“All the images of carnival are dualistic; they unite within themselves both poles of change and crisis: birth and death (the image of pregnant death), blessing and curse (benedictory carnival curses which call simultaneously for death and rebirth), praise and abuse, youth and old age, top and bottom, face and backside, stupidity and wisdom.”
- Mikhail Bakhtin
Seaports have a long- standing history as symbols of wealth, globalization, and political status. When ancient civilisations engaged in trade, they developed seaports. In contemporary geopolitics, ports are often a symbol of trade relations, and of the historical power and prowess of nations over each other. As the first point of arrival on the island, the ports of Reunion are sites of many of its historical and political events: When first visited by Portuguese explorers in the early 1500’s, Reunion Island was uninhabited. In the mid-1600’s. Reunion was settled when it was established by the French East India Company as a layover station for ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, en-route to India. Reunion’s main seaport (Le Port) was the first point of colonisation by the French Empire in 1642. African slaves were imported to work in first coffee and then sugar plantations; with the abolition of slavery in 1848, indentured labourers from mainland Southeast Asia, India, and Eastern Africa were brought in. Situated at the site of the first arrival of slaves to the island, at the port; and masquerading as an annual festival, the major design project, The Ministry of Liberation, is set on the 20th day of December - Fet’ Caf ’ - a holiday which commemorates the abolition of slavery in 1848.
Using ‘how to’ manuals, tokens, and a lexicon, the Libeation Carnival expresses the arbitrary nature of the imposed legal political boundaries and suggests, even for a moment, a new alternative political future of independence from France.
The Ministry of Acculturation, Seduction and Sedition
The project looks in great detail at the processes of ‘acculturation’, understood as the process of social, psychological and cultural change that stems from blending between cultures. The effects of acculturation can be seen at multiple levels in both the original (native or indigenous) and newly adopted (host) cultures. At the architectural level, acculturation can be seen in style, form, building techniques and practices, often adapted or adopted to suit local climatic conditions.
The approach centres on the diversionary, the oblique and the unseen, using tactics of seduction, subversion and subtlety. My site is a prominent site amongst historical buildings, remnants of Réunion’s colonial history. It is on Rue de Paris, which is Saint Denis’s ‘most prestigious’ street and contains ‘impressive’ wooden neoclassical style mansions.
The project takes the form of a set of new, stylistically hybrid architectures along the Rue de Paris that are multi-sensorial experiences, spaces redolent with mystery and allure.
The Ministry of Créolisation
What’s in a name?
“I am the time traveller, choreographer and architect of this speculative project that I am unable to name.”
Reunion Island’s mixture of French, Malagasy, Tamil and Chinese influences provide a rich, textured and creative landscape. Apartheid, as its very name suggests, sought to separate, segregate and contain ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’. Créolisation is its diametric opposite.
In a world where ‘otherness’ has not contributed in an explicit way to production in the built environment, the project seeks to articulate it.
The project tries to draw analogies between architecture as-a-form-of-cultural-expression and race as a form-of-cultural-experience. But ‘race’ is a difficult concept. The more you investigate it, the more it disappears, the more slippery it becomes. It is not biological – the difference between someone with X amount of melanin and someone without isn’t even significant enough at a biological or evolutionary level to account for the difference between two species of cats – yet the history of the entire world is based on this chimerical idea. And a chimera, in theatrical terms, is something that is hoped for, but is illusory and difficult to achieve.
In his seminal work, ‘Race and Theatre’, Harvey Young says, ‘theatre and performance have been deployed as key metaphors and practices to rethink race, gender, culture and one’s self. Theatre has been a form of entertainment and escapism that allows us to travel back in time and be submerged in another world, which allows the audience to connect to the subject matter and experience what the characters feel.’
Linnaeus and the Garden of Earthly Delights
An island presents us with several unique conditions where the word ‘nature’ can be closely observed, almost as if in a laboratory. Literature is full of examples where an island stands in for the world-as-a-whole, a microcosm of life as we know it, enclosed in a finite, bounded entity.
One fascinating statistic about Reunion, and one which forms an underlying theme throughout this project is that Reunion has the 72% of its land under environmental protection, the highest in the world.
There are 1730 known flora species inhabiting the island with dire implications imposed upon the 49% of plants unfortunate enough to be categorised as exotic.
A particularly important concept in the development of the project has been the way in which plants and natural species are classified by botanists into the following categories:
· Native/ Indigenous – (arrived naturally to the island)
· Endemic – (evolved to grow natural in a certain place)
· Exotic – (species from other countries introduces through artificial means)
· Cryptogenic – (potentially native, unclear origin due to lack of evidence)
· Invasive – (exotic species which have become uncontrollable, threatening native species)
Invasive species of plants are aggressive in their hold of territory as well as migration to new locations and are characteristically exploitative of their surrounding resources. Endemic plants come from elsewhere but adapt themselves to local conditions such that they are only able to survive in those conditions. The Galapagos Islands are a very good example of endemic species.
Exotic species come from elsewhere, not in the contemporary seductive sense of the word but simply in the original Greek sense of exo – outside. All invasive species are said to be exotic.
Indigenous plants are those that, through evolution, have evolved slowly over long periods of time to be considered ‘indigenous’ or ‘native’ to a location.
These are metaphors for the larger processes of migration, displacement, slavery, colonisation and conquest that underpin the history of Reunion Island in particular.
THE MUSIC BUREAU
This project explores the relationship between music and architecture; more specifically, the role music has played in politics and protest, both in South Africa and around the world. Predominantly black genres such as Jazz and Hip-Hop have been crucial in liberation struggles at both a personal and political level.
Reunionese culture is a rich and dense blend of influences spanning three hundred years of trade, conquest and migration. Although there is little evidence of this history of mixing in its architecture, literature or religion, in its music, Reunion’s true identity emerges. Maloya, which is perhaps the only example of an authentic Reunionese ‘voice’, contains different rhythms, tempos, beats and a distinct syncopation. Although the wider cultural landscape of Reunion is still close to that of France (through literature, the arts, theatre and film, for example), music has been extremely important in keeping a distinctly Rèunionese sense of identity and culture alive.
The Music Bureau is both an official (i.e, state-sanctioned and endorsed) institute and a space of resistance and reform. The project unpacks the hybridity which exisits in Maloya music and attempts to use it as a catalyst for forming architecture.
The project sits alongside the theatre, occasionally disrupting and breaking apart its existing structure, at other times enhancing and complementing it. The intention with the project is to interrogate the idea of ‘state-sanctioned’ or ‘official’ identity through the use and exploration of music-as-architecture, a tool for both experiencing space and form.
Just as language is a tool for writing and citizenship is a tool of identity, so too are plans, sections and elevations tools for the construction of space.
The precision of the tools is important. Embossing leaves a trace. Folding and pleating undermines space. Copy and paste results in slippages, accidents, near-misses.
The archaeological dig transposes a major French artefact, the Elysee Palace onto Saint-Denis’ Town Hall. Using the language aquired in Act III (copy/paste; stich, fold, pleat), the new Metro is copied from the original onto the land.
This is a deliberately meandering project, similar in many ways to the way identity ‘works’ through time, history, space and place. In this project, I have multiple identities: weaver, botanist, forger, hacker.
The drawings investigate five absurd ways someone can acquire citizenship.
Spaces were constructed through the acts of weaving, stitching, slicing, layering and cutting. The project intention has been to highlight the absurdities, hardships and histories of the migration/immigration experience between France and Reunion, and to make work that speaks to the disparities of identity, power, politics and citizenship not just in France, but across the globe. An architecture of the Diaspora. Diasporic form.
The Waiting Room
We are surrounded by the tropes, tales and traumas of migration. Political orders are being overturned, right-wing politics become centrist and the old Left is stumbling in many countries, trying to find a political response to issues of immigration that does not alienate huge swathes of their voting constituencies. Referenda are held; governments fall. And, in the meantime, migrants wait. And wait.
Imagine yourselves entering into this space. You have disembarked from the dinghy. You place your foot on the platform. There is an almost imperceptible vibration in the floor below you. To your left and right are a row of six male and female ablutions. You know what to do. Males in this side, females over there. The programme of a toilet is familiar.
Ahead of you is a staircase which fits only one person at a time. You put your foot gingerly on the first step. As you proceed up the flight of stairs, what was an imperceptible vibration has developed into the mechanical whirring of machinery. At the top, finally a landing. Before you, a 24m long table presents itself. At the end of it is a person sitting with his hand propped on a dial. On seeing you, he flicks his hand and the whirring starts again as the table starts to rotate. You are powerless. You wait for his command. But you have arrived as the day is drawing to an end. “Bonjour. Ou séjournez-vous? Ah, ce n’est pas la bonne bureau pour vous. Vous devez y aller.” (Good afternoon. Where are you staying? Ah, this is not the right office for you. You must go there). He flicks his hand again and starts rotating away. You have a question. But he is already at the point you found him when you arrived. He is not coming back today.
Several times. Several questions. Three sessions. Each time the same questions are asked. Each time slightly different. The impact of the ocean waves crashing against the lead covered concrete walls starts to take effect. At first a hairline crack is visible in the exterior concrete surface of the western wall. Over the three sessions this develops into a void of exposed structures and corroded finishes through which the city is visible, yet still inaccessible. However, when you look to the right, the transverse wall appears to have collected the deposits of the erosive effect. A crusty impenetrable layer has formed making the surface more robust. More resilient.
The Ministry of Unofficial Languages
In Reunion, Rue de Paris is significant in that all its buildings – both historical and contemporary – reflect classical French culture, history and traditions, and do not reflect the ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity of its population. About 80% of the population is mixed or Créole, with African, Indian, Madagascan and Chinese being the predominant groups other than European.
The project explores the St Denis Town Hall using different combinations of all three scales – metric, Angulam and rahf – particularly through working drawings where measurement and precision are of paramount importance. The overlaps, slippages and mis-appropriations of scale undermine the programme, façades, spaces, forms and patterns of the Town Hall, leading to new and unexpected spaces and uses. Scale is, indeed, everything. As is language.
The Ministry of Naturalisation
The French naturalisation process is currently housed in four separate buildings in Paris. These are:
· Palais Royal, where the Council General is seated and addresses all legislative decisions around citizenship;
· Préfecture de Police, where the paperwork and interviews are conducted;
· Ministry of Interior, where the applications are processed;
· French Office of Immigration where the swearing-in ceremony takes place.
The proposal brings together the various fragments of this process into a single building, the French Office of Immigration, as it is the last step in the process.
The project describes six ‘instances’ across the four buildings and ‘attacked’ the building through installations, interventions and manipulations that force the user to re-assess his/her position – in a literal sense – on migration, immigration and otherness.
The Twin Transcripts
The idea of a twin city was first developed after WWII as a way of reconciling cities or countries that had formerly been at war with one another. Twin cities often share similar characteristics: parks, street names, important buildings and so on, but the idea of the twin goes much deeper than site or location. I became interested in the psychological and social history and concept of twins: Doppelgängers, the ghost, the narcissist and Freud’s notion of the uncanny have all influenced this project, as has Bernard Tschumi’s seminal work, The Manhattan Transcripts, and the idea that a city is influenced as much by its events as by its architecture.
The Twin Transcripts, describes the same event – Bastille Day Parade – which takes place in Reunion and in mainland France on 14 July. This project is the twin of The Manhattan Transcripts and is an attempt to ‘read’ St Denis through the lens of a postcolonial gaze. It collects transcripts from events, moments in history and everyday life in both St Denis and Paris. It sets out a new relationship between past and present through event and choreography. It tries to read the postcolonial city with all its ghosts in the same way that the military parade commemorates a mythical birth (that of the French Republic), imagining it to have rid itself of its past.
The Ministry of the Fourth World
The project attempts to explore the idea of a terra nullius (a land belonging to no one, an empty land) through the design of a ‘free trade’ zone, also known as a hetrarchy, a space in which all elements share the same horizontal positions of power and authority. Drawing on Eyal Weizman’s reading of ‘smooth space’, a space in which borders have no effect, the Free Trade Ministry explores questions of identity, belonging, hierarchy and hetrarchy, institutionalised power and anarchy in spatial and material terms.
The project is located along a 3.2km stretch of the island’s outermost edge, beginning with the existing Port Authority and ‘spilling out’ into both the sea and the public land surrounding it. It will take the form of both a landscape and a formal building, although split into several discrete elements or interventions. Following Woods, the Free Trade Zone is intentionally uncomfortable, aimed at disrupting our comfortable, bourgeois and essentially Western ideas of space, form, and programme. ‘You can’t bring your old habits here. If you want to participate, you will have to reinvent yourself.’ (qtd in Ouroussoff, Nicolai. New York Times, August 2th, 2008). Using terms such as ‘guise’, ‘cognitive dissonance’, ‘subversion’ and ‘terra nullius’, the project aims to design the impossible, a place in crisis, a ‘smooth space’ in which all are equal, neutral before the law.
Ministry of Women and Children
Focusing on the representation of ‘other’ histories on the island, this Ministry takes the form of two programmatically “bleeding” buildings in what used to be the School and Chapel of Immaculate Conception. Both buildings are situated on the same site. In the historical slave legacy of ‘le code noir’ it is stated that “any child born to an enslaved woman is born into slavery, regardless of the ancestry or citizenship of the father”. The project seeks to unearth these and other unheimlich histories - suppressed and largely invisible narratives and to find representation for them in architectural and built form.
The False Archive
‘Undergraduates, seduced, as always, by the changing breath of journalistic fashion, demand that they should be taught the history of black Africa. Perhaps, in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is largely darkness, like the history of pre-European, pre-Columbian America. And darkness is not a subject for history.’
Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper
Astounding as it may seem, Trevor-Roper was right: much of Africa’s written history is either the history of Europeans in Africa or the history of Africa as told to Africans by Europeans. History, it was once famously said, ‘is told by the winners.’
The False Archive, attempts to reverse a number of distorted myths about Africa, principally that there is no written history of Africa, by Africans. The project ultimately repudiates Trevor-Roper’s assumptions by providing a space, place and programme for alternative histories, forgotten stories, half-remembered myths and new futures to be inserted into an archive, located in the capital city of St Dénis, Reunion Island.