An Architectural History of Forced Migration, February 26, 2018
MIT, Cambridge, MA | Building 3-133, 6:00pm-8:00pm
What do we see, when we see a refugee camp? States providing asylum are often unwilling to integrate refugees into the economy or social structure, and maintain them in remote camps in undeveloped areas, served by parallel systems or foreign aid. Refugees in camps inhabit edge conditions, surviving between competing entities and interests. The casual images of precarity that ensue form the dominant visual archive. Yet, a narrative of refugees as superfluous humanity and theorization of camps as extraterritorial may be dispelled by an exercise in close looking at architecture and history. Thinking with the Somali refugees in the camp complex at Dadaab, Kenya, offers purchase on a set of questions: of the relationship between the camp and the city, of shared humanitarian, colonial, and territorial histories, and of architecture as spatial politics. As the largest ever field site administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in operation since 1991, Dadaab offers an anchor point for many histories—of Africa, Islam, migration, urbanism, humanitarianism, development, war, heritage—and also offers a historiographic model: for architectural history in a refugee camp.