Featuring "Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention" by Daniels Faculty alumna Tings Chak (MArch 2014) and "Pure Space: Public Space Transformations in Latin American Slums" by Elisa Silva.
This exhibition features the work of two architects working at nearly opposite ends of the Americas. Their respective projects look closely at the political and material economies of space that permeate public and institutional settings occupied by some of North and South America’s most marginalized individuals: the informal settlements within large urban centres of Latin America, such as Rio de Janeiro’s favelas or Medelin’s comunas; and the landscapes and interiors of Canadian detention facilities – the re-purposed motels, jails, and ‘processing’ centers where migrants and immigrants become ‘detainees’. These are places largely occupied by individuals whose socio-economic and/or political status lies at the margins of sanctioned, mainstream society. Within these settings, the presence of design in its formal sense is largely unaccounted for – even disclaimed. Bereft of spatial generosity, the minimum of what is deemed to be acceptable, purposeful, or merely adequate is too often realized.
In situations where minimal space is the norm – whether by design or by default – the expression of individual and collective identities is potentially thwarted, or is disallowed entirely. Everyday life likewise retracts in these contexts, as individuals encounter significant challenges to where they might appear and legitimately be recognized.
While resilience is a characteristic of active engagement, it also can be an aspect of resigned acceptance of conditions that are not equitable or just. Importantly, Silva and Chak show us how tactics of resilience can, in the face of privation, absence or loss, allow the assertion of individual and collective identities to persist – and it is hoped, prevail.
Tactical resilience may be found in acts of design small and large. It is present in the ingenuity a detainee summons to create a birthday cake from meager ingredients, celebrating another year and refuting, if only temporarily, the negation of individuality and personal history the spaces of incarceration impute. It resides in the insight that co-opts the purely infrastructural imperatives of flood control, realizing the same margins engineered to serve as spatial impediments in the event of a flood can further community identity, if only seen differently as places for collective gathering.
Finally, even as Silva’s and Chak’s work directly challenges the established practices of the design professions – asking whether architects should be complicit in designing places of detention (Chak), or examining sites where the involvement of an architect, landscape architect or urban designer are often unaffordable luxuries (Silva), their projects also demonstrate that the architect’s analytical tools and methods of documentation are in fact quite resilient. They have deployed these tools and methods to productively engage sites too often overlooked, or simply unaccounted for, in contemporary design discourse. In so doing, they open up new kinds of agency for the designer and urbanist.