of course, the rocky twelve-square-mile island off the Tunisian coast that has historically been a door to Europe and has become a vortex in the current migration crisis. Most of the migrants who marched in Germany had actually arrived in Lampedusa and been detained in its “Center of Temporary Permanence”20 before being transferred to other detention camps in Italy, making their way to places like Spain and France, and finally ending up in Germany. Their commemoration of Lampedusa in Berlin and the emergence of a parallel “Lampedusa Village in Hamburg” highlights a networked geography of migration and memory that traverses current and previous routes, transit points, and places of residence.21

  • 22 Florian Wilde, “We’re all Staying,” Jacobin, 2 July 2014. URL: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/w (...)
  • 23 Jörg Riefenstahl, “Bislang hat nur ein Lampedusa-Flüchtling Bleiberecht,” Hamburger Abendblatt, 05 (...)
  • 24 Heidrun Friese has noted that the ship has already become a “highly-charged symbol for un/attainabl (...)
  • 25 A “re-memory” is the “refraction of connection to past places, stories and genealogies through mate (...)

10There is no evidence that this memory of Lampedusa was translated into the scale of the individual tents, tarps, and self-built shelters of the camp in Berlin or into the material culture of precious mementoes and found and donated objects that brought a modicum of normalcy to the camp’s interiors. In Hamburg, the Lampedusa occupation linked up with the long-standing “Right to the City” movement and its battle for affordable housing and struggle against the “privatization and commercialization of public space.”22 Yet, as the refugees have dispersed to official shelters or gone underground, the camps in Hamburg and Berlin have left few traces—with the exception of a white tent at Steindamm in Hamburg and a pavilion in Oranienplatz in Berlin that serve as information centers and meeting points for refugees.23 Nevertheless, the iconography of protest that developed in the camps and in some refugee art has adopted elements of the artistic memory of slavery: the anchor, slave chains, disembodied arms reaching out of the waves, and the boat form.24 Will these elements, like the icon of the slave ship, become recurrent motifs in the “re-memories” of migrants’ descendants?25 Do these networked spaces and memories not suggest a radically different view of European architecture?

Mimmo Paladino, Porta di Lampedusa - Porta d’Europa, 2008.

Mimmo Paladino, Porta di Lampedusa - Porta d’Europa, 2008.

Source: Duke University Libraries, Flickr Creative Commons, Some rights reserved, https://c1.staticflickr.com/​3/​2675/​3807518405_033f879788_o.jpg. Accessed 20 September 2017.

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Notes

1 Exceptions include research on migrants in Australia, detention and incarceration in the United States, and refugee camps in Israel/Palestine and Kenya. See the December 2014 issue of the Journal of the Society Historians, the “Black Lives Matter” collection published by Aggregate, Revolution! Thresholds Journal, vol. 41, 2013, Bechar Kenzari (ed.), Architecture and Violence, Barcelona; Basel; New York, NY: ACTAR, 2011; Joseph Pugliese, “The Tutelary Architecture of Immigration Detention Prisons and the Spectacle of ‘Necessary Suffering,” Architectural Theory Review, vol. 13, no. 2, 2008, p. 206–221; Sean Anderson and Jenny Ferng, “No Boat: Christmas Island and the Architecture of Detention,” Architectural Theory Review, vol. 18, no. 2, 2013, p. 212–226; articles in Trialog, "Camp Cities," vol. 112–113, 2013; James Kennedy, Toward a Rationalisation of the Construction of Refugee Camps, Master of Architecture Thesis, Katholieke Universitiet Leuven, 2004. Also, see Stephen Cairns, Drifting: Architecture and Migrancy, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2004 (The Architext series); and Mirjana Lozanovska (ed.), Ethno-Architecture and the Politics of Migration, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2015 (The Architext series). Development specialists, urban planners, and anthropologists have also turned their minds to this topic.

2 “Key Migration Terms,” International Organization for Migration, URL: http://www.iom.int/key-migration-terms. Accessed 9 June 2015.

3 Giorgio Agamben, “We Refugees,” Symposium, vol. 49, no. 2, Summer 1995, p. 114–119, translation by Michael Rocke, URL: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/giorgio-agamben/articles/we-refugees/. Accessed 28 February, 2016.

4 Ibid., p. 114.

5 Anna Triandafyllidou and Ruby Gropas, What is Europe?, London: Palgrave, 2015 (21st century Europe).

6 Anthropologist Michel Agier considers the sea as one of many walling techniques—albeit a unique “liquid” type—that is deployed to control human circulation. See Michel Agier, Borderlands: Toward an Anthropology of the Cosmopolitan Condition, [First published as La condition cosmopolite: l'anthropologie à l'épreuve du piège identitaire, Paris: La Découverte, 2013 (Sciences humaines), David Fernbach trans.], Cambridge: Polity, 2016, p. 55.

7 “Irregular Migration by Sea,” Forced Migration Review, vol. 51, January 2016, p. 27; Charles Heller; Lorenzo Pezzani and Situ Studio, “Forensic Oceanography: Report on the ‘Left-To-Die Boat’,” URL: www.forensic-architecture.org. Accessed 14 May 2015.

8 Joshua Derman, “Carl Schmitt on Land and Sea,” History of European Ideas, vol. 37, no. 2, 2011, p. 181–189. Quote from Rhys Williams, “Recognizing Cognition: On Suvin, Mieville, and the Utopian Impulse in the Contemporary Fantastic,” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 41, no. 3, November 2014, p. 629. On seasteading, see China Mieville, “Floating Utopias: Freedom and Unfreedom of the Seas,” Mike Davis and D.B. Monk (eds.), Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, New York, NY: The New Press, 2007, p. 251–61.

9 Rhys Williams, “Recognizing Cognition,” op. cit. (note 8), p. 629.

10 Migrations are common within and from the Caribbean to the United States, between the Indian Ocean islands off of East Africa, in the Bay of Bengal, and in the Red Sea. The migration of Southeast Asian “boat people” during the Vietnam War and of Jewish émigrés in the 1930s is also part of this history.

11 Iain Chambers, “Adrift and Exposed,” Revista de Estudios Globales y Arte Contemporánea, vol. 1, no. 1, 2013, p. 71–81. URL: http://revistes.ub.edu/index.php/REGAC/article/view/5507/7312. Accessed 2 August 2017.

12 Cf. John Feffer, “The New Middle Passage,” The Huffington Post, September 3, 2015, URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-feffer/the-new-middle-passage_b_8082986.html. Accessed 28 February 2016.

13 For an example of how Atlantic history spawned a new methodology, see Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Redicker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2000. Architectural historians like Alina Payne and Sheila Crane have already started to think in these terms. See Alina Payne (ed.), Dalmatia and the Mediterranean: Portable Archeology and the Poetics of Influence, Leiden: Brill, 2014; and Sheila Crane, Mediterranean Crossroads: Marseille and Modern Architecture, Minneapolis, MI: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

14 See Michel Agier, Borderlands: Toward an Anthropology of the Cosmopolitan Condition, op. cit. (note 6); Michel Agier, Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government [First published as Gérer les indésirables: des camps de réfugiés au gouvernement humanitaire, Paris: Flammarion, 2008 (La bibliothèque des savoirs), David Fernbach trans.], Cambridge: Polity, 2011; Naor Ben-Yehoyada, “The Clandestine Central Mediterranean Passage,” Middle East Report, no. 261, theme issue Illicit Crossings: Smuggling, Migration, Contraband, Winter 2011, p. 21. URL: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer261/clandestine-central-mediterranean-passage. Accessed 2 August 2017; Jürgen Theiner, “Vorerst kein Flüchtlingsschiff im Kohlehafen,” Weser Kurier, 16.12.2015, URL: http://www.weser-kurier.de/bremen/bremen-stadtreport_artikel,-Vorerst-kein-Fluechtlingsschiff-im-Kohlehafen-_arid,1274491.html. Accessed 16 January 2016; “Migrant Offshore Aid Station,” URL: https://www.moas.eu. Accessed 9 June 2015.

15 The number of refugees and distance walked varies in media reports.

16 Women in Exile and Friends, “Frauen in brandenburgischen Flüchttlingslagern,” October 2015, URL: https://www.women-in-exile.net. Accessed 17 July 2015; Charles Hawley and Charly Wilder, “Rage and Refuge: German Asylum System Hits Breaking Point,” Spiegel Online International, 30 August 2013, URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/refugee-influx-reveals-german-asylum-policy-shortcomings-a-919488.html. 2 August 2017.

17 Giorgio Agamben quoted in Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir, “The Monster’s Tail,” in Michael Sorkin (ed.), Against the Wall: Israel's barrier to peace, New York, NY: New York Press, 2005, p. 18.

18 For a taxonomy of camps, see Michel Agier, Managing the undesirables, op. cit. (note 14), p. 36–62. On the proposed “extraterritorial” processing centers funded by European states like Italy and Germany, see Rutvica Andrijasevic, “Lampedusa in Focus: Migrants Caught between the Libyan Desert and the Deep Sea,” Feminist Review, no. 82, “Everyday Struggling,” 2006, p. 123.

19 I borrow this phrase from Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, “Emergency or Development? Architecture as Industrial Humanitarianism,” Trialog, vol. 112–113, themed issue Camp Cities, 2013, p. 28–32.

20 Naor Ben-Yehoyada, “The Clandestine,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 21.

21 Women in Exile and Friends, “Frauen in brandenburgischen Flüchttlingslagern,” October 2015, URL: https://www.women-in-exile.net. Accessed 17 July 2015; Patrick Jackson, “My Germany: Lampedusa refugee,” 13 September 2013, URL: http://www.bbc.com. Accessed 17 July 2015; Charles Hawley and Charly Wilder, “Rage and Refuge: German Asylum System Hits Breaking Point,” Spiegel Online International, 30 August 2013, URL: www.spiegel.de/international. Accessed 17 July 2015; Mauro Mondello, Lampedusa in Berlin (2015), URL: http://39null.com/blog/lampedusa-in-berlin. Accessed 4 April 2016.

22 Florian Wilde, “We’re all Staying,” Jacobin, 2 July 2014. URL: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/were-all-staying/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=email_this&utm_source=email. Accessed 4 April 2016.

23 Jörg Riefenstahl, “Bislang hat nur ein Lampedusa-Flüchtling Bleiberecht,” Hamburger Abendblatt, 05 September 2015. URL: http://www.abendblatt.de/hamburg/article205639311/Bislang-hat-nur-ein-Lampedusa-Fluechtling-Bleiberecht.html. Accessed 4 April 2016; “Brandanschlag auf Flüchtlingstreffpunkt,” 1 April 2015. URL: taz.de. Accessed 4 April 2016.

24 Heidrun Friese has noted that the ship has already become a “highly-charged symbol for un/attainable links and the promise of another life” among North African migrants attempting to cross to Europe. This symbolism is present especially in music. See Heidrun Friese, Grenzen der Gastfreundschaft. Die Bootsflüchtlinge von Lampedusa und die europäische Frage, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2014, p. 112.

25 A “re-memory” is the “refraction of connection to past places, stories and genealogies through material cultures.” See Divya Tolia-Kelly, “Locating Processes of Identification: Studying the Precipitates of Re-Memory through Artefacts in the British Asian Home,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, vol. 29, no. 3, September 2004, p. 322. Also see Iris Levin, “Meanings of House Materiality for Moroccan Migrants in Israel,” in Mirjana Lozanovska (ed.), Ethno-Architecture and the Politics of Migration, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2015 (The Architext series), p. 116.

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Titre Mimmo Paladino, Porta di Lampedusa - Porta d’Europa, 2008.
Crédits Source: Duke University Libraries, Flickr Creative Commons, Some rights reserved, https://c1.staticflickr.com/​3/​2675/​3807518405_033f879788_o.jpg. Accessed 20 September 2017.
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Itohan Osayimwese, « Architecture, Migration, and Spaces of Exception in Europe », ABE Journal [En ligne], 11 | 2017, mis en ligne le 27 septembre 2017, consulté le 22 octobre 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/3491 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.3491

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Itohan Osayimwese

Assistant Professor, History of Art & Architecture, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

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