Kurdistan - Jonas Staal

Local parliament in Cizîre, Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) / Photograph by Jonas Staal (2015)

Last Tuesday, I attended a lecture of Dutch artist Jonas Staal at the Centre for Research Architecture in Goldsmiths (London). Among other things, he was introducing the last work accomplished through his brilliant project of New World Summit in which he invites representatives of black listed and/or stateless political organizations of the world to present their struggle and debate with other members of the summit. I recommend to everyone to have a close look at the four occurrences of the summit since 2012 (in Berlin, Leiden, Kochi, and Brussels), but through this article, I would like to insist on one particular aspect of Jonas’s lecture, when he described his recent trip to the self-governing canton of Cizîre in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) where a new mode of governance is currently practiced in the vacuum of power created by the Syrian civil war. This canton, situated in the Kurdish area where Syria meets both Turkey and Iraq, is to be distinguished from the two others in Rojava: Kobané and Efrîn. Jonas explained that despite a common goal aiming at the creation of the State of Kurdistan, the Rojava revolution movement, as well as the Kurdish Women’s Movement (who presented their manifesto for a Democratic Confederalism at the last New World Summit) operate independently from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which tends to adopt a relatively dated mode of governance compared to these younger movements.

When presenting the photograph above, Jonas described the inverted hierarchy of the various parliaments operating in this mode of governance: when we are used to observe the strong decisional power of national parliaments, decreasing as the scale of governance becomes smaller (regional, departmental, cantonal, municipal, neighborhood-based, etc.), the Rojava revolution movement, Jonas says, has adopted an exact inverse principle. Neighborhood parliaments have the strongest ability to take important decisions for the territory on which it operates, when cantonal and even more so, national, parliaments’ authority operates to a lesser extent. As simple as this inversion sounds, it appears to me that such a mode of governance can radically change the way political life is practiced. In order to attempt to explain why, I propose two points that are radically engaged by this principle: territorial and body scales of governance and intensity-based citizenship.

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Map Gilo Settlement Jerusalem - Leopold Lambert for The Funambulist

Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (May 2015) / Download a high-quality version of them here (8.1MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

The Israeli settlement of Gilo (26,929 inhabitants), whose construction started in East Jerusalem four years after the 1967 invasion, is well-known to be exemplary of the occupation and colonization of East Jerusalem. One of the main reasons for this consists in the road-infrastructure associated to it: a high viaduct dominating the Palestinian town of Beit Jala (see photos 5 and 6) and two tunnels (see photo 7) constituting what Eyal Weizman calls “the politics of verticality” (different sovereignties applied on different layers of the same territory) in Hollow Land (Verso, 2007), whose cover shows a drawing of the viaduct. Gilo, and its ‘little brother’ Har Gilo (602 inhabitants) are also forming the buffer area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, two municipalities separated by the apartheid wall built by the Israeli government starting 2002. The two checkpoints that filters Palestinian (and pilgrims) movement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated nearby: Gilo checkpoint itself (also known as 300) allows (on ‘normal’ days) pedestrian crossing (for Palestinian who have a permit to access Jerusalem) in addition to vehicles (most Christian pilgrim coaches use it), when the tunnels checkpoint regulate Road 60 that joins Jerusalem to Hebron — vehicles with an Israeli plates can go through the tunnels, while Palestinian cars cannot.

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Photograph from the “Breaking the Silence” report

The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence has just released a 237-page report of soldier’s testimonies following the dreadful siege on Gaza in July and August 2014, which killed 2,200 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 indubitable civilians (OCHA numbers). There is already a lot that has been written yesterday and today about it, from the newspapers pretending to believe that the atrocities described by the Israeli soldiers themselves constitutes some exceptional misbehavior when, actually it is clear in the reading of these testimonies that they are the war’s modus operandi, and corresponds to orders (or the absence of orders), to more interesting articles written in the Electronic Intifada, +972 Magazine or on Geographical Imaginations. It therefore does not seem so useful to add a description of what is only an (admittedly important) confirmation of something we already knew. What I can propose however, is to state a few points about which we should be careful when we read these testimonies from sixty-five Israeli soldiers.

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Cairo's objects - Photo by Leopold Lambert (3)

Objects of Cairo: Excavating the City’s Narratives /// 

Originally written for Mohamed el-Shahed and published on Cairobserver 

How difficult it is to write about a city you barely know but that had a great impact on you! Jumping to conclusions, romanticizing what we see, thinking that we understood something, the risks are multiple. Rather, what traveling allows is to get to know that we fundamentally do not know: we refine our ignorance, somehow. In this process of refining, I would like to thank the people who took the time to talk to me, and thus enriched my mesmerized eyes with some important contextual information: May al-Ibrashy, Beth Stryker, Omar Nagati, Manar Moursi, David Puig, Ahmad Borham, Azza Ezzat, AbdulRahman el-Taliawi, Nermin Essam El-Sherif, Salma Belal, Heba Raouf Ezzat, AbdelRahman Hegazi, Ramy Zeid, René Boer and, of course, Mohamed el-Shahed.

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Le Corbusier - Expo Pompidou (2)

Le Corbusier’s Modulor / Fondation Le Corbusier (1957)

2015 is the year of the 50th anniversary of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret aka Le Corbusier‘s death. As usual, this kind of dates triggers a series of cultural production, the main one being a large exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris, and another is the involuntarily synchronized release of three books excavating the relationship of Le Corbusier with fascism: Un Corbusier (A Corbusier) by François Chaslin (Seuil), Le Corbusier: Un fascisme français (A French Fascism) by Xavier de Jarcy (Albin Michel) and Le Corbusier: Une froide vision du monde (A Cold Vision of the World) by Marc Perelman (Mochalon). Through his biography, as well as his private correspondence, these three authors establish unequivocally that Le Corbusier was keen with antisemitic and fascist ideas. Although I can only recommend articles written in French about them (see the interview of François Chaslin by Mediapart for instance), it is not in my interest to reflect on any aspect of his biography. I believe that it is important that this excavating work has been done and it is currently eagerly relayed, but judging the person of Le Corbusier, especially with such unequivocal evidences, is easier and less useful, than judging his architecture in its complexity, and the vision of society it envisioned and actually produced: although modernism is not the invention of one person, nor of one discipline, we can reasonably think that without his work, our cities would not look exactly the same today.

Although the approach of Olivier Cinqualbre and Frédéric Migayrou in the Pompidou Center exhibition does not attempt to propose any level of critique to Le Corbusier’s work, the curatorial choice centered around “The Measure of Man” certainly allows us to articulate our own. An entire room is dedicated to the Modulor in its multiple variations: numerous drawings, a scale-1 sculpture, and even customized tape-measures that allows to apply the modulor’s system of dimensionning to all things. Although Le Corbusier insists that the Modulor is a proportional system — something that would mobilize an aesthetic debate rather than a societal one — he calibrated this system on a normative 183-cm male (“The Measure of Man” takes its full expression) body, which will then have consequences on the totality of his design and architectural work, and thus on the city itself (especially in the case of Chandigarh). I already articulated several times a critique of such a calibration whether in Le Corbusier’s or Ernst Neufert’s work (see one of the past articles) but also through the gendered normative bodies of Joe and Josephine in Henry’s Dreyfuss’s design; yet, this calibration exists at a more of less conscious level, in all design, and we thus need to keep researching what politics lies behind this practice.

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08 novembre 2005

“Collapse” / Photograph by Léopold Lambert in Aulnay-sous-Bois during the 2005 revolt


In last January, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the situation of the French banlieues (suburbs) as “a territorial, social, ethnic apartheid.” Beyond the problematic use of the term of “apartheid” that tends to normalize South Africa’s history — I personally use it in the context of Palestine, because the political intensities of both situations are somehow comparable — we could potentially appreciate the gravity of the words from the head of the government, if they actually corresponded to a radical national plan of territorial revalorisation, as well as an unequivocal acknowledgement of responsibility from the political ‘class’ for what is surely the most important issue of the country (Valls was himself mayor of Evry in Paris’s Southern suburbs between 2001 and 2012). Although Valls probably did not intend to have the term ‘apartheid’ understood this way (we can also suppose that he never really thought about what the apartheid actually is), we cannot strip it away from the governmental strategy contained within it.

Ten years ago (October-November 2005), an important revolt started in the banlieues after two Black and Arab teenager, Bouna Traoré et Zyed Benna, died from electrocution (October 25) while running away from a vehicle of the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminality, a branch of the police, known for its regular verbal and physical violence against the banlieues youth) that suspected them from having trespassed a construction site. The movement of outrage for this particular event and, more generally, the territorial and citizenry exclusion that the banlieues constituted, mostly manifested in numerous vehicles and buildings set on fire. On November 8, 2005, President Jacques Chirac (assuredly inspired by his then Minister of Interior…Nicolas Sarkozy) declared the state of emergency. Although many of the exceptional measures allowed by this legal state were not applied — a curfew was however applied in six neighborhoods — we can see in this decision how the state considers discursively and politically the racialized and economically precarious populations of the banlieue as absolute otherness. The state of emergency ended on January 4, 2006, a long time after the last car burnt, and ten years later, things have only gone worse between the economic struggle than a majority of the banlieues population has to face, as well as the increased liberation of physical and verbal forms of racism and islamophobia.

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New Egyptian capital - SOM

Masterplan for a new Egyptian Capital by Skidmore Owings, & Merrill (2015)

About a month ago, the General el-Sisi’s administration announced that the Egyptian government will be soon building a new capital city for the country. Designed by the famous American architecture office Skidmore Owings, & Merrill (SOM), the masterplan of this new city places it in the desert about 50 miles East of Cairo, thus continuing a politics of expansion to the desert that someone like friend Mohamed el-Shahed has consistently proven as unsuccessful. Yet, this plan should not be judged for its success or, rather, its success (i.e. the actualization of the intents that motivated its construction) is precisely what should be feared here. The following text will attempt to articulate the hypothesis that this masterplan will constitute a new urban paradigm for the future, sharing similarities (although updating them) with the infamous Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s masterplan to radically transform Paris between 1853 and 1870, which is well-known to have facilitated the counter-insurrectionist military movements once implemented, as well as with the appropriation of the brand new Brazilian capital by the military dictatorship in 1964.

Let’s start with a reminder that since July 3, 2013, Egypt is ruled by General el-Sisi after the army overthrew the elected Mohamed Morsi’s administration after massive protests contested the politics of the Freedom and Justice Party (the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood). Since then, Sisi and the army have conscientiously undertook to break the inertia of political gatherings in Cairo that started with the 2011 revolution. The administrative and consular areas of the city are sealed by heavy concrete and steel barricades, and their access is strictly filtered to only allow authorized people to these parts of the city and, in other areas, various architectural militarized elements defend specific buildings or dissimulate armored vehicles (see past article). The military understands that, despite their overwhelming domination, the control of a urban fabric is easier to implement when undertaken at the source, in the designing phase of the city. It is thus not that surprising to see a soldier-president deciding to create a new city, where military control will be fully part of the agenda (whether it is explicit as such, or not). As Mohamed el-Shahed describes in an article for Architectural Record, such a control begins with the very property of the land on which this new city will be built:

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Levant April 2015 Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist

Maps created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (April ) / Download a high-quality version of them here (5.5MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

The following article is not an analysis of the current Syrian situation, simply a collection of facts that, I hope, are more imprecise than inaccurate. When a situation is this much complex however, documents that gather this kind of information appear as helpful — if not for anyone else, at least for the person producing this work. Although the two maps were made not to necessitate a text on their side, they are complex documents (because describing a complex situation) and I would like to try to explain each of their points, one by one, throughout the following article:

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Rachel Corrie confronting a Israeli army bulldozer before being killed by it (March 13, 2003)

A few months ago, I learned that Judith Butler was going to give a lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science about the notion of human shields. Butler’s choice for this notion is very likely to have been motivated by its systematic use by the Israeli army during last dreadful summer to justify the two thousand civilians it kills in Gaza, both through bombing and terrestrial invasion. I enthusiastically discovered yesterday that the video of the lecture (that occurred on February 4, 2015) was now available online (see below) and undertook to watch it (twice!). Although Gaza inhabitants are at the core of Butler’s intervention’s first half, she then attempts to articulate a parallel with the numerous killing of unarmed black men and women by white police officers in the United States, thus exiting the legal notion of human shield to prefer the (admittedly fascinating) process by which a body looses a status of civilian, or rather acquires a status of threat within a racist fantasy that proves to be fatal when its author is an armed body, if not a police officer. Feeling that the notion of human shields had then been forgotten from her argument, I felt the urge to go back to it, in order to try making some sense — however minor — out of it.

Butler argues that the only rationale in which a human body/life can be understood as embodying a certain degree of militarization in just being where it is, is an economic rationale: what we could call “economization of life,” following Michelle Murphy (see our conversation in Archipelago). Such a positioning of one body, whether voluntary or not, is based on a what Butler calls a calculation of cost/benefits since the act of putting a body on the line can be necessarily considered as a cost in the extreme fragility and precariousness it constitutes, as Banu Bargu (quoted several times in the lecture) illustrates in her brilliant work about human shields. Nevertheless, Butler notes that “when we speak about voluntary and involuntary human shields, we are from the start talking about designations that take place in language, and for specific reasons: these are discursive formations that are already mobilized in the service of a war effort or in the midst of a war field.”

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The Funambulist Papers (full cover)

I am very happy to announce that the second volume of The Funambulist Papers and its 26 great contributions are now published by punctum books in association with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School for Design. As for every Funambulist books, it is available both in printed and open-access version on punctum books’s website. For more information, see the introduction below, as well as the index.



This book is the second volume of texts curated specifically for The Funambulist since 2011. The editorial line of this second series of twenty-six essays is dedicated to philosophical and political questions about bodies. This choice is informed by Léopold Lambert’s own interest in the (often violent) relation between the designed environment and bodies.

Corporeal politics do not exist in a void of objects, buildings and cities; on the contrary, they operate through the continuous material encounters between living and non-living bodies. Several texts proposed in this volume examine various forms of corporeal violence (racism, gender-based violence, etc.). This examination, however, can only exist in the integration of the designed environment’s conditioning of this violence. As Mimi Thi Nguyen argues in the conclusion of this book’s first chapter, “the process of attending to the body — unhooded, unveiled, unclothed — cannot be the solution to racism, because that body is always already an abstraction, an effect of law and its violence.”

Although the readers won’t find indications about the disciplinary background of the contributors — the “witty” self-descriptions at the end of the book being preferred to academic resumés — the content of the texts will certainly attest to the broad imaginaries at work throughout this volume. Dialogues between dancers and geographers, between artists and biohackers, between architects and philosophers, and so forth, provide the richness of this volume through difference rather than similarity.

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The Village under the Forest2

Still from The Village under the Forest by Mark J Kaplan and Heidi Grunebaum (2013)

Too often along the lines of the work articulated here, I tend to propose a vision of Palestine that is involuntarily centered on a post-1967 narrative. The latter reinforces the essential separation between the various people living on this territory, while forgetting the 5 millions Palestinian refugees from the political equation. It also encourages a future vision aiming towards the so-called “two-state solution” against which I have regularly argued (see this past article for instance). The imaginary to which I would like to contribute instead, is one that insists on the single entity that is historical Palestine and its territorial capacity to host every historical waves of migration, including the contemporary ones from East Africa. In order to so, we need to take seriously the responsibility of the successive Israeli governments, their army and their various institutions for all forms of modification of the territory we call Israel since 1948.

As Israeli historian Ilan Pappé describes precisely throughout The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld, 2006), the first of these modifications consisted in the forced or military induced expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from this territory during the Nakba. The various modifications of the territory that followed 1948 were thus as much dedicated to host and organize the life of this new nation (there were a bit less than 1.5 million Jewish citizens in 1951), as to construct its founding myth. In this regard, the latter could not possibly have been based on the violence of the massacres, looting, and massive expulsion of two-third of the local population (80% of the Palestinians living on what we now call Israel).

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Carcel de San Pedro

Carcel de San Pedro in La Paz / Photographs by Martin Konerding & Erik Fantasia

As many of you know, the topic of the prison is a particularly important one on The Funambulist. Questioning the prison is approached through two primary aspects: the necessity for such an institution to materialize into an architecture to implement its function serves as a paradigm of the relation architecture and societies maintain (see past article for instance), and examining the act of incarcerating bodies as being contained within the essence of architecture.

The example of San Pedro prison in La Paz helps us wonder about the very function of the prison, and its means of implementation. This prison, situated in the center of the Bolivian capital city, hosts 1,500 detainees who are free to come and go within the perimeter of the complex. In it, inmates live with their families, practice a profession, rent their cells, play pool or table-football, and tourists occasionally visit the facility. Such a scenario can remind us of Escape from New York, a 1981 John Carpenter film depicting a future where the entire island of Manhattan has been transformed into a city-scale prison, where thousands of detainees organize in society (following a scheme that does not differ much from the one outside of the walls). Such a spatial organization of the prison allows us to question the very principle of this institution.

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Soderbergh Steven - The Knick02

Still from The Knick by Steven Soderbergh (2014)

The Hospital as a Laboratory: The Production of Medical Knowledge Through the Bodies, originally written for L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui 405 Therapeutic Architecture (March 2015)

In one of the lectures he gave in Rio de Janeiro in 1974, Michel Foucault describes how the paradigm of the hospital as an institution radically shifted in the 18th century. During the centuries preceding this change, the hospital was “a place where one comes to die,” or, to be more precise, an internment place where the poors comes to die and from where the diseases that killed them could escape. For Foucault, the 18th century is the time of all changes since all institutions (hospital, prison, government, education, etc.) start to base themselves on a mode of sovereignty no longer centered on the binary opposition of life and death, but, rather, on the management of life and its attributes. This new mode of sovereignty that is applied onto its subjects’ lives is what Foucault named “biopolitics.”

As institutions change, their architecture also does. The hospital thus becomes a place where one comes to be cared and cured and the architectural environment of bodies participates to such an endeavor. This place is now considered as “a mechanism to cure, and of which the pathological affects it causes must be corrected.[1]” This implies an hygienist architecture within which sick bodies can be easily administered.

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This article aims to be in the continuity of the recent one about the Suez Canal and the geopolitics of submarine Internet cables, as well as a contribution to my first attempts articulating a few ideas around the idea of what I would like to call, “the politics of narrowness.” that I recently started by presenting an essay about the “political geographies of the corridor” at the University of British Columbia a few days ago. In this regard, the following text constitutes more a general approach of the international legislation that organizes passages in the geopolitical typology of straits, in this case the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, than a specific statement about the region about which my ignorance is large. The choice for the Strait of Hormuz is however, not innocent insofar that it is the object of great scrutiny both by world economic powers for its crucial characteristics in the transportation of oil, and by the local governments, in particular Iran, that look at the presence of numerous Western warships in the Persian Gulf as a potential threat to their sovereignty.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in its third version, conceived in 1982 and implemented in 1994, constitutes the legal frame of the maritime passages in straits of the world. An historical change this piece of legislation allowed was the substantial extension of territorial waters, from 3 to 12 nautical miles from a given country’s coasts. The direct consequence of such territorial offset can be found in the incidental nationalization of straits such as Gibraltar, Malacca and Hormuz. The latter being only 21 nautical miles wide, the separation of Iranian and Oman territorial waters is established at equidistance of the two facing coasts, thus leaving no passage in international waters. As Nilufer Oral explains in an article for the American Society of International Law, the right to passage in straits as defined by UNCLOS III constitutes “the exercise in accordance with this Part of the freedom of navigation and overflight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait between one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone” (article 38). UNCLOS III has never been signed nor ratified by the United States that do not recognize the extension of territorial waters as implemented in 1994. Iran signed the treatise but did not ratify it, in order to apply its provisions only to the legislation parties. Regarding non-signatories like the United States, it claims to apply the former piece of legislation organizing navigation in straits, the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. The latter authorizes a coastal nation to apprehend ships in their territorial waters if their passage is perceived as “non-innocent,” that is, if a threat to the regional peace can be proved to be affected through their presence.

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lo Squaderno

Originally published as “Invisible and Scrutinized Bodies,” in Andrea Pavoni (ed), Lo Squaderno 35 (March 2015)

The following text will attempt to demonstrate that both processes that aim at making bodies either invisible or, on the contrary, hyper-visible operates through the same mechanisms of a productive politics of visibility. The brief of this issue evokes “homeless, illegal workers, gipsy communities, early-morning cleaners, graffiti writers… and let’s not forget urban foxes, cave spiders, mice, contagious germs,” as examples of human and non-human bodies incarnating the “urban invisibles” that gives it its title. These bodies are invisible insofar that they constitute what is perceived as absolute otherness. This argument of a social invisibility is the one dramatically described by Ralph Ellison in his Invisible Man (1952): the protagonist is an African American man writing his autobiography from the depths of a New York basement, describing his invisibility for the White bodies surrounding him. The novel opens with this paragraph:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me … When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.1

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Middle East Telecommunication Map (TeleGeography 2015)

On June 18, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army lost the major battle of Waterloo in Belgium against a coalition gathering the United Kingdom, Prussia and the Netherlands. As Alexandre Laumonnier describes in 6: The Rise of the Machines (Zones Sensibles, 2013, see past article), the moment immediately following the battle can be seen as an early instance of predatory stock exchange strategy. London-based banker Nathan Rothschild owned an important part of the United Kingdom’s debt engaged in the war. He was the first person to receive the information about the outcome of the battle thanks to his trained pigeons — the French optical telegraph could not work in that day’s fog — and, used this information to spread the rumor that Napoleon had won the battle (thus preventing the UK to honor its debt) while selling his shares of the debt. Everyone else followed his example and the debt quickly collapsed to its lowest price. Rotschild then bought the entire debt back and realized an added value twenty times more than the original investment. Laumonnier uses this example at the end of his book to describe a previous instance of what he examines throughout his essay: the current predatory algorithms at work each micro-seconds of Wall Street’s functioning. Behind the software construction of this algorithms, there is its actual infrastructure made of optic fibers for which a difference of an inch between two servers can have tremendous consequences in the speed of information: this is why the American stock exchange’s infrastructure is no longer in actual Wall Street but, rather, in a gigantic warehouse of New Jersey where numerous servers are hosting the fight to gain micro-seconds of speed to access and send information, immediately translating into capital.

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Militarized Cairo - Photograph by Leopold Lambert (1)

Downtown street in Cairo / Photograph by Léopold Lambert (February 2015)

While I was recently spending some time in Beirut and Cairo, one of the things that stroke me is the difficulty to represent these cities through photography. Of course, this is always true when one visits a new city; photographs tend to correspond more to the confirmation of the vision one had before visiting it than to a fair representation. In the case of Beirut, that could materialize through a focus on its ruins from the war and thus the repetition of a representative cliché, rather than showing the profusion of unaesthetic luxury towers. But the exercise is even more difficult because of the regular denial of representation enforced by private security forces or the army itself. An important part of the city reaches an important degree of militarization that materialize through the multitude of road obstacles, gates, concrete walls (often painted like the Lebanese flag), defensive kiosks, trained dog houses, road checkpoints, and other militaristic apparatuses, none of which are easy to photograph, since their very function is to survey public space and its bodies’ behaviors.

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Mahalaxmi Dhobighat - Photo by Leopold Lambert

Mahalaxmi Dhobighat (open-air laundry district) in Mumbai / Photo by Léopold Lambert (2009)

Text originally written in French for my monthly “carte blanche” in Tracés Magazine (Switzerland) November 21, 2014

Architectures without architects have rarely been so popular among…architects. From Rio de Janeiro’s favelas to Caracas’s Torre David, without forgetting the historical example of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, we can currently see an important amount of researches and projects targeting iconic architectures whose immanent construction never necessitated an architect’s intervention.

Like for every political problem, we are facing simultaneously a question of positioning, and one of production. This fascination for the “architecture without architects” – I am using Bernard Rudofsky’s 1964 exhibition’s terms here – almost always exercise itself from outside the object it attempts to describe. Such positioning is however not problematic by definition, but it can become as such when we romanticize the other through a mythical narrative dramatizing what separates us from this otherness. An experience of reality lived from within these architectures would easily dissipate most parts of this mythical narrative. Nevertheless, this experience is often prevented by the myth itself that tends to criminalize populations living in them.

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Download the map in high resolution (14 MB) and its close-up (2.1MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

This article is the third dedicated to Palestine in the form of a cartographic, photographic and textual account of my recent trip there. This particular one can be complemented with one of the five “fragments of the Apartheid landscape” discussed on Archipelago with Alex Shams. The question of the largest city of the West Bank, Hebron (563,000 inhabitants in its extended area), has been already brilliantly addressed by Raja Shehadeh for the thirteenth Funambulist Paper in October 2011. This present article will therefore not repeat Raja’s words, but rather complement the map presented above and the keyed photographs included below.

Hebron is the only city in the West Bank whose center is not fully under the control of the Palestinian Authority (Area A). A provision in the 1993 Oslo Accords divided the city in two parts, adding to the surrounding Area C another zone under full Israeli control in the very center of the old city. This area is called H2, in opposition to H1 that covers the Western part of the city and that is under the Palestinian Authority control. The reason for such a urban partition is that about 850 Israeli settlers are effectively living in the old city, sometimes directly above Palestinian houses. The city is sacred both for Islam and Judaism, since Abraham and his wife Sarah are believed to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, under the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque where, in 1994, an American settler, Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in prayer and wounded 125 others. The mosque is only accessible through checkpoints for Palestinians (see close-up map and photograph 11) as part of a urban complex where settlers can freely navigate and where most areas are strictly prohibited to Palestinians.

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The Two Faces of Ramallah - Map by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2015)

“The Two Faces of Ramallah” / Download the map in high resolution (7.8 MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

I stayed in Ramallah a few weeks ago and was thus able to observe the amount of buildings that have been or are being built since my last two visits in Palestine (2008 and 2010). The argument that I would like to make throughout this text is that these recent developments are symptomatic of a chasm between, on the one hand, the Palestinian authority and the emergence of a bourgeoisie within the Palestinian society and, on the other hand, the rest of the Palestinian population and the refugees in particular. This chasm is particularly visible when experiencing the urbanism of Ramallah and a division we can generalize in defining it as separating the Northern-Western hilly part of the city from the Southern-Eastern one that will be the topic of the following article.

As the map intends to show, the Southern-Eastern part of the city is directly confronted to the occupation. Qalandiya checkpoint is the military passage that Palestinians with permits use the most to go to Jerusalem. The Area A corridor along which the most Southern part of the city is built — this includes the refugee camp of Qalandiya — and that extends to the checkpoint is also the only route to the Southern cities of the West Bank (Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho). The regular traffic jams along this road reminds us of the impossibility for the city to be relieved from this congestion between the apartheid wall and the limits of Area C, where the Israeli army exercises full control. Furthermore, when using this unique axis of communication, one cannot ignore the view to the Israeli settlements of Psagot (see photograph 14) and Kochav Ya’Akov (see photograph 15). Similarly in the North-East, Area C in general and the Israeli settlement of Beit El and its military basis in particular, constitute a solid barrier preventing the city to develop. These parts of the city, like every other Palestinian cities have no choice but to be visually and empirically confronted to the occupation on a daily basis.

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