Fall 2023Archipelago 4.0: Storytelling, Activism, Re-Building
As a large economic powerhouse, China is undergoing the greatest scale of urbanization in human history. Starting from the early 2000s, a series of ‘new cities’ were planned and constructed under the central policy. They not only fulfill the demands of their old, congested, and noisy counterparts, but also a vision towards a resilient future, housing millions for the next couple decades. Yet, crises like more frequent flooding, first-ever natural population decline, and burst of real estate bubble combined to cast shadows on those ambitious dreams. On this land, vast seas became farmland and vice versa through millennia. Such phenomenon can be described using the term ‘landscape migration,’ which is the depiction of shifting dynamics of the environment at large that goes beyond the movement of single or several species through the lens of anthropogenic intervention.
Using the term as a research tool, the thesis looks at Ordos, one of the regions in Northern China fed by the Yellow River as context. Historically a fertile land with dense forests, Ordos experienced drastic ecological changes due to extensive infrastructure development, asserting state power and promoting desertification through migrant-driven over-cultivation. This has irreversibly altered the region’s ecology, laying the foundation for Kangbashi, the most famous ghost city in China.
Situated in an ideal city built in the middle of the desert, we can’t stop picturing the possibilities lying around. Thus, we picked the site, an intersection of several key flooding channels, east to the city core, and more than half being prone to flooding. Besides, it’s the base for Ordos100, a collective intellectual movement of worldwide architects designing 100 villas in 2008. 15 years later, we aim to reboot Ordos100, as an initiative of knowledge gathering not towards luxury private homes, but resilient urban places shared by the public. Besides, education resources attract new faculty and students, which make up most of the population excluding workforces currently and in future for the city. The site’s proximity to the existing school of environmental studies makes it the ideal place for on-site research collaborating with design firms on flooding and its impact on desert, which is becoming a reality. Here the facilities not only mitigate the flood, but also adapt. It’s also a new cultural symbol for the public to gather and learn. Rather than the musical fountain being manually placed at the artificial axis, ours is defined by the inherent tension of intersecting watercourse. It will become another city center, a model of resilience, and inspiring new inhabitants for the next 100 years.
The River of Forgetting
In 1985, the Limia River was used for the construction of the Lindoso Dam on Portuguese territory, 300m away from the Portugal-Spain border. Utilized as a fascist marker to establish the political relationship between Portugal and Spain, the Lindoso Dam was deemed one of many symbols of the modernized hydraulic utopia in the Iberian Peninsula, demonstrating humanity's mastery over nature and the ability to manipulate the environment for its benefit. With its construction, the Lindoso Reservoir would stretch over the border, into the Spanish territory of Galicia. This led to the subsequent flooding and forced evacuation of five rural villages in Galicia: O Vao, Buscalque, Lantemil, Reloeira, and Aceredo.
Since its flooding, the submerged Galician villages have appeared intermittently through the Limia waters during the seasonal rise and fall of its water cycles. In February of 2022, a record-breaking extreme drought depleted Lindoso Reservoir to 14% of its capacity, allowing the submerged villages to resurface fully, revealing its ruins—a living archive now accessible to the public.
In November of 2022, the reservoir refilled, submerging the villages once again.
Now, we are confronted with the overlaying of catastrophes: the aftermath of the dam’s construction, the subsequent flooding, and the periodic appearance and disappearance of these submerged villages. The physical remnants of the past are obscured beneath layers of information; layers of sediment, building materials, and fragments that interchangeably engage with the water, are now a part of this site. This signifies a point of no return, these layers representing the critical times we live in, a series of catastrophes in need of confronting.
Is it possible to grasp the magnitude, complexity, and urgency of these catastrophes, both old and new? Perhaps the future of the site will display the forces that have damaged it, providing an opportunity to understand the magnitude, complexity, and urgency of these catastrophes.
Artifacts for Three Migrations
“How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual? How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are.” Georges Perec, The Infra-Ordinary
Through a documentation of the everyday, the forgotten, and the overlooked spaces of cultural heritage, we can begin to establish an ethnography of the familiar and the infra-ordinary – a documentation that is at once individual, shared, and collective. It is an ethnography that emerges from the creation of an archive of tangible units of memory that speaks to how we live, who we are, and where we come from.
Framed within a narrative of migration, and the formation of immigrant spaces of belonging in the West, stories of artifacts, signs, spaces of play, ritual, food, and commodities of trade are collected and documented as materializations of an ancestral home carried forward to each site through memory. It is these artifacts and everyday spaces that are often overlooked when typical notions of architectural value are applied to built heritage. Conventional frameworks for architectural conservation practice and the evaluation of spaces of cultural significance places value in canonical works of architecture and discourse. It is these infra-ordinary spaces of immigrant placemaking that are often subject to mechanisms of erasure with little plan or ability to safeguard them.
In tracing a family’s journey of migration from the village of Chenghaozhuang, China, to Port of Spain, Trinidad, and lastly, to Toronto, the stories, drawings, and mappings of the ancestral homes recalled by relatives begin to foreground the artifacts, practices, and spaces that are forgotten. Situated within a larger narrative of how communities move around the globe, individual migrations are revealed to be in fact what transforms spaces and cities. These migratory family homes, symbols, places of worship, exchange and gathering are representative of a hybridization of cultures. The flow of migration of people may be considered as a powerful vector, an agent that affects the morphology of the city. A reciprocity emerges where and when these cities, collective events, economies of exchange, and larger systems of interconnection precipitates the continued flow of migration.
Within these hybrid spaces, the infra-ordinary has value and the everyday is an object of cultural significance deserving of documentation and collection, as it is a reminder of who we are and how we live. The inherent value of stories of migration creates networks of interconnected cultural sites, preserved through the cognitive maps and mental spaces of the individual, the shared memory, and the collective imaginary. Through this documentation of the familiar, everyday space is regarded as a product of migration in which the stories and artifacts may manifest in a multiplicity of ways – a future migration, an archive, a museum, a hybrid space, or a living house.
Yehewin Aski: A centre for knowledge and research in the Breathing Lands
I. The Breathing Lands
The Hudson Bay Lowlands is the third largest wetland in the world, some 370,000km2 in area, and spans the entire northern border of Ontario from Churchill, Manitoba to Eastmain Quebec.1 It is rich in sequestered carbon, biodiversity, and culture, all of which are intertwined to support life. Mushkegowuk elders have called this place “The Breathing Lands.”
The region’s wetland network of freshwater rivers and lakes joins the salty waters of Hudson Bay, Washaybeyoh and James Bay, Weenebeg, in Cree. In addition to providing a habitat for iconic animals including polar bears, caribou, and lake sturgeon, the Lowlands (particularly its shores) serve as a stop for hundreds of bird species that migrate between the Arctic and South America. The waters of the bay are home to species including seals, beluga whales, and many fishes.
Beyond biodiversity, the lowlands are a massive carbon store. Canada contains over one quarter of the world’s peatland carbon stock, an estimated 150 Gt.2 For comparison, 1m2 of peatland in northern Canada contains about 5 times the carbon as 1m2 of the Amazon rainforest.3 Despite the vital role of peatlands in climate change and biodiversity, only 10% of peatlands in Canada are within protected areas.4 Development including mining, agriculture, and damming threaten the pristine land and waters of the lowlands, while climate change accelerates permafrost thaw, river ice breakup in spring, and wildfires.
II. The Mushkegowuk Marine Conservation Area
While this place is important to the country and to the world, to people who may not even know it exists, there is nobody tied more intimately to the land or more affected by changes to it, than the Omushkego Cree, who have lived there since time immemorial. The Mushkegowuk Council, a tribal council representing eight First Nations within Northern Ontario, has stepped up to protect the homelands and way of life of their people by proposing a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) which spans the western shores of James Bay and southwestern shores of Hudson Bay. This is one of four Indigenous-led conservation initiatives included in an $800M commitment by the Government of Canada. Having long been denied consultation over the future of their own land and waters, the Omushkego will lead this conservation effort.
III. The Washaybeyoh Knowledge and Research Centre
Announcing the conservation proposal in partnership with Parks Canada in 2021, Former Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council Jonathan Soloman declared that the initiative is “a vehicle to study and assess the conditions of the waters of the bays. They will study the vegetation, the mammals, the birds, the fish, and other species that travel through our territory.”
This call to action raises the question of how the waters will be studied, assessed, and protected. These actions require people: Indigenous knowledge keepers, scientists, and advocates. These actions also require spaces to serve such people by providing places to live and ideally to facilitate a “two-eyed seeing” approach to study and stewardship combining traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with natural and applied sciences.
The focus of this thesis is to design a knowledge and research centre to answer this call, a place to study and assess not only the conditions of the waters of the bays, but of its shores, and of the peatlands.
Living With Water
Banjarmasin is “an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.” - UNESCO World Heritage, Criteria of Selection
The city of Banjarmasin has been classified as a world heritage city for its unique urban quality in relation to its rivers, a labyrinthine network of natural and man-made waterways. Water has always been an integral part of the area, as it has determined the social, economical, political, and cultural development of the city and its people.
The lens with which this thesis views the site is always water- a deep ground condition that is volatile and complex. Water in Banjarmasin is not merely an edge of the city, but a ground- a source of sustenance - that percolates the locals’ day-to-day livelihood. Water is the ground on which they live- floating and stilted settlements perched on the river. Water sits at arm’s reach from the doorstep of settlements and serves as residents’ source of raw water for washing and bathing. Water enables economic activities- a resource for fishing and irrigation and a space for floating markets- selling local goods such as fruits, vegetables, homecooked meals on live-BBQ canteens. Water serves as waste infrastructure where outhouse and domestic wastes are discharged. Water is not only a ground condition that shapes the city, but also a common resource and a public space.
This thesis closely follows the nested networks that start to operate from the scale of a much larger region down to the scale of someone’s home. It investigates the dynamic and fluctuating conditions of water in order to understand the different scales of impact these networks have on the built environment. What makes Banjarmasin a unique site is not only its distinctive relationship with water, but also the sheer density and growth of the city. The development of the region has altered and effected the condition of not only the aquatic environment, but also the land and built environment.
In the face of multi-layered crises- the threat of flooding, sheer density, fire outbreaks, and poor sewage and water infrastructure, this thesis will work at a human scale and propose an architectural intervention that aims to recover and strengthen the ground condition, accommodate for the ever-growing density, and alleviate some of the identified challenges and vulnerabilities, ultimately facilitating for a more sustainable and resilient design..
During the Arab Spring in 2011, Cairo, Egypt witnessed a surge of anti-government revolts inspired by Tunisia. Over the next two years, both peaceful and violent protests, as well as counter-protests, unfolded. Tahrir Square served as the nuclei, while the city’s roads and alleys acted as arteries for movement, and various public spaces became microcosms supporting broader political activities. Despite Cairo’s authoritarian milieu, Tahrir and nearby locations adopted a festival-like quality with poetry readings, music performances, film screenings, and religious sermons. However, these seemingly celebratory spaces were precarious, liable to transform into backdrops for arrests or violent, sometimes fatal, confrontations. This ambiguity raises questions about the relationship between urban spaces and political upheavals, exploring whether these confrontations transcend or are influenced by the spaces that contain them.
Downtown Cairo’s current urban fabric reflects diverse political, religious, and social ideologies and architectural influences. Some areas, planned during colonial occupations in the late 19th century, follow radial Haussmanian boulevards, while others trace back to Islamic occupations in the Middle Ages, creating a juxtaposition of typologies. These spaces, as well as the physical gaps between them, serve as negotiation points between public and private, and formal and informal realms. They act as backdrops that connect two-fold realities within bars, cafes, mosques, and souqs, fostering a coexistence of thresholds between everyday life and political congregations, as well as showcasing the unpredictable nature of design consequences.
Cairo, as a conglomeration of urban parts, becomes a set of relations that stay static – each event begins to have a counter, or opposing event, regardless of the space it exists in. A café may be a space for political flexibility in one moment, and in the next instant be a space for political surveillance. Thus, it becomes difficult to deem one type of space safer than another – the relationships of the city remain the same, and the need to move throughout the city to find safe spaces continues to exist, but the safety that manifests in each space becomes dynamic and ever-changing, thus proposing the ideology that safety is found primarily through the act of moving between spaces, not unlike the procession of the revolution itself. In investigating a radius around Tahrir that houses a series of these different typologies, I aim to categorize and document a range of realities and how they were catalyzed by streets, objects, and public spaces that served as a threshold between these realities. How was the architecture of a certain streetscape, object, or interior used by protestors to enable revolt and political organization? What components of these spaces and objects enabled safety, respite, collective spirit, and protection? In the same manner, how were those spaces, in other moments, used to prohibit, interject, and control political arrangements? In looking at different building types, and the paths of movement to and from them, certain objects and architectural spaces become landmarks, and political activity starts to be viewed as a transient pursuit that links these landmarks and artifacts, ultimately seeking a caliber of protection that is always fleeting in the context of protest.
Land, Ownership, and Sacred Places, Downtown Toronto
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Jimmy HungNourishing Roots: The Vital Role of Food-Making in Place-Making, Toronto
Toronto is the city with the highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the developed world. 20th century modernization of industrial production of food, free trade agreements, and real estate development have resulted in food desert and insecurity with a disconnection between citizens and cultural food practice. Even with the great diversity of Toronto, a placeless city is inevitable. Recent policies in removing ‘best-before dates’ in Canada for hopes to reduce food waste illustrate our general lack in knowledge of food longevity and methods of food preservation. In what way can the art of food preparation serve as a universal language to redefine a place?
The convergence of food and architecture plays a pivotal role in shaping a place's identity, blending global meanings and values within a local context. “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire” – (Gustav Mahler). An essential part of human culture connecting us to our past, making sense of the present, and providing a foundation for future social spaces. Like vernacular architecture, the act of food preservation can enable cooks, communities, and architects in creating something new from elements and parts providing a basis of culture-building; cosmopoiesis. Active traditions require constant innovation, giving agency to adapt culinary traditions. Cosmopoiesis Toronto aims to harmonize the great diversity of people and a placeless city to create a uniquely diverse environment. It seeks to distill the essence of connecting global traditions to local cultural landscapes.
This thesis mandates for a Public Food Trust for the City of Toronto. The trust supports low energy storage and preservation of foods, forms, and traditions. It can sustainably promote intercultural communication, transcending ethnocultural division and accepted public-private boundaries. By going beyond simply accepting multiple cultures that exist in a consumer society as mere 'ethnic food' and instead promoting dialogue and interaction, it nurtures a sense of pride and a space for belonging. A Public Food Trust would support, archive, and organize food security, knowledge, and global cultural traditions as vital to the making of Toronto and its multiculturalism. (This thesis is to) explore preservation methods through the logic of a catalogue; spaces, microclimates, techniques, and temporal elements, to derive a universal food preservation (space/centre) for harmonizing global cultures to the neighbourhood and the festival, the home, and the table.
Essay Text Here.
Essay Text Here.
Resurgence By The River: Reclaiming Unity Along Nahr Abou Ali
River As a Space of Division | Contemporary 20th Century
In Tripoli Lebanon, 85km North of Beirut, the Abou Ali River basin, covering 484km2, plays a central role in shaping the city’s challenges. As the second capital, Tripoli historically faced isolation from its Syrian hinterland after being included in the newly founded nation-state in 1919. Government neglect at the time of the civil war in 1975 spurred poverty and rural-urban migration toward Tripoli and Beirut. Recent factors such as the civil war and the on-going economic crisis have the heightened the urban poverty and decline of the historical core of the river.
The Abou Ali River basin, comprising of 97 percent mountainous terrain, significantly divides the historic city, fostering high levels of urban poverty. Current social condition: numerous structures in this area are presently unstable due to the city's vertical expansion, the neglect of building laws during the war, or significant deterioration resulting from a lack of maintenance. The conservative urban fabric, marked by overcrowding and Waqfs ownership, intertwines with a dilapidated urban fabric exacerbated by environmental and acoustic pollution. Lacking proper sanitation and garbage collection, particularly in the vegetable and meat market areas.
Modern development projects have deteriorated the city’s coastal front. The poorly organized spaces along the Abou Ali River, stemming from insufficient private and public sector investment in productive industries, exacerbate poverty, along with diverse cultural heritage sites which are visibly scattered and physically distant from one another. Further framed by reinforced concrete walls from the 1955 floods, exacerbate the city’s division. The river, already plagued by low water levels, suffers from sewage outlets; market owners contribute to pollution using it as their dumping ground for waste and garbage, and insufficient amenities worsen the overall visual and environmental chaos. Thus, the Abou Ali River emerges as a focal point, reflecting the city’s complex interplay of historical, social and environmental challenges.
River As a Sacred Space | The 16th Century
The Abou Ali River which runs 45km long, serving as more than just a mere waterway, with its tranquil waters embodying a divine force that intricately bound the city’s diverse community. Meandering through the spiritual fabric of the city, the river’s influence manifested in joyous communal gatherings along its sacred banks, where families and friends engaged in social activities. The river brought life to the land through its vital role in irrigation and sustenance living in harmony with the surrounding architectural elements, including traditional buildings, bustling markets and historic structures, all contributing to the sacred landscape.
The Abou Ali River facilitated expressions of diverse religious communities, similar to a pantheon of deities convening along its banks for seasonal ceremonies and sacred events all while surrounded by the grand fields of the orange blossoms. Festivals and celebrations, uniting the community in joyous communion. Furthermore, the river as a symbol of environmental sanctity, underscored the community’s commitment to environmental preservation, highlighting a sacred duty to safeguard its health and honor a profound connection to nature.
However, the space that was once diverse and socially connected, was disrupted during the Lebanese Civil War, symbolized by the redirection of the river in 1955 and the subsequent transformation of its once-unifying presence into a silent witness to the city’s tragic division. The war extinguished the vibrancy of festivals, silenced marketplaces and scarred historic buildings, turning the riverbanks into a reflection of separation and isolation. Despite pollution and neglect tarnishing the turning riverbanks into a reflection of separation and isolation. Despite pollution and neglect tarnishing the rivers once-pristine waters, the Abou Ali River bore witness to the community’s resilient spirit, determined to heal and rebuild after the war.
The River in Recovery | Post War - Today
In the aftermath, the city attempted to embark on a journey of recovery. Vowing to mend the wounds of the past and restore the sacred bonds that had once defined it. The Abou Ali River, a testament to the city’s resilience, emerged not merely as a witness to division but as a symbol of rebirth, reflecting the community’s unwavering commitment to restoring the sacred harmony that once made it a beacon of diverse and harmonious coexistence.
Tripoli's historic monuments, initially surveyed by UNESCO in 1953, faced challenges as subsequent urban plans, particularly the 1972 master plan, led to damage and the destruction of significant souk areas. Despite provisions for rehabilitating historic structures, the old city has been disrupted by unregulated demolitions, alterations, and constructions during and after the war, leaving many buildings structurally unsound. The lack of residential fabric examination poses a challenge, with approximately 40 structures requiring urgent rehabilitation in the face of ongoing issues arising from vertical expansion, war-related neglect, and maintenance deficiencies.
The existing heritage buildings in Tripoli are deteriorating due to neglect, presenting living conditions with cracked walls, makeshift window coverings, and some families residing in poorly lit stairwells. A 2017 Ministry of Culture study reveals over three hundred heritage buildings facing structural issues, ranging from average to imminent collapse. The main cause of decay lies in the freeze imposed by the heritage city classification, preventing intervention and hindering restoration efforts to address the population's needs. The absence of an integrated financing plan further complicates the situation, necessitating action from public authorities or the Antiquities Department.
© Archipelago Studio 2020 @ the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto.