Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, by Gordon Matthews, Professor of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (available on Amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher The University of Chicago Press Books writes: There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-story commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong's tourist district. A remarkably motley group of people call the building home; Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers, and traders and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there--even backpacking tourists rent rooms. In short, it is possibly the most globalized spot on the planet.

But as Ghetto at the Center of the World shows us, a trip to Chungking Mansions reveals a far less glamorous side of globalization. A world away from the gleaming headquarters of multinational corporations, Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalization actually works for most of the world's people.
(...)

Gordon Mathews's compendium of riveting stories enthralls and instructs in equal measure, making Ghetto at the Center of the World not just a fascinating tour of a singular place but also a peek into the future of life on our shrinking planet.

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Image by Gerald Figal

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The mall in the ground floor of Chungking Mansion. Photo by bricoleurbanism

Chungking Mansions inspired Wong Kar Wai's Chunking Express movie. It is also where my literary idol of the moment, Harry Hole, is found smoking opium at the beginning of The Leopard. Chungking Mansions is a derelict 17 storeys high building located in one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong. It offers dirt cheap accommodation for tourists and traders, shops selling clothes, souvenirs or small electronics (copies and originals), curry restaurants, foreign exchange offices and other services. Mathews calls it "an island of otherness in Hong Kong." A place that Chinese people find to seedy to enter, where the lingua franca is english and an informal gathering place for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians and Africans in search of a better (or rather richer) life.

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Photo by Shin K

The book gives a perspective on globalization i had never heard about before. Not only because it talks about globalization from an anthropologist's point of view but also because it focuses on what Matthews calls "low-end globalisation" of which Chungking Mansions is a central node. The protagonists of low-end globalisation are relatively small fry compared to the corporations we usually associate with the word 'globalization.' They are traders coming from Sub-Sahara African countries who carry in their suitcases the goods they buy from Chinese manufacturers (the author calculated that a trader can fit 250 to 300 mobile phone within an airline baggage allowance), hoping to make a big profit from it back in their home country, once they have paid the necessary taxes and bribes at customs. Or they are young people from Kidderpore in Kolkota who land in Hong Kong because the ticket fare to the city is cheaper than any other destination where they could find work. They arrive with sari and basmati rice in their suitcase, stay on extended tourist visa, work for pitiful wages in a curry house and go back home with clothes to sell in their neighbourhood. In Hong Kong, these traders and illegal workers struggle to buy a Cup Noodle at the nearest 7-Eleven. Back in their home country, they are regarded as successful members of the middle-class or upper-class.

In "low-end globalisation", people still use cash and favour face-to-face business.

Whether they are traders, shop owners, asylum seekers, prostitutes, or temporary workers, these people end up in Chungking Mansions because it offers cheap accommodation, because it is located in a city-state that doesn't have strict visa rules and because Hong Kong is a gateway towards Southern China where mobile phones and textiles are manufactured at low prices.

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Photo by Alasdair Pettinger

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Room at Germany Hostel in Chungking Mansion. Photo by bricoleurbanism

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Photo by Shin K

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Photo by Lucy Lou

Matthews explores the building through its history and location, the groups of people living there, the goods that pass through it, the laws that govern (with much laxity) the transactions taking place in the building. The final chapter speculates on the future of Chungking Mansions.

Matthews's passion for Chungking Mansions and the people that inhabit it is contagious. I read the book from cover to cover over the weekend. His writing is clear, entertaining, and it never verges on the intimidatingly academic. The personal stories collected from the traders, shopkeepers, asylum-seekers and other people who pass through the building make the book even more engaging.

Berfrois has an excerpt of the book. And Foreign Policy has a photo set of CM.
Photo on the homepage by Shin-K.

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The Architecture Department at the Royal College of Art had some thought-provoking projects at the work in progress show. Architectural Design Studio 1's exhibition was looking at how a dense and vertical architecture can bring back food production and consumption in the city.

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Image courtesy André Ford

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Image courtesy André Ford

One of the students of the course, André Ford, looked at the intensification of the broiler chicken industry. Each year, the UK raises and kills 800 million chickens or 'broilers' for their meat. Broiler rearing might be unethical and unsustainable but it is now the most intensified and automated type of livestock production.

Broiler chickens spend their 6-7week lives in windowless sheds, each containing around 40,000 birds. They are selectively bred to grow faster than they would naturally which often causes skeletal problems and lameness. Many die because their hearts and lungs cannot keep up with their rapid growth. Information about the atrocious conditions in which they are raised can be found online.

Philosopher Paul Thompson, of Purdue University is a proponent of The Blind Chicken Solution. Chickens blinded by "accident", he says, "don't mind being crowded together so much as normal chickens do." He adds that while most people would think that creating blind chickens for the poultry and egg industry is an abomination, it would nevertheless be more humane to have these blind chickens.

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Image courtesy André Ford

Sadly, the demand for chicken is rising and methods of production will need to intensify in order to meet this increase. André Ford proposes to adopt a 'headless chicken solution'.

As long as their brain stem is intact, the homeostatic functions of the chicken will continue to operate. By removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken, its sensory perceptions are removed. It can be produced in a denser condition while remaining alive, and oblivious.

The feet will also be removed so the body of the chicken can be packed together in a dense volume.

Food, water and air are delivered via an arterial network and excreta is removed in the same manner. Around 1000 chickens will be packed into each 'leaf', which forms part of a moving, productive system.

The model in the exhibition showed the system in which a chicken would be grown at The Centre for Unconscious Farming. Feed lines provide sustenance, excreata lines remove waste, electrodes stimulate muscle growth.

Questions to the architect:

First of all, i found your project extremely shocking. Shocking because of all the cruelty it reveals -the way chickens are raised in windowless sheds is brutal- but also shocking because the solution you suggest -while it is not as atrocious as the way these poor animals are raised- might sound cynical. So how much provocation is there in Farming the Unconscious? Is the idea mostly an invitation for people to reflect on what they are buying and eating?

The project is almost effortlessly provocative because it is dealing with a subject matter which the majority of people are aware of, complicit in and culpable to varying degrees. The mass media is saturated with documentary films, books and celebrity chef hosted exposé's that document the plight of animals bred for our consumption and I don't wish to add to the plethora of information readily available. The information is there, but the majority of people don't care to know or purport they can't afford to care.

In the past six years we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in the demand for meat. Higher welfare systems are available but this project looks at addressing the inherent problems with the dominant system that produces the majority of our meat - the system that will be increasingly relied upon to cope with the ever-increasing demand for meat.

I think it is time we stopped using the term 'animal' when referring to the precursor of the meat that ends up on our plates. Animals are things we keep in our homes and watch on David Attenborough programs. 'Animals' bred for consumption are crops and agricultural products like any other. We do not, and cannot, provide adequate welfare for these agricultural products and therefore welfare should be removed entirely.

Earlier in the project I was proposing the chickens would be rendered unconscious, or desensitized by complete removal of the head but this has since been revised. Desensitisation will be achieved by a surgical incision that separates the animal's neocortex, responsible for sensory perceptions, and its brain stem which controls its homeostatic functions. The head remains intact.

So in short, I would refer to this solution as pragmatic, not cynical and if the project does cause anyone to reflect on his or her dietary habits then that's great.

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Image courtesy André Ford

How have people reacted to your idea so far? Did they raise the issue that this is not a 'natural' way to raise chicken?

Mostly disgust, but it varies. When meat eaters express disgust I put to them this argument, borrowed from Jonathan Safran Foer, in Eating Animals:

One piece of flimsy logic that we omnivores employ to justify our dietary choice, is that our superior intelligence and greater ability to comprehend the world, verifies our position at top of the food chain. So, if for the sake of the argument, our planet became occupied by a species that was more intelligent than our own, what would our argument be for not being eaten? If you are a meat eater, you might not have an argument, or if you did, you'd run the risk or being a hypocrite. So then you have to ask yourself, how would you like to be farmed?

An ancillary part of my proposal is to use the blood of the chicken posthumous, to hydroponically feed a nursery of rare orchids. The rationale behind setting up this unlikely mutualism is to display the similarities between these two organisms once the chicken has been desensitised. The unconscious chicken is just a different expression of the same chemical elements as in the orchid.

To answer the second part of your question - The project is overtly a hybridisation of nature and machine which is how I see the future of farming. Unfortunately, there is very little that is natural about the way the our food is currently produced. The monocultures and intensive farming systems upon which we rely are technological landscapes, harvested and processed using high-tech, and increasingly robotised machinery.

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Image courtesy André Ford

Could you describe the system the new farming system would be based on?

The system does not subscribe to contemporary intensive farming models, which are not nearly productive enough and are incredibly wasteful with regards to land and resources. This system would be closed-loop and looks to achieve density through verticality and a layering of programmes within these productive spaces.

Did doing the research for this project influence your relationship to animal products, whether it's chicken, eggs, ham or dairy?

Absolutely. I have had a full reassessment of the choices I make as a consumer, in all products that have a welfare factor. I am in denial about my impending return to vegetarianism but I could never be a vegan.

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Component drawing of the growing cell

How do headless chicken produce the muscles that will end up on people's plates?

The brain stem of the chicken which remains intact, is responsible for the metabolic systems involved in muscle growth. The muscles will need exercising in order to grow and this could be done physically by providing some sort of resistance, or as I am proposing, using electric shocks as in 'in-vitro' meat production.

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Image courtesy André Ford

Last question is about a detail really. you wrote on the blog of Naturoids that the coloured light used in batteries 'has a calming effect on the birds and reduces cannibalism.' Cannibalism? Why does that happen?

The exact etiology is unknown, but essentially they are bored. There is a greater propensity for it to occur in barren environments that restrict or limit natural behaviors like nesting, perching and foraging. This coupled with overcrowding and/or a lack or resources and flock behavior takes over.

Thank you André!

Related story: The Meat Licence Proposal.

If you're in London you might want to swing by the Architectural Association School and check out H.O.R.T.U.S. (which stands for Hydro Organism Responsive to Urban Stimuli.) To be honest i'm not sure what to think about this one but it's been a slow week art-wise for me so i'll throw the information in this post in the hope that it will help me make up my mind about the project.

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ecoLogicStudio, H.O.R.T.U.S. installation at AA. Photo: Sue Barr

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ecoLogicStudio, H.O.R.T.U.S. installation at AA. Photo: Sue Barr

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ecoLogicStudio, H.O.R.T.U.S. installation at AA. Photo: Sue Barr

With HORTUS, the architects from ecoLogicStudio are inviting the public to become cyber-gardeners and "invent new protocols of urban biogardening."

There's a bright green carpet on the floor and hundreds of intravenous-style bags are suspended above our heads. The bags are in fact photo-bioreactors and they form a 'greenhouse' that hosts nine different species of algae, from chlorella to algae found in London's canals. Visitors can blow into flexible plastic tubes, fostering the growth of the algae with their carbon dioxide and activating the oxygen production.

The plastic bags carry a QR code. You hold up your smartphone, scan the code and are directed to a page of information about the algae you've just 'fed' with your breath. Large containers are distributed between the algae bags, they host bioluminescent bacteria that automatically fed through a pump with air from the oxygen released.

The greenhouse cohabits with a virtual garden that feeds on visitors' scans and tweets about the exhibition. Their 'interaction' with the algae shape a garden rendered in real time on a screen.

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ecoLogicStudio, H.O.R.T.U.S. installation at AA. Photo: Sue Barr

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ecoLogicStudio, H.O.R.T.U.S. installation at AA. Photo: Sue Barr

I wasn't much impressed with the QR codes and the virtual garden created by tweets but it turns out that the project is much more than just another demonstration of how 'nature meets buildings meet the virtual.' H.O.R.T.U.S. is one of the manifestations of ecoLogicStudio's exploration into the role that algae might play in our future life: to produce nonpolluting hydrogen-based energy, to filter water or take a more important role in our alimentation.

The architects recently had the opportunity to try and test their idea on a larger scale in Simrishamn in Sweden. The Swedish Municipality is in need of new urban ideas to help boost its economy: the fishing industry is declining and young people are leaving the area.

ecoLogicStudio came up with an Regional Algae Farm plan that involves a series of algae-related urban activities and architectural prototypes.

H.O.R.T.U.S. enables the public to engage directly and simply with ideas and systems that might form a larger part of our life in years to come.

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Representation of the project Weaponized Architecture in Area C. From far, the building looks like a fragile Bedouin encampment (Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence, Barcelona: DPR-Barcelona 2011)

In Weaponized Architecture, architect Léopold Lambert looks at how architecture is conceived or instrumentalized as a political weapon.

Lambert's study explores the power of architecture as a political weapon through history, from the wide 'boulevards' designed by Haussmann to allow for an easy movement of the artillery and cavalry in Paris to the mobile fences deployed by police forces during the G8 in Genoa to control mass demonstrations.

However, the core of his research looks into a very precise situation: the impact of the Isreali occupation on the Palestinian built environment, in particular in the West Bank where the movements of people and goods are strictly conditioned and governed by colonial apparatuses such as separation barriers, checkpoints that hinder Palestinian movements on their land, militarized destruction of Palestinian homes, Israeli civilian settlements within the West Bank, limits imposed on the natural extension of Palestinian villages, segregated transport infrastructures.

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Separation Border -on Palestinian Territory- and Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev in East Jerusalem. Photo by Léopold Lambert

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Example of an Israeli civil settlement in the West Bank. Rimmonim in the region of Ramallah on the road to Jericho. Photo by Léopold Lambert

In Léopold's own words:

In fact, the State of Israel masters the elaboration of territorial and architectural colonial apparatuses that act directly on Palestinian daily lives. In this regard, it is crucial to observe that 63% of the West Bank is under total control of the Israeli Defense Forces in regards to security, movement, planning and construction.

Lambert's project doesn't stop at the analysis of colonial architecture in Palestine. His study goes further by 'dramatizing' a Palestinian active resistance to the occupation.

The 'Architectural Disobedience' Lambert suggests takes the form of a covert Palestinian shelter which would serve both Palestinian farmers and the Bedouins population. The 'Qsar' would allow onsite agricultural production and function as a caravansary for the Bedouins and their flocks.

The Weaponized Architecture research will be published in the coming days by dpr-barcelona. I'll come back with a review of the book and an interview with Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera from dpr-barcelona as soon as the volume is out. In the meantime, i asked Léopold Lambert for an interview. And so did Ahmad Barclay who interviewed him as well. The themes and ideas their discussion touches upon in Arena of Speculation are fairly different from the ones i'm focusing on in this post so i'd recommend checking out both interviews.

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The daily rhythm of the Qasr is organized by the working activities of the two populations, farmers and shepherds. Both spaces, agricultural and pastoral are clearly determined but intricated into each other, thus maintaining a form of negotiation

Hi Léopold! It is difficult to remain indifferent and cold when reading the reality described in the first half of the book -in which you establish the power of architecture as a political weapon in Palestine. Do you think it is possible to write about the situation endured by Palestinians and remain neutral and impartial? 
I was interested in the way you describe the Western vision of the Palestinian situation because you've experienced it from a European as well as a US point of view. Whereas i've only observed it as a European living and working in Europe and i was under the impression that in Europe we are fairly more sympathetic (although irritatingly impotent) to the Palestinian cause. Reading the post you wrote after having seen a debate on French TV made me realize I might be very wrong in assuming this European 'solidarity'. What's your view on this? Are we so blind in Europe?

The first question about neutrality and impartiality reveals indeed the way people think in Europe. In the difference of American policies in this matter which clearly support Israel, Europe tries to be more neutral in their decisions. However, this neutrality is the real trap. Neutrality is what maintains the status quo since 1967 by considering that both nations, Israelis and Palestinians are equally belligerent and should become more reasonable. I don't think that a lot of people who went there with an open minded approach share this vision of things.

The facts are that, at the exception of considering that (Jewish) divine law is the prevailing form of territorial justice, there is an objective and daily transgression of the international law by the State of Israel. Whether you consider this region of the world as one country hosting both people, or if you consider that there should be two states for two different populations, the legal problem reaches the same conclusion. In the former case, we can evoke a civil situation comparable to the South African one during the Apartheid (1948-1994), and in the latter case, we can observe, with the presence of about 500 000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a violation of the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) which stipulates that the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

This illegality throws the bases of the indignation that indeed prevents and should prevent a lot of people to remain neutral. In order to enter in resistance to act against what appears as clearly antagonist to our personal -or collective- ethics, we have to "choose a side". It does not necessarily mean that people of this "side" need to agree on every topic that are involved here -and there are a lot- but that this group of people are in solidarity to resist against what their ethics interprets as oppressive.

This is the difference between justice and resistance. Justice has to tend indeed towards impartiality and neutrality. Resistance begins with the absence of justice and engages into the concerned antagonism as a pure necessity. In other words, resistance appears to the one who is caught in this process as the only thing to do in accordance to his (her) personal system of interpretation of the world.

The Jewish people, citizens of Israel know very well this process as they have been persecuted in the worst way the human kind has ever been. However, when they constituted a State and an army -let us not forget that the three years long military service is compulsory for every male and female citizen of Israel- they became the dominant body that pathologically abuse of its power over another. What Gilles Deleuze calls the becoming (devenir) revolutionary is therefore allowed to them only if they also enter in resistance against this dominant power along with the Palestinian people and the rest of us.

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Representation of the architectural project Weaponized Architecture in Area C near Salfit (West Bank). The building is composed of three architectural layers: An upper layer of tents camouflages the building and provides shade. A surface layer claims a piece of territory via a shotcrete uneven terrain which is used as a small agricultural platform. The last layer is subterranean; it can be used as a storage for agricultural goods as well as a shared shelter for the farmers and the Bedouins

The second part of the book describes a Disobedient work of architecture for two Palestinian populations. The proposal is extremely ingenious with its set of tents that camouflages the underneath dwellings and construction site. Could you describe it to us briefly?

I will begin by describing what this particular architecture is disobeying. The 1993 Oslo Accords signed secretly by the Palestine Liberation Organization -which was pretty much transformed into the current Palestinian Authority- with Israel, organized the West Bank in three areas. Area A -and Area B to some extents- that includes the biggest Palestinian cities -except Hebron- allows the Palestinian Authority a relative territorial autonomy while Area C, on the contrary is entirely under the Israeli Army control which does not allow any form of Palestinian construction. Area A and Area B constitute islands of territory on which the Palestinians have a relative autonomy. This territory is indeed made of islands as Area C occupies 63% of the West Bank and surrounds the two former areas, thus constituting what can be called metaphorically the Palestinian Archipelago.

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West Bank metaphorical map of the Palestinian Archipelago drawn by the author based on 2010 data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

The concrete consequences that result from this territorial repartition is that Palestinians of the West Bank cannot build and live on most of the territory that has been attributed to them by the 1949 Armistice Agreements. In addition of that, it is often difficult for them to circulate between those islands as their movement is filtered by various apparatuses of control that the Israeli State has been developing.

Those apparatuses are actually the most expressive examples of my thesis which claims that architecture is inherently political and can be either conceived or instrumentalized in order to be used as a political weapon. In the book, I establish an inventory of what I have been calling colonial apparatuses that Israel has been designing and using and still uses in order to control the Palestinian daily lives. This inventory is something that I present a little bit like a reportage but really, nobody describes them better than Eyal Weizman in his book Hollow Land.

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West Bank map of the Israeli Colonial Apparatuses drawn by the author based on 2010 data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

I am approaching little by little the project here, but I still need to precise who this architecture is involving. I distinguished indeed two parts of the Palestinian population that suffer particularly from the Israeli occupation and those apparatuses I just talked about. The first one is constituted by those who live thanks to agriculture and whose land has been mostly confiscated or who cannot access it; and the second one is the nomadic ethnicity of the Bedouins who are very limited in their movement.

The program of this disobedient architecture, built in the Area C near the Palestinian city of Salfit and the very large Israeli settlement of Ariel, is therefore a small agricultural platform associated with a caravansary for the Bedouins. The architecture of this building recounts its combinative strategy of camouflage and reclaim of the land. It is constituted by three layers that have different levels of fragility: a set of tents on the outside that give to the building an aspect of fragile Bedouin settlement, a concrete based agricultural platform on the land and finally an underground dwelling connected to Area A by a tunnel.

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In a potential scenario in which the building is discovered by the Israeli army and partially destroyed. It thus becomes a ruin still victoriously claiming a piece of territory. Children of Salfit find in it, an unexpected ideal playground, both frightening and attractive

Your scenario also involves the discovery of the Qasr by the Israeli Defense Force. Why is it important to build the Qasr if it's likely to be left in ruins eventually?

This part of the scenario is useful for me to state that this building was not designed as a solution to the conflict. I don't believe that architecture can be considered in any way as a vector of resolution. Only the application of the law can veritably brings something that can be called a solution to the conflict. Architecture can be used to resist but cannot really solve problems in depth. That is what I mean by stating that architecture is systematically a weapon.

Let's go back to the project's scenario though. The first layer of tents would indeed be very easily destroyed by the Israeli army in case of invasion. The two others layers, however, are spatially and materially built in such a way that it would actually require a very substantial amount of energy for the I.D.F. to veritably demolish them completely. The building would therefore remain in the state of a ruin, slowly invaded by the rocks, dust and plants of the land and the children of Salfit would probably find in it a stimulating playground. In 1949, after the Nakba, the very new state of Israel destroyed systematically and absolutely all the former Arab villages on its territory in a symptomatic form of erasing the Palestinian mark on the land. Having this building remaining as a ruin is therefore a resistance to this architectural eradication and constitutes in itself a certain victory by reclaiming a piece of land.

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The subterranean dwelling/storage/caravansery is the space that farmers and shepherds have to share together in a continuous negotiation of cohabitation

Have you identified other existing strategies of Palestinian disobedience related to architecture and urban planning?

In terms of disobedience relative to a practice of space, the first example that comes to my mind is the Sarhats (walks) regularly accomplished by Raja Shehadeh in Ramallah's hills within Area C. Raja is a lawyer who works particularly within the Israeli legal system to resist against the expropriations of the Palestinian land. I interviewed him for the book about this matter. He is also an author and wrote a book entitled Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape that recounts how he practices his freedom of movement by walking in those hills. This approach is very interesting as it is de facto non-violent yet resolutely transgressive as it escapes from most apparatuses of control.

Two other examples I can think of, which are not disobedient as such but register more in the domain of architectural resistance, both in their own way. The first one is well known to any architect who got interested in this conflict in the last decade: Decolonizing Architecture initiated and operated by architects Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal and Eyal Weizman have been conducted several projects and exhibition that question the role architecture can have to participate to the creation of a Palestinian state in the hypothesis of its emergence. Among other projects, they developed strategies of re-occupation of the Israeli settlements that would have been emptied by either a justice decision or the potential (unlikely) result of negotiations.

The second example in that matter is brought by the association Riwaq that started in 1994 to elaborate a National Register of Historic Buildings. This inventory, although it may look that is focused on the past, really organizes a present resistance to the Israeli effort to destroy Palestinian buildings but also constitutes a common heritage to the Palestinian people, and therefore something to unite about.

Do you see your book as a kind of 'weapon' as well?

Yes, definitely. Although it might then be not more powerful as the small hand catapults that consisted most of the weapons the Palestinians were ever able to use against the Israeli Defense Force's tanks and bulldozers, it still constitutes a form of resistance in itself, a refusal to submission, and therefore a contribution to the construction of a collective identity.

Thanks Léopold!

Related entries: Book review: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine, Open City: Designing Coexistence - Part 2, Refuge, Decolonizing Architecture - Scenarios for the transformation of Israeli settlements and Welcome to Hebron.

If ice skating's not your thing, check out Somerset House's ongoing exhibition about London's Forgotten Spaces and the way to reclaim them. The projects can be found in some of Somerset House's own forgotten spaces: damp lightwells, coalholes as well as hidden passages known as the Deadhouse. The whole itinerary is so labyrinthic and dusky, it sometimes feels like a treasure hunt.

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Photo Yin&Yang

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Photo Yin&Yang

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Photo Yin&Yang

Forgotten Spaces shows 28 projects shortlisted for a competition launched in Spring by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA.) The call invited architects, engineers, students and designers to submit proposals that reclaim overlooked spaces across Greater London. Inspired by success stories such as New York's High Line or Rotterdam's De Hofbogen, the competition aims to demonstrate how alternative way of thinking about urban space can inject new life and energy into some of London's most neglected corners.

The selected entries range from underground climbing tunnels to Atlantic salmons in the Thames, firepits in Crystal Palace, bee keeping, rooftops of tower blocks turned into social hubs and artist studios nested inside church spires.

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Wayward Plants, Urban Physic Garden

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Wayward Plants, Urban Physic Garden

Urban Physic Garden by Wayward Plants transforms a forgotten yard on the King's College and Guy's Hospital Campus into public garden where medicinal plants and healing herbs are grown for the public.

During the Summer, Wayward Plants put the Urban Physic Garden into practice, transforming a derelict site on Union Street SE1.

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The Union Street Urban Orchard, Photo credit: Mike Massaro

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Denizen Works, City Bee-House

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Denizen Works, City Bee-House

Half way between street art intervention and community service, Denizen Works's proposal would give members of the public a set of simple instructions that they could follow to install accommodation for the declining bee population. The little bee houses would nest in unused gaps of land between buildings and boundary walls in central London.

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Studio Dare, Bee Project

Studiodare's Bee Project is more ambitious. The architects propose to combine urban park, 'agroforest' and bee-keeping aviary to highlight our dependency on bees and the delicate nature of our ecosystem.

Bee Project can be enjoyed as a park for recreational purposes, an educational facility for school children and the unemployed, an activity for pensioners or a business for community organisations. Furthermore, the project offers the potential to create an economic market for the exchange of fruits, jams or honey on a 'farmers' market.

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Alex Scott-Whitby (Studio AR), (IN)SPires

The winning entry, (IN)SPires by Alex Scott-Whitby from Studio AR, proposes to strike a deal with the Diocese of London to turn 38 of the 51 of the disused belfry's of the City of London's church spires into low-cost studios for creative people. The architect is apparently already residing at the top of the Church of St Mary Woolnoth above Bank station.

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Steve McCoy, The Urban Climbing Wall

Second Prize went to Steve McCoy's Urban Climbing Wall that would turn the tunnels and vertical shafts of a disused air raid shelter situated under Clapham High Street into climbing, abseiling and potholing centre for children and thrill seekers.

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Area Landscape Architects, The Wandle Leap

Area Landscape Architects's proposal suggests to reintroduce the Atlantic Salmon in the Wandle. At the mouth of this river sits a largely unknown wasteland. A sweeping fish ladder spanning the mouth of the Wandle will provide the Salmon access from the Thames to the breeding grounds in the upper reaches. A salmon hatchery will be set in a mosaic of riparian habitats, including marsh and wet woodland - a parkland reclaimed from adjacent post-industrial wasteground.

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Aurelie Pot, Brunel's Café

Aurelie Pot had a simple and charming idea: hosting a Brunel's Café on the platforms underneath the South pillar of the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges.

More images from the exhibition:

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Forgotten Spaces is open until January, 29, 2012 at Somerset House. Free Admission.
Image on the homepage: The Firepits, Crystal Palace.

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Richard Pare, Shábolovka's radio tower, 1988


Havsko Shabolovski residential block and the radio tower Shabolovka, Moscow, c. © 1935 Department photo, State Museum of Architecture Schúsev, Moscow

Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 presents archive images, abstract paintings, drawings, collages, small videos, texts describing the buildings, etc. All of them are eclipsed by Richard Pare's photographs. I toured the exhibition twice (it's not very big) and my eyes kept falling on his photos to the detriment of the rest other exhibits.

Pare spent 14 years looking for the most striking examples of constructivist architecture in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan for his book Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922-1932.

The photo that opens Building the Revolution shows the Shabolovka Radio Tower. Completed in 1922, it was the first major structure erected after the revolution. From then on until the mid-1930s, social ideals, art and architecture in Soviet Russia will converge and give rise to a radically new architectural language.

The Soviet State that emerged from the 1917 Russian Revolution needed new types of buildings: workers' clubs, schools, communal housing, sports facilities for the proletariat, factories and power stations to turn into reality the new socialist dreams of industrialisation, living quarters and offices for the new administration, bus shelters, working space for the secret police, organs of propaganda, etc.

Examples below:

Red Banner Textile Factory designed by Erich Mendelsohn and later partly redesigned by S. O. Ovsyannikov, E. A. Tretyakov, and Hyppolit Pretreaus. Built in Saint Petersburg in 1926-1937.

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Richard Pare, Red Banner Textile Factory, 1999

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Richard Pare, Red Banner Textile Factory, 1999

Gosplan Garage, Moscow, 1999, Built 1934-36. Architect: Konstantin Melnikov with Nikolai Kurochkin:

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Richard Pare, Gosplan Garage, Moscow, 1999

The DneproGES dam and power station, built in Zaporozhe, Ukraine, from 1927 to 1932. It was designed by Aleksandr Vesnin, Nikolai Kolli, Georgy Orlov, and Sergei Andrievski.

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Richard Pare, DneproGES: turbine room, 1999

Engineering based on the principles of catenary arcs, the Dinamo Sports Club diving board, in Kiev, was designed by Vasili Osmak in 1935.

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Richard Pare, Dinamo Sports Club diving board

Narkomfin Communal House in Moscow, built 1928-19320. Architects: Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis. A fine example of Constructivist architecture and avant-garde interior planning, it is now almost empty and falling apart. Proposed reconstruction, in the best case, will retain only exterior walls.

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Richard Pare, Narkomfin Communal House, Moscow, C. 1995

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Narkomfin Communal House, Moscow, Moisei Ginzburg, Ignati Milinis, 1930 © M. A. Iline, 1931, Department of Photography, State Museum of Architecture Schúsev, Moscow

The Chekist Communal House, designed by Aleksandr Typikov in Nikzhni Novgorod (1929-32) for the notoriously ruthless Cheka, the secret police that will become the KGB:

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Richard Pare, Chekist Communal House, 2002 (2009)

Vladimir Tatlin made plans for the Tower or The Monument to the Third International that would rival the Eiffel Tower. It was planned to be erected in St. Petersburg after the Bolshevik Revolution, as the headquarters and monument of the Comintern (the third international). Each floor would revolve separately at different speed. It was never built but the Royal Academy has erected a red model of it in their forecourt.

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Tatlin, Maquette for The Monument to the Third International, 1919

Moisei Reisher's Water Tower for the Socialist City of Uralmash in Ekaterinburg, Russia (1929):

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Designed by Sergei Serafimov, Mark Felger, and Samuil Kravets, the Gosprom Building, in Kharkov, Ukraine, was built in 1929 to house the Soviet government's administrative offices

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Richard Pare, Gosprom Building

Konstantin Melnikov's house in Moscow (1927-31)

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Richard Pare, Konstantin Melnikov's house

Pare explains in an interview with Metropolismag the reason why his book stops in the mid 1930s: Stalin hands down his fiat in 1932 and dissolves all the clubs and organizations and brings them all together under the single organization of the House of Architects, which was to enforce the use of the heavy handed Stalinist classicism as the state sanctioned style.

Nowadays, most of these magnificent buildings are left to decay. Even more worryingly, many occupy valuable plots in Moscow and other cities and it is feared that they will eventually be demolished and replaced by tall, very high-density constructions.

The show closes rather gloomily with one of the few buildings that remains in pristine condition: Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square by Alexei Shchusev.

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Richard Pare, Lenin Mausoleum, the burial chamber, 1998

Related entry: Soviet Photomontages 1917-1953.

Building the Revolution. Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935, runs until 22 January 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

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