4 letters on Migrations
Foreigners and Strangers
Dear Husos Architects,
One of the frequent metaphors to describe Europe is that of a “fortress”, protecting its boundaries from prospective immigrants. But if you consider the whole story of Europe, it has been characterized by internal migrations; massive movements of population; mutual interchange and its culture and identity are the result of hybridization and dialogue. Can you relate this condition to your status as a “foreigner” in Europe? Which tendencies do you see in that respect? How much is also an “European” experience influencing the contexts of origin?
To put it simply, we are based in Madrid but since the moment that two of us moved from The Netherlands, our daily work and personal life is literally divided between Madrid and Cali, and within the last year and a half we have also expanded to Bogotá, where we are developing some design projects and academic research undertakings that connect the students work of our unit here at the university and local entities here and there. As for how we personally identify, yes, we are foreigners, but not only in Europe, everywhere. Let’s say that we are daily migrants, virtual translocal commuters.
Our experience is not unique at all. What is really interesting for us is that this — we mean this de-territorialized and dispersed everyday condition — is not something that just happens to people born “outside” their ancestral homes anymore, as it now seems to be happening to many people in one way or another. Even for “local” people that do not travel physically. When you open your Spotify account you immediately can start sharing music with total strangers. Perhaps you discover your musical soul mates, only to find out that they are “living” very far away. You then have the option to add this person on Facebook and share ideas, affections and other things.
Architects sometimes mistakenly think that all this has little to do with architecture, but it actually has a lot to do with it! It is basically changing our MEDIA, our tool box, our repertoire, our elements. What used to be “the street,” which takes us from home to work, can now also be a fiber cable. A webpage like Facebook or a “private” interior now have many of the same functions as a traditional café or piazza. So the architecture of urban spaces, and thus cities themselves, are changing as a result of the multiple urban SCALES and multiple MEDIA that make the city today. These are the issues that we examined 11 years ago in the Dispersion book; which basically brought this debate to the field of architecture. Today, with the pervasiveness of the internet and the proliferation of other electronic media, these early findings are becoming much more pronounced. If Europe, as you are saying, is a city, this city we are living in, is definitely a transcontinentally dispersed, multiscalar and multimedia, one!
Diego Barajas, Dispersion, A Study of Global Mobility and the Dynamics of a Fictional Urbanism, Episode Publishers, Rotterdam, 2003
As you write the expansion of media and communication devices is reconfiguring the relationship between identities, territory and mobility. To be part of a community and to belong to a place does not necessarily imply being “there”. You also suggest that this condition can open possibilities for architecture: could you mention some examples that go in this direction?
Initially, our approach to this subject focused on contemporary multicultural urban landscapes in which this phenomena was often spatially very evident, for example in the interiors of many of the facilities used by transnational communities. The emphasis was on interior atmospheres that, together with the telephone and later the Internet, became valid means of creating cities within the city for different communities. Ways to somehow belong “here”, but also “there”. More recently, at Husos we have been focusing on the question of “community” from the logic of today’s communication and deterritorialisation processes in relation to our condition as workers and our working environments. One phenomenon which Camilo García and I have been studying in particular since 2007 is that of working from home. The question that prompted this investigation, not only in relation to housing but to any other everyday space where work is taking place today, was this: If, for many decades, a space such as the factory was not only a key space for the consolidation of new economic powers, but also a place where a sense of community was nurtured among workers, organised, for example, through trade unions, in which collective struggles were conducted, helping to shape the construction of the welfare state, what are, or could be, the possible spaces for community building today from a working and production perspective?
Virtual platforms have great importance in the social aspect of production, but despite the proclaimed deterritorialisation and immaterialisation of work, particular physical spaces remain very important. According to our findings, the home space has particular importance in today’s world of work. For example, it is often the closest place available to almost every person in which they can make or produce things. Working from home is related to an increasing degree of isolation, but at the same time it becomes, in many cases, a device for socialising and interacting with others virtually as well as physically. Inés de León’s online TV series Inquilinos, produced and broadcasted to the Hispanic world from her flat in the centre of Madrid, is one example. She is part of the growing community of YouTubers, many of whom are earning their income by producing all kinds of homemade videos and broadcasting them on virtual platforms for sharing videos. Inés’ home extends physically when her TV set-home becomes a TV set-residential block, and even a TV-set neigbourhood when she involves her neighbours in her TV program; it also extends online when she interacts with her audience though Facebook and Twitter, who become a sort of virtual neighbourhood in Argentina or Venezuela.
If we consider how urbanism has always been organized somehow around the relationship between working and living spaces, we can, in some way, foresee the immense importance these current shifts could have for the city of the future.
So far, it probably seems that all this has a lot to do with urbanism, with society, but little to do with architecture. Actually, it is intimately related even with architecture in the most traditional, “tectonic sense”. For many people spending an important part of their working routines from home, engaged in both material and immaterial productive activities, the physical configuration of their homes doesn’t fit their working and networking needs. Needs and desires that are often related to physical or spatial requirements, such as having a shop window at the entrance to their block of flats or a bigger lift for carrying a catering car, or moving supplies, or to fit in a folding masseur stretcher, or having a permit to hang adverts in their window to promote their work to people close by (a Facebook wall and other virtual means do not necessarily replace those physical needs). Moreover, as evidenced by the frequent feeling of isolation among people working from home, there’s a demand for more spaces within their buildings for interacting with neighbours and others living close by, as described by Inés and María, a part-time teleworker. Surprisingly, for many people, such virtualised, atomised working conditions as those created by working from home engender a greater sense of awareness of the surrounding environment, and also of people living close by. This occurs whether a relationship is established with the local environment or not, the latter being a more common situation in the case in suburban areas or among people who are constantly changing location. As María pointed out, when one lives and works in the same place, one’s perception of that place and whatever constitutes it is often more intense compared to someone who arrives home at the end of the day after working elsewhere.
In several of the cases we looked at, the atomisation and dispersal of the traditional working place created a particular desire for belonging “here” as much as “there”. That is, for constructing bonds at a micro-level as much as a translocal one. Many people do in fact build these bonds, in different, personal ways. How powerful are these trends? To what extent are they are going to reconstruct a real sense of community, of social cohesion, locally or translocally? We still don’t know; certainly they run parallel to increasing isolation and social fragmentation, but these trends are present and already fostering new forms of cityscaping from the bottom up. It would be interesting to view the construction of Europe through the lens of these new forms, in which a sensibility towards everyday translocal relations goes hand in hand with a greater sensibility towards nearby communities. Today, virtual applications based on geolocalisation such as Instamessage, Wallapop or Grindr, its predecessor for the gay community, are active infrastructures of this urban spatiality, both on a micro and a macro scales. These are some of the issues that we at Husos have been exploring in the form of ‘prototypes’, through various tests on new housing models and what we call ‘proto projects’ which have emerged from the interviews and fieldwork we have conducted.
Diego Barajas / Husos Architects
FIRST PROTOTYPE OF A HIGH RISE HOUSING BLOCK FOR HOME-BASED WORKING COMMUNITIES with 7 spatial strategies to facilitate collaborative economies and synergies between neighbors.