nb. Although the term of banlieue can define all suburbs in France, I use this word here to specifically talk about the suburban neighborhoods inhabited by a population in economic precariousness and composed, for an important part, of French citizens of North and West African ancestry, as well as more recent immigrants. Although my thoughts are not fully in sync with the political party of the Indigènes de la République (The Republic’s Indigenous), I will also use this term to refer to this population for its useful provocative expression: by referring to colonialism, this phrase connects the current situation to national history since a great majority of the Indigenous’ families experienced French colonialism between the 19th and 20th centuries.
This article is a prelude to an article written by Hacène Belmessous in the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine dedicated to the politics of the suburbs, and entitled “French Banlieues: Neighborhoods in State of Exception.” I commissioned him to write this short essay after reading his book, Opération Banlieues (La Découverte, 2010) that examined, in the most intense years of the Sarkozy administration, the potential scenarios that would lead the French army to intervene within the banlieues of the country. Although the antagonism between the French government and the Indigenous has always been strong, the seven years of Sarkozy’s governance (two as Minister of Interior Affairs, and five as President) corresponds to the explicit climax of this antagonism. This is why, the first chapter of Belmessous’s book written in the form of a fiction, appear so credible: in a given part of the Paris banlieue, a few young individuals engage in live fire with the police, killing three officers of the infamous BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité), and thus triggering a carefully prepared political process of emergency leading to the deployment of the army in various neighborhoods of the country.Read more
Map created for the purpose of this article / Download it here in high resolution (4.5 MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
The map presented above was made in the continuity of the four previous ones that established an inventory of Paris Banlieues’ Cités (July 2014) and a cartographic alternative to our geographical imaginary of Paris (January 2015). This map consists in a simple graphic (and probably too approximate) exercise: tracing a rough 15-minute walking distance radius around each train station (Metro/RER/Regional train) of the “Greater Paris” — a notion only in formation at the administrative level. In such a centralized city, the connection to its center is fundamental in order to exercise a potential “right to the city.” As this map and the others show, the train lines are all oriented so to reach the center of Paris, which admittedly allows a more direct path to it; yet reinforces the pre-eminence of “fortified Paris” (see past article) to the detriment of banlieue-to-banlieue exchanges. A few tram lines allowing such displacements recently opened to support the bus system; yet, these vehicles are not comparable to the trains’ speed in any way.
The access to the train system is thus crucial to the banlieues inhabitants (80% of metropolitan Paris) in their daily experience of the city — at least for the 5 million of them that do not own a car. In this regard, the 800,000 people who live in the cités that I mapped (in red on this specific map) occupy a particularly precarious situation where they either have to stay where they live — 24% of them are unemployed — or spend several hours a day in public transportation. As the map above show, about half of the cités are situated outside these 15-minute walk radiuses and therefore have to use a bus or a tram in order to reach the train network. Rather than describing at length theoretical daily lives experience, I would like to propose three examples of contrasts between the daily trip that someone needs to accomplish to go to work when living in one of the circles and one that does not.Read more
In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni released his first English-language film, Blow Up, in which he introduces a photographer played by David Hemmings, who realizes in his dark room that he may have captured the evidence of a crime on one of his photographs. Intrigued by a detail in the background of the picture he took, he undertakes to ‘blow up’ this detail (something proper to film photography) to a point where he is able to confirm his suspicion. Similarly, a few days ago, I realized that the most updated Google Earth data for Gaza consisted in photographs taken on July 29, 2014, the day when the Israeli army bombed the single power plant of the Strip (see this July 2014 map to understand the electric power supply in Gaza). The photographs show a large cloud of smoke spread over the land of Gaza as an evidence of the dreadful action of the Israeli army against the 1.8 millions inhabitants of the Strip, since those of them who were not directly suffering from the destruction of their homes had nonetheless to face shortage of electricity, clean water and sewage because of the power plant bombing (see past article). Google uses a mix of satellite and aircraft photography in order to compose their representation of the Earth and, just like in Antonioni’s movie, we could think of a coincidence for the satellite to be present a few moments after the bombing, and it has been suggested to me that Google deliberately kept this imagery as a form of geopolitical positioning. However, the last murderous siege on Gaza (July-August 2014) cannot be compared with the crime depicted in Blow Up: there is no coincidence or, rather, the coincidence is continuous.Read more
“The Political” Interview for C-O-L-O-N (Columbia University GSAPP) Volume III alongside Bernard Tschumi, Peggy Deamer & Paul Segal, Eyal Weizman, Ai Weiwei, Mary Mc Leod & Rheinhold Martin, and Cristina Goberna. See website for the other conversations.
C-O-L-O-N: I’d like to talk to your emphasis on the word “corporeal” in your upcoming book Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street. In that book you describe the human body firstly as a material assemblage. Why do you see the need to emphasize this materiality?
Léopold Lambert: I always find it useful to go back to the most elementary way of looking at architecture and our bodies. In the case of bodies and architecture as material assemblages, it is necessary that they are situated somewhere, occupying a space. A wall may occupy a space for 300 years while my body might occupy the space on this chair for maybe one hour. The essential difference we make out of it comes from an anthropocentric way of looking at things and, similarly, we may not look at the space the wall occupies and the space my body occupies as similar. But if I stand up from my chair and try to occupy the space of the wall in front of me, there is going to be a fight between the material assemblage of my body and the wall. I am going to have to use force, but the wall will withstand my body. There is a violence in this encounter; in other words, both material assemblages are affected by it, although not equally. Violence always varies in degrees, never in essence. The violence I just mentioned is pre-political. Not chronologically, of course, but methodologically, we can see that there is a violence inherent to architecture, which is then necessarily instrumentalized politically: the way we normally build walls is to resist the energy of the body. We then invented devices like doors—a regulator of the wall porosity—and keys, which allows us to establish who can get past architecture’s violence and who cannot. Now, who gets access to the instrument that can transform a regular house into a prison cell is political, but it is not architecturalper se to say who gets the key.Read more
Place de l’Etoile Rouge in Cotonou (Benin)
After spatial thinkers like Keller Easterling, Beatriz Colomina or Chantal Mouffe, the Critical Spatial Practice series edited by Nikolaus Hirsch and Markus Miessen now publishes a short book by Eyal Weizman, entitled The Roundabout Revolutions (Sternberg Press, 2015). In it, Weizman briefly introduces the research work (with Blake Fisher and Samaneh Moafi) that preceded the design of a folly for Gwangju (South Korea) Biennale. This architectural intervention mostly materializes by circular marks on the asphalt floor corresponding to the circumferences of seven roundabouts of the world that hosted large insurrectionist movements in the recent years (to the exception of one): from the smallest to the largest, Ramallah’s al-Manara square (2011), Gwangju’s Provincial Hall roundabout (1980), Damascus’s al-Sabaa Bahrat Square (2011), Tunis’s Place du 7 Novembre 1987 (renamed after the revolution to Place du 14 Janvier 2011), Cairo’s Tahrir Square (2011), and Tehran’s Azadi Square (2009). More squares would need to be added to this list (Manama’s Pearl roundabout, Kiev’s Maidan Square, Istanbul’s Taksim Square, etc.) and some of them are indeed described in Weizman’s book, which undertakes to introduce the genesis of this particular urban typology.Read more
This discussion with Momoyo Homma about the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa (1936-2010) and Madeline Gins (1941-2014) took place in the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka where the Tokyo part of the Arakawa/Gins office is situated. We begin by introducing their work through a biographic approach, then through our interpretations of the manifesto “We Have Decided Not to Die,” which fuels the creative process of the five architectural projects built in Japan and in the United States, as well as the multitude of non-built ones. We conclude the conversation by describing the space around us, one of the Reversible Destiny Lofts: its bumpy floor, its sphere room, its colors, and all the others architectural apparatuses that challenges and strengthen any body whether young or old. This conversation comes as a useful complement to the many contributions made by and for The Funambulist about Arakawa and Gins’s workRead more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more