Schengen Summer School
Architecture and MigrationThe Schengen Summer School of Luxemburg University aimed to look into the issue of the impact that the various forms of migration might have on urban planning and architecture and how architects and city planners can get involved in approaches to integrate migrants and refugees.
Matthias Armengaud I Stefan Bendiks I Friedrich Bokern I Arno Brandlhuber I Aglaée Degros I Eveline Dürr I Florian Hertweck I Nikos Katsikis I Philippe Nathan I Bierte Nienaber I Anh-Linh Ngo I Can Onaner I Véronique Patteeuw I Saskia Sassen I Carole Schmit I François Valentiny
Between September 1 -10, 2016, a diverse group of architects, scholars and spatial thinkers, gathered in Schengen around the first Summer School on Architecture and Migration organized by Luxemburg University. The summer school aimed to examine the spatial complexities of the various forms of migration and explore the potential agency of architects and city planners in dealing with questions of spatial integration and the organization of refugee settlements. The Summer School comprised of a two-day conference, followed by an intensive week-long workshop with selected students from design and planning backgrounds, and concluded with a presentation of the student projects and a keynote lecture by renowned sociologist Saskia Sassen. While the conference theme was symbolically encapsulated by the historic specificity of Schengen (where the agreement on the borderless Europe was signed), the structure of the conference successfully reflected the interdisciplinary approach, and the projective, yet pragmatic design explorations that the program on Architecture, European Urbanization and Globalization at Luxembourg University aims to foreground:
The first day of the conference opened with a lecture by anthropologist Eveline Dürr, who offered a broad framing of the cultural dimensions of immigration and the associated challenges, and was directly followed by architects Aglaée Degros Stefan Bendiks, who offered a ‘grounding’ of several of the issues raised through the discussion of studio work with the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts on Vienna’s ‘Arrival City’ Favoriten. The next presentation by architectural historian Véronique Patteeuw positioned the debate within a historical perspective, foregrounding how the persistent challenges of design disciplines regarding the relation of social mobility and the flexibility of spatial configurations had led in innovative habitation models during the fifties, by architects such as Yona Friedman, Cedric Price and Constant Nieuwenhuys. The final presentation of the first day, re-projected the potentials of architectural experimentation back to the contemporary condition, with architect Arno Brandlhuber revealing through his work the constraints of regulatory regimes as sources of creativity.
The second day continued along the same lines, balancing theory and practice, and contributions from architecture and surrounding disciplines. The first presentation by Birte Nienaber offered a geographical interpretation of the question of migration, focusing on the historical evolution of migratory patterns in the greater Luxembourg region and the recent challenges from the current refugee crisis. The next presentation by ARCH+ editor Anh - Linh Ngo brought the discussion back to design and especially to its communicative aspects, but also offered an experiential aspect based on his life path as a refugee and immigrant. The personal, experiential atmosphere thickened during the next presentation by Friedrich Bokern, who communicated valuable aspects of his first hand experience of the refuge crisis in Lebanon through the activities of his NGO. Finally, the last presentation by architect Matthias Armengaud offered a similarly pragmatic elaboration of the challenges of negotiation that are necessarily involved in design practices. Focusing on his work for the redesign of La Défense, he foregrounded how the laborious interplay with administrative apparatuses can become part of the creative process, offering a valuable insight on how architects and planners can successful interact with the context within which they are expected to produce and implement their proposals.
During the workshop that followed the two-day conference, the intellectual richness and diversity of the interdisciplinary contributions largely helped the critical engagement with the question of migration and the agency of the design disciplines. With the continuous guidance of the tutors the projects where developed in three directions which covered almost the whole range of architectural experimentation and scales, from a very pragmatic approach, to a critical engagement with formal speculations, and finally to large scale territorial visionary explorations:
The first group, led by Shahram Agaajani, responded to the very urgent challenges of the refugee crisis in a very straight forward and realistic way, by suggesting the re-use and re-design of shipping containers into catalysts for cultural and economic interaction, catalysts which could be placeds in selected locations through Luxembourg and serve the integration of the isolated communities of refugees. The second group, led by Philippe Nathan, reacted to the critical realism of the aforementioned approach with a series of typological explorations, investigating the capacity of architectural form to project alternative scenarios of migratory arrangements back to society through altered landscape imageries of regional formations. The group suggested that today’s inability to react properly requires for tomorrow’s capacity to anticipate poetically and as such sought architecture’s agency both as a symbolic container and a radiator of anticipated futures. The projective experimentation with future scenarios was taken several steps further by the last group led by Can Onaner, which tried to re-envision in a speculative, yet systematic way alternative border rearrangements across the European continents. The conceptual experiment behind the projects required envisioning the border zones as zones of permanent and dynamic inhabitation. As inhabitation along these zones would densify, the zones would start to thicken creating continuous strips of inhabitation and internalized mobility, and promising new forms of citizenship. Besides the speculative cartographic experimentation, the group questioned the role of architecture and formal appropriation of these new corridors, leading to new forms of urbanization.
The presentation of the workshop results of the three groups, allowed for the full spectrum of architectural experimentation to unfold its projective capacities. Several of the issues that emerged out of the workshop presentations were reflected upon the keynote lecture by Saskia Sassen, which concluded the summer school. Sassen aimed to uncover the broader systemic logic behind novel forms of migratory flows. Tracing them within the multiscalar and often extreme contexts that generate them, they were interpreted as social, economic and ecological expulsions connected to often lengthy structural transformations resulting from new forms of advanced capitalist development. Sassen highlighted how migratory flows are thus interwoven not only with intensifying processes of financialization, but also with new forms of primitive accumulation that lead to a global loss of habitat. Within this context, and while these conditions are operating, at the global, regional and urban geopolitical level, Sassen foregrounded how the role of cities as frontiers of diversity and inclusion, is especially challenged, calling for a serious engagement from architecture and planning disciplines.
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