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Cover Design & Racism

It is my great pleasure to announce the release of the fifth issue of The Funambulist Magazine (May-June 2016) as well as its formal launch event in New York on May 4th. It is dedicated to a tremendously important topic that had been an underlying theme of many articles in the four first issues, but embraces here its entire primacy: the relationship between design and racism. Design tends to crystallize and reinforce the normative relationships between bodies in a given society, often to the point of materializing racist political programs. The issue is composed of articles, interview and projects describing the active contribution of design to structural racism in Palestine, the United States, France, South Africa, and Europe. The contributors are Eze Imade Eribo, Rasheedah Phillips, Nick Estes, Miriam Ticktin, Lwandile Fikeni, Nicola Perugini, Neve Gordon, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, Alicia Olushola Ajayi, Whitney Hansley, Claire Lubell, and Melisa Betts, as well as Sinthujan Varatharajah and Yaşar Adnan Adanalı who both wrote guest columns that precede the main dossier.

The formal launch event will occur in New York on May 4th, 7PM at 61 Local (61 Bergen street, Brooklyn, NY). It will first consist in a presentation of the issue by editor-in-chief Léopold Lambert accompanied by contributor Alicia Olushola Ajayi, followed by a roundtable about the topic with Christina Heatherton, Hadeel Khalil Assali, and Minh-Ha T. Pham. The issue will be available for purchase.

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Léopold Lambert - Topie Impitoyable - Illustrations by Loredana Micu

3 of the 13 drawings for Topie Impitoyable by Loredana Micu

Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street published by punctum books, 2016.

As announced a few days ago, I have a second book being published almost simultaneously with the first one, La politique du bulldozer (B2, 2016). Written (exceptionally) in French in 2014, this volume attempts to articulate a certain amount of ideas gathered under Michel Foucault’s phrase, “Mon corps, topie impitoyable” (“My body, merciless landscape” — topie impitoyable was kept as such for its alliterative qualities, pronounce it out loud to hear it!). It was then illustrated by friend Loredana Micu and translated into English by Anna Klosowska, and it is now published in its bilingual version by punctum books with which The Funambulist has been repeatedly collaborating these three last years.

Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street is more invested in raising the question of what a body is than in offering a definitive answer. Instead, it questions some stereotypes concerning structures located at various degrees of proximity to the body’s material assemblage, allowing a better integration of the surrounding objects, atmosphere and other bodies and proposing a political reading of their relationship to the body, whether deliberate or accidental. From the hoodie that Trayvon Martin wore when he was killed, to the streets of New York City during Occupy Wall Street and the apartheid wall in Palestine, this book moves through a series of episodes that illustrate how bodies and objects of all sizes are enmeshed in deeply entangled political relationships.

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Grande Synthe - Calais - Two camps - Photos by Léopold Lambert

Important Note: As usual when it comes to such topics, I decided to reserve all rights when it comes to the photographs presented in this article (other pictures that I publish on this blog are licensed under creative commons), as I’m wary that their use could be instrumentalized for political ideologies with which I fundamentally disagree. If you would like to use them, feel free to send me an email to ask for authorization (info.funambulistATgmailDOTcom).

I drove back to Grande Synthe and Calais yesterday, in company of friend Merve Bedir (listen to our conversation for Archipelago) in order to document the new refugee camp of Grande Synthe (see below), as well as the massive demolitions that reduced Calais’ so-called “Jungle” of half its size a few weeks ago. Merve and I have agreed to both establish a report for The Funambulist insisting on our subjective vision of this visit during which we saw the same things but, necessarily, from two different points of view — the photographs we took bring an additional layer of subjectivity to the texts. This article is therefore specifically dedicated to the comparison of the two official camps that have been built in Calais and Grande Synthe. The reason for this is that both materialize into architecture a governmental (whether national or local) political program in which migrant and refugee bodies and lives are the object. Although this article will be constructed in a comparative, and therefore negotiative, mode between both camps, one should not forget the fundamental common point of both sites: the fact that they are and remain camps and, as such, an extremely problematic architecture/urbanistic typology, as we will see in the conclusion.

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La Politique du Bulldozer - Léopold Lambert 2016

It has been a little while since I knew that two new books I wrote would be published around the same time. While the second one will exist in bilingual French/English version (more about it in the coming days), this first one, La politique du bulldozer: La ruine palestinienne comme projet israélien (Bulldozer Politics: The Palestinian Ruin as an Israeli Architectural Project) was just published in French by B2 Editions. Here is a translation of the index:

  • Introduction
  • July 22, 2014 in GAZA: The Ruins of the Continuous Siege
  • July 1, 2014 in IDHNA: Punitive Demolition of Homes
  • Interlude: Caterpillar D9 Bulldozer
  • April 10, 2002 in JENIN: The Bulldozer Used as a Weapon of War
  • July 1971 in RAFAH: The So-called “Pacification” of Gaza by Ariel Sharon
  • July 18, 1948 in LUBYA: The Palestinian Ruin and its Absence
  • Conclusion

Since there is no English version planned out, and that I used the arguments and some of the case studies in a paper presented at SOAS for the symposium “The Gaza Strip: History, Future and New Directions for Research” (October 2015) I propose to publish this shorter text here for non-francophone readers. In addition of the research specifically made for the redaction of the book, it draws on a few articles and maps written and drawn here for the last two years.

The book can be found in French bookstores that have an architectural theory section, as well as on B2’s website.

The Palestinian Ruin as an Israeli Architectural Project ///

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Molenbeek (photo by Leopold Lambert 2014)2

One of the most recurrent questions asked by French main media in their current campaign against — the animosity they manifest allows this term to be used here — any form of manifestation of Islamic public signs consists in asking “How many Molenbeeks is there in France?” to which the usual televisual “experts” answer without blinking that France has been doing a better work than Belgium when it comes to constraining “Salafists” — a word that they evidently just learned — to the Republic’s order. Beyond the traditional French condescension towards the northern neighbors (jokes about Belgium people is an entire genre of humor in France), there is this dubious labelization of one of Brussels’ 19 municipalities (Sint Jans Molenbeek) into a synonym of crawling “jihadism” neighborhood; a labelization never questioned by any of these “experts.” This article will attempt to shortly introduce the process that such a stigmatization of a neighborhood inevitably triggers. Whether this process is understood and deliberated engaged by its concerned actors is irrelevant here. My arguments won’t be that news anchor, politicians, police officers and developers are meeting every Tuesday night to discuss about how they will engage the strategy described here, but that these four actors all play a crucial role in this process according to a specific chronology.

Molenbeek is a West-Brussels neighborhood where 94,000 people live, many of which are persons and families of Moroccan Rif descent. Among these residents, 10 were part of a group of 20 people responsible for the coordinated attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015 and 32 people in Brussels on March 22, 2016. What allows the media and politicians to demagogically ignore the proportion that 10 people out of 94,000 represents, is the fact that Molenbeek is a piece of urbanity that Arab residents, a certain amount of whom carries signs of their faith, have appropriated, in the same way than any population residing in towns where the notion of public space actually means something. Even reasonable journalists seem to believe that they would not be writing a credible article if they were not acknowledging the visible manifestation of political forms of Islam in Molenbeek, as well as a supposed high rate of delinquency and criminality in the neighborhood (usually described through hearsay). However, when one looks at the actual statistic of reported illegal acts, one can only notice that the ones accounted for Molenbeek are significantly lower (often twice less) than the ones for the municipality of Brussels or other municipalities of the capital. We could expect serious journalists to find a way to generate the following graphs but that is apparently too much to ask for:

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Customr_Zaandam2

Carceral dome for the Zaandam migrant detention center by Customr Willem van der Sluis / Photo by Luuk Kramer

As the latest issue of The Funambulist Magazine is dedicated to Carceral Environments, Daniela Ortiz brought to my attention the (past) existence of these carceral domes designed in 2007 by Dutch designer Customr Willem van der Sluis for a migrant detention center in Zaandam, a town situated a few kilometers north of Amsterdam. This is far from being the first collaboration between designers/architects and the industrial carceral complex in all its forms, and we should never refuse a debate of ideas with non-abolitionist designers providing that the extreme violence of incarceration is acknowledged as an axiom of the conversation. Furthermore, if we trust the successive dated imagery available on Google Earth, we can see that the domes were dismantled in 2013, and as such, they might not be so relevant to address here. However, the way the designer describes his project in two videos (see below), helped by a complaisant media coverage, provides a discourse banalizing the violence of architecture (which is far from exclusive to this particular project) and, as such, it seems important to analyse here.

The Zaandam migrant detention center is one of the three of the kinds in the Netherlands. It is situated on an industrial dock and the cells themselves are located in carceral barges anchored to it. In June 2008, Amnesty International published a report (the cover page is a photo of the Zaandam prison) about the criminalization and incarceration of persons in irregular visa situation in the country. The first paragraph of the report states the following: “Each year some 20,000 irregular migrants and asylum-seekers are detained in the Netherlands, where the use and duration of detention and other restrictive administrative measures is increasing. This report examines how far these measures have led to a deterioration in the human rights situation of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers. It also underlines Amnesty International’s growing concern over the control and security oriented approach by governments worldwide, in an effort to “combat” irregular migration, at the cost of migrants’ human rights” (Amnesty International, “The Netherlands: The Detention of Irregular Migrants and Asylum-Seekers,” 2008.). It is crucial to associate these concerns with the design of the domes examined here, since they fully contribute to the exercise of violence denounced by the report — the counter argument presented by the designer that the domes act as “an inverted panopticon” combines the odd architect obsession for Bentham’s carceral scheme and the eloquence of illusive ideas. Although the domes have been dismantled (perhaps moved to another location), they fully take their place in the inventory of the various inventive efforts provided by designers and architects in the enforcement of the walls of Fortress Schengen (see past articles about Calais and the Slovenian/Croatian border for instance) whether these walls are built on the borders themselves, or internally in the forms of heavily monitored refugee camps and detention centers.

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03-Gagny Police Station - Photo by Leopold Lambert

Between 2007 and 2008, and since my return to Paris in late 2014, I have been taking numerous Sunday morning bicycle rides in the Paris banlieues (suburbs). I have always been wary to present these visits here, in any other context than a specific research (such as the one about the weaponized architecture police stations) in the fear that they might end up looking like the orientalist journey of a Paris resident (I live in the 14th arrondissement of Paris) in the ‘wild world of the banlieues.’ This new format to present vignettes from these rides still constitutes a risk of orientalization; yet, many of the buildings visited have a rich (hi)story and it is now my conviction that they deserve to be described instead of remaining in my personal archives as too many have been in the past. My hope is that this collection of vignettes (more will follow) can give an interesting account of the banlieues’ built environment, both in its normalized segregative violence, but also in its construction of an alternative imaginary to the retrograde one traditionally associated to Paris. The map below presents the geographical situation of the six sites visited last Sunday represented by the photographs that follow it.

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gsapp race and modern architecture

As I am currently working on the next issue of The Funambulist Magazine dedicated to Design and Racism, I was particularly interested to listen to the video of the recent round table organized by Mabel O. Wilson at Columbia GSAPP about “Critical Dialogues on Race and Modern Architecture” (see below). This enriching conversation between the guest speakers, Adrienne BrownMark CrinsonDianne HarrisSaidiya Hartman, and the two discussants, Irene Cheng and Charles Davis is self-explanatory and I simply encourage readers to take the time to listen to it — I particularly/personally recommend Hartman’s intervention, as well as the discussants’ inspiring formulation of additional questions. What triggers my need to write an article about this conversation is therefore much less the vain idea that I would have anything to add to these works, than the shock of seeing the amount of empty seats during the conversation in Columbia’s school of architecture’s main auditorium. Of course, there are always circumstantial reasons that can explain such a low attendance: the time of the event (lunchtime), the lack of publicity (although I did hear about it while living almost 6,000 kilometers away), or the various deadlines that students and professors may encounter at various times of the semester. However, hiding behind this contingency would be ignoring the reality of things: not only do architects rarely address the relationship between their discipline and racism, they seem to ignore it when the topic is finally raised in this kind of occasional events. The small audience gathered around this topic in a school that has the ambition to present a vision of architecture’s future is painfully symptomatic of this problem.

At the base of this problem, there is this eloquent figure of 91.3% of American architects being White, as Wilson recalls in her introduction — figures in most European countries are likely to be even more overwhelming. Just like when it comes to statistics of gender inequality, it is easy to understand that challenges to patriarchy and white supremacy, although not necessary actively prevented — they often are but this is beyond the point here — are mostly ignored in a profession that is mostly composed by bodies benefiting from such systems of inequality. The more this disproportion in the composition of who is architect will tend to disappear (as it is likely to happen, in particular when it comes to gender), the more we can expect anti-racism and feminism to be addressed by the profession. However, considering the problem only through this angle as it is often done (focusing on who can be considered as Black and/or female successful architects, for instance) is not enough (although, again, crucial too) and would ignore the essential function of architecture.

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You the Living

Still from You, the Living by Roy Andersson (2007)

Text originally published as “Shelter’s Political Violence,” in Arjen Oosterman and Nick Axel (eds), Shelter, Volume Magazine 46 (2015)

Shelter is often interpreted as the original typology of architecture, both for its primitiveness and for the simplicity of its function: a shelter is an architecture that protects the bodies it hosts from external conditions, such as the rain, the wind, the snow, etc. However, as often when it comes to the original figure of something, there is a risk of transforming this figure into a ‘pre-political’ myth, which recalls the illusory opposition between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes seeking to define the natural condition of the object we consider. The question is not whether the pre-political subject is intrinsically good (Rousseau) or bad (Hobbes) but, rather, if this very notion of pre-politics exists and helps us to interpret the world. Our imaginary tends to confirm this pre-political vision: after all, what is more innocent than a simple shelter whose only function is to protect our bodies from the elements? By extension, if we were to prove such innocence, we could draw the conclusion that architecture does not always bear political consequences. To the contrary, this text will attempt to demonstrate that the primitive shelter contains the totality of architectural characteristics that make the organization of space violent, regardless of the intentions that motivated its construction.

Let’s try to consider a shelter, the bodies it hosts and its direct environment, in utter simplicity: whether it consists of simply a roof or a walled enclosure of some sort, there is a separation – either an abrupt or a gradual one – between the sheltered space and the space outside of it. The sheltered space is, by definition, limited, which means that it can only contain a finite amount of matter. Bodies are material assemblages, which means that a shelter can only contain a limited amount of bodies and, by extension, that only a limited amount of bodies will be sheltered.

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Cover Carceral Environments

Dear readers,

I am happy to announce the release of the fourth issue of The Funambulist Magazine. After examining the politics of space/design and bodies of militarized cities, suburbs, and clothing, this is now the turn of Carceral Environments to be investigated by the talented contributors to the magazine. This issue examines various forms of incarceration spaces in relation to the bodies they imprison. Architecture’s violence is never greater than through its carceral typology, and a bit of this typology lies in all architecture. The issue explore political prisons in Ireland (Fiona McCann), migrant detention centers in the United Kingdom (Tings Chak & Sarah Turnbull), Indigenous boarding schools in Canada (Desirée Valadares), the carceral history of Guantanamo Bay (A. Naomi Paik), labor camps in California (Sabrina Puddu), and prison abolitionism (Nasrin Himada) in additions to the usual photographic and student sections, as well as the opinion columns and blog article re-edition.

Although the issue is already available, it will be formally launched at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal on Sunday 6th March at 3PM through a presentation of its contents and an introduction to prison abolitionism by Nasrin Himada, contributor to the issue. See the CCA website for more information. There will also be a presentation of this issue in Berlin on March 29 (more information about this event soon).

As usual, the issue is available for purchase in four different offers:
Printed Version
Digital Version
Printed + Digital Combo
Issues 03 Clothing Politics & 04 Carceral Environments Combo (printed)

You can also subscribe to the magazine and thus support The Funambulist in a longer span of time while benefiting of better prices:
– Printed Subscription per month
Digital Subscription per month
Printed + Digital Annual Subscription

The Funambulist relies on these sales to exist financially, and your support is therefore both appreciated and necessary. However, I apologize to the readers for whom the prices of these offers remain too high. I am thinking of ways to make the magazine more accessible for all in a fair way (cheaper prices in local bookstores for instance), and I never refuse to send the digital version to a reduced price or for free should it be your case and ask for it by email (info.funambulistATgmail.com).

Don’t forget that you can also help this endeavor by requesting your library to subscribe (form for institutional subscriptions) and/or by convincing your favorite bookstore to carry the magazine. The map of libraries and bookstores, where you can find The Funambulist is available here. The next issue (May-June 2016) is dedicated to Design & Racism. If you know of architecture/design/art student projects that address this issue, you may send them to info.funambulistATgmail.com for consideration. Thank you very much, I hope that you enjoy this issue, I certainly did working on it.

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