Re-tracing Home N° 01

Conversations with Syrian newcomers on the “arrival crisis“ in Berlin

Re-tracing Home was a design research project conducted at University College London in cooperation with „Über den Tellerrand Berlin“ and „Migration Hub Network“ as well as supported by „Architecture for Refugees“. Moreover, it has triggered an ongoing project of our collective that has been pushed further at Vienna Design Week 2017 and beyond.

The design research project aims to challenge the contemporary notion of the crisis as a one of politics, not of capacity. The social and spatial integration of newcomers as well as the general issue of affordable housing in Europe is correlated to provide a new perspective – a Syrian perspective – on the perceptions and imaginations of “home” and “housing”.

The contemporary crisis is regarded as a political short-term problem. It is therefore exacerbated by temporary architecture which results in an unwelcoming reception of newcomers that hinders their integration. This alleged “arrival crisis” is investigated from an urban design perspective by addressing the discrepancy between government (mass) housing programmes and local grassroot initiatives.

By drawing from the theoretical and conceptual framework of Pierre Bourdieu‘s “habitus“ (1979) concept, James Wines’ “Highrise of Homes” (1981) project as well as the memories and experiences of displaced communities, their old, new and ideal home is re-narrated, re-written and re-drawn.

Based on cognitive mapping workshops with Syrian newcomers, the speculative design proposition of a “fluid home” postulates open and undifferentiated structures that can be appropriated by its inhabitants. In this way, newcomers would be enabled to set the thresholds to the public themselves and become part of the cultural and architectural process of re-negotiating meaning into space.

A new cross-cultural co-design agenda could introduce a new narrative of urban design to openly diminish architectural mystification and call for a new perspective on “refugee architecture” and contemporary housing models. Challenging common preconceptions and dualisms through an ethical approach to sanctify particularities could blur the lines of architectural and cultural boundaries. Migration may have the potential for re-imagining transtopian cities and societies in which every integration starts at home.