For Those Who Will Come
Lev Bratishenko hosts a discussion on the role of the architect in the context of migration, with responses by Shumi Bose
As a prologue to the conversation, we published five short talks on lesser-known twentieth-century mass-housing projects
We know that the future will bring unprecedented international migrations. Estimates range from 500 million to several billion who will flee newly uninhabitable parts of Earth, a process that has already begun. It is an especially bitter injustice that these climate migrants will mostly come from those countries which have made the smallest historical contributions to carbon emissions, and they will mostly arrive in wealthier countries who are the most responsible for the tragedy. And we already see how they are likely to be “welcomed”: at gunpoint, with walls, with barbed wire, with prisons, with camps.
Today we are often made aware of architecture’s complicity in keeping people out rather than letting them in, a resistance that implies that migrants are or should be somehow temporary. Then they are supposed to return and disappear; or, if they are allowed to settle, they are expected to melt into the existing population. To give up their foreign-ness.
We must do better. So what contributions could architecture make? For Those Who Will Come explores roles and responsibilities of architects towards migrants.
How can architecture welcome migrants with humility? What can it offer between the fantasies of complete “solutions” and extreme irresponsibility, of shrugging and saying this is a political problem too complicated for architecture?
How can architects build for people they may not know or may struggle to understand? And when is building itself unhelpful? In what other ways can architecture welcome those who will come?
The first five episodes present historic mass housing projects from Korea, Pakistan, Peru, Greece, and South Africa that responded to (or encouraged) movements of people. These case studies relate to different kind of “migrants,” from the familiar to the foreign, and from the comfortable to the desperate. These historical case studies aren’t meant to be swallowed as models for the future; for different reasons, but mostly because they focus on building and housing. They represent just one kind of architectural responsibility and a limited scope for architectural action. Few of them engage with the idea of welcome, but they are a place to start and should be better known.
The next four episodes present contemporary practitioners with an inspiring range of positions and approaches, with a shared humility and commitment to acting with care. All of the stories they tell us are about different ways that architecture can engage with migration. They point to a variety of roles that include but aren’t limited to building. They ask questions and demonstrate that many assumptions about the proper limits of architectural attention and architectural action or agency have never been fixed: they have always been contested, and not only by architects.
The fifth episode is a discussion about shared concerns and ways forward.
Reflecting on the questions posed by mass migration quickly leads to the (rather obvious) conclusion that every problem does not need an architectural intervention. Architects must be willing to question norms—how they practice, what roles and responsibilities they take on, and which they refuse—if they want to act as helpfully as possible.
Shumi Bose is Senior Lecturer at Central Saint Martins, London.
Sarah Charlton is Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Alice Covatta is Adjunct Professor of Architecture at the University of Montréal (UdeM).
Yasaman Esmaili is an Iranian architect and founder of Studio Chahar.
Sharif Kahatt is Professor of Architecture at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Lima.
Antigone Kotanidis was Project Manager of “Curing the Limbo” and is currently Regional Partnership and Compliance Officer at the International Rescue Committee, Athens.
Soe Hwang is Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture and Building Science at Chung-Ang University, Seoul.
Wenke Schladitz is design partner with christoph wagner architekten, Berlin.
Nadia Shah is Adjunct Professor at Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.
Stavros Stavrides is Professor at the School of Architecture, National Technical University of Athens.
Christoph Wagner is an architect and the founder of christoph wagner architekten, Berlin.