In Arabic, the term hijra ةرجه refers to ‘emigrating’, ‘passing’ or ‘coming’, a word with both Latin and Arabic roots. Historically, it describes the Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina, escaping persecution. Included in its etymology are the words for ‘departure’, ‘exodus’ and ‘journey.’ Interestingly, in Urdu, the term has also come to mean ‘ fluidity of identity’ or a ‘third’ identity, of gender and culture in particular. In this definition, the body is understood to be a literal site of transition, a vessel through which culture and identity journey, a place in which both are housed. In the modern period, human migration has primarily taken the form of voluntary migration within or between sovereign states, either through controlled (legal immigration) or uncontrolled means (refugees, economic migrants, for example). Involuntary migration includes forced displacement (deportation, slavery, human trafficking) and flight (war refugees, victims of ethnic cleansing, for example).
Traditionally, the role of architecture has been to confine or control space, shaping historical experience and social relations in static form. As a result, the history of peoples for whom movement, not stasis, is the predominant experience does not find easy or direct translation into form. Unit 12 is interested in finding forms of material and spatial representation for this most contemporary of human experiences. We believe there is enormous architectural potential in working with the migratory, the diasporic, the mythical, the performative and the narrative to create new spatial possibilities for these themes.
This year, acting simultaneously as story tellers, architects, time travelers and choreographers of history, students in Unit 12 will visit the desert landscape of Casablanca, historically one of the earliest ports significant to the history of both migration and settlement,
to develop a new architectural vocabulary for these themes of migration, diaspora and hybridity. The Major Design Project of the year will be a New Port Authority (NPA). In different forms, ports are the earliest point of contact with a new region for migrants. The history of the establishment of ports is also intrinsically linked to the history of slavery and of the formation and policing of borders. The port is a space of crossing, of transition, of crossover. It is also a highly programmed space, akin to an airport, where slippages of control, territory and access have consequences that far exceed the port’s actual geography. In the so-called ‘developing world’, one only has to track the proliferation of trade- and duty-free economic zones that have sprung up around ports (land, air and sea) to understand their importance in the fiscal growth of any given nation. Projects may look at land-, sea-, air- and cyber ‘scapes’. Projects may explore edge conditions, trade relations, cultural exchanges, crossings and controls (of species, of ‘things’, of conditions). Projects may be situated between past and present, between ‘home’ and ‘away’, between the ‘here’ and ‘now’, however that is constructed. The aim is to challenge students to tell their own ‘stories’, to find their own appropriate tools of representation and to speculate with ambition and aplomb on the appropriate form, structure, material and programme for a uniquely African architectural vocabulary.