In the domestic interiors of a Brutalist council estate, new fabrication technologies coexist with laminated wood furniture, neon-colored drones, souvenirs from remote territories, faux animal prints, and leather sofas. It is mid-afternoon. Shots of colorful parrots and Capuchin monkeys interweave with scenes of teenagers who, while sitting in front of TVs displaying international channels, communicate through phones and laptops, share images with close and distant friends, and place orders online. 3-D printing alternates with hookah smoking. Jeans and leggings are combined with smiling-face-printed niqabs; hoodies, with Afropunk-patterned bomber jackets. Japanese kanji tattoos cover arms and backs. These scenes depict a weekday in Peckham, South London, the home of communities with diverse origins from all over England and from East Asia, South Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.
The scenes in these spaces exemplify a larger condition. In 2015, the online retailing company Alibaba shipped 12.2 billion packages to home addresses. The social media platform Instagram contained 58,940,079 posts tagged #home. According to recent reports, more than 240 million people are living in a place where they were not born, while the number of tourist arrivals throughout the world — stays of less than twelve months — is over one billion. Contemporary spaces of residence are shaped around the circulation of goods, images, and individuals moving throughout wider territories. Pervasive commercial exchanges, systems of information transfer, and migratory movements have destabilized what we understand by residence, forcing us to question spatial permanence, property, and identity.
Being at home has different definitions nowadays—both within domestic settings and in the spaces enclosed by national boundaries. New modes of being at and constructing home are entangled with a contemporary reconfiguration of belonging. Understood both in relation to our bonds to places and collectivities, as well as to the changing attachments to the objects that are produced, owned, shared, and exchanged, belonging is no longer just something constrained to one’s own space of residence or to the territory of a nation, nor does it last an entire lifespan. Belonging is being contemporaneously transformed at different scales and in different contexts. For example, the daily life of the middle classes around the world is being reconfigured by the economic conditions and social relations enabled by home-sharing platforms, as well as by the production of aesthetic regimes mobilized in the postings on these platforms. And yet, the universal ambitions advertised through Airbnb’s motto, “Belong Anywhere,” is in stark contrast to the bureaucratic realities of how such belonging is, in fact, regulated by local laws which determine the movement of the users of these home-sharing platforms between countries.
The processes of globalization have brought greater accessibility to ever-new goods, fueled alternative imaginaries, and provided access to further geographies and knowledges. And yet, not everybody moves voluntarily, nor in the same way. The global regimes of circulation grounded in changing geopolitical relations, the uneven developments of neoliberalism, and the expansion of media technologies, also promote growing inequalities for large groups, kept in precarious states of transit. Despite the expansion of circulatory processes affecting domestic spaces, contemporary international events suggest a reinforcement of borders, economic protectionism and political autarchy, attempting to resist the effects of globalization—from the 2014 Australia’s government anti-immigration ad campaign declaring “No Way. You will not make Australia Home;” to the results of the United Kingdom’s European Union membership referendum; the border fences erected by European countries and in countries like Jordan as a result of the so called refugee crisis; U.S President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration affecting millions of refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, and the building of the southwestern border wall with Mexico proposed by his administration. Major institutions and established architecture platforms, such as the recent Pritzker Architecture Prize, awarded to RCR architects, have even reflected on this trends by stating: “We live in a globalized world where we must rely on international influences, trade, discussion, transactions, etc. But more and more people fear that, because of this international influence, we will lose our local values, our local art, and our local customs. They are concerned and sometimes frightened.” From the scale of the residence to that of the country, the construction of the space of the home—and the homeland—seems to define lines of division and conditions of inclusion and exclusion.
While the aforementioned geopolitical transformations seem to reinforce the concept of the nation-state as a geographically confined site of belonging, other phenomena support alternative arguments: President Trump’s immigration ban unleashed protests across the globe and a surge in donations to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union; progress on the development of the all-African passport will soon allow many to expand the territories they can call home; and, on a darker note, the Islamic State has recently proclaimed itself to be a worldwide caliphate, with religious, political and military authority, presenting a religious inflection of the nation-state. Moreover, the dissemination of information and images increasingly shared in social media builds imaginaries and shapes aspirations that continue to fuel the movement of people: the number of teenage boys migrating from Egypt — a country that is not currently indexed as suffering a civil war — after receiving images and narratives of success from friends and family members via social media, has reached unprecedented levels, to the point that some parts of the territory are almost devoid of their youth.
These shifting and seemingly opposed conditions (of apparent territorial isolation and stabilization, and contradictory geopolitical reconfigurations) have architectural manifestations and effects in our modes of being at home and spaces of residences. Furthermore, belonging, as architecture, is simultaneously concerned with physical and social spaces. It addresses questions of affection, technological transformations, material transactions, and economic processes. And, at all of these levels, belonging is neither good or bad, yet it remains as a contentious concept. By analyzing the ramifications of this concept and its relation to material manifestations at different scales, it is possible to propose and advance new ways of understanding architecture’s transformed relation to enclosure and stability, and therefore, alternative notions of what being at home might or could be. Place-making and the construction of a sense of identity constitute only the most typical among other possible agendas for which architecture could be mobilized. Architecture has served over time for diverse, often opposed, ideological endeavors of belonging: it has been crucial in constructing and vindicating national identities as a symbol for liberation from colonial and imperialist forms of power, but has also supported essentialist projects. By critically inspecting how architecture is articulated towards specific ends in the transformation of belonging, other possible trajectories for architectural production emerge.
In a time defined by mobility and transit, the the various definitions of the house characterized by the most canonical architectural expressions of residence and belonging are destabilized, and the seamless construction of homeliness as a solid unity grounded in intimacy, privacy, and rootedness are questioned. Instead, the house could be considered as an unstable aggregate of objects, bodies, spaces, institutions, technologies, and imaginations. Contemporary architectures of housing are enmeshed in the logics of real estate speculation, many of them connected to territorial processes of massive urbanization and global migration, and increasingly transformed by technological mediations, while continuing to appeal to different traditions and ambitions of stability. In the midst of transcontinental migrations, newly-imagined landscapes, and financial speculation, traveling constituencies continue to make themselves at home in different conditions: for example, Norwegian retiree resorts along the Spanish Coast, in which architecture mediates the advantage of the chosen location with aesthetic and material links to the community of origin.
We could also consider the different understandings of residence as they relate to the legal definition of citizenship and as a form of cultural binding to a territory and a nation, and speculate on architecture’s articulation with different kinds of “imagined communities” that have become substitutes for the family and religion as the primary forms of social stabilization in technologically advanced, neoliberal, global contexts. And yet, the nation, family, and religion still continue to take new forms in these contexts, with architecture decidedly participating in their articulation. For example, the contested sovereignty of airport spaces — and their complex role in the filtering of individuals and objects — is in some cases countered by a decided effort by nations to present themselves as cohesive units to communities in transit. New techno-spatial articulations are also operating in transnational congregations of religious communities such as those of Charismatic-Pentecostalism in sub-Saharan countries.
In order to understand this new manifestations, a new approach is needed different from the structuralist impulse to relate the architectural forms of the house with social practices in different global contexts. Rather than exploring isolated architectural productions in relation to their local contexts (reinforcing traditional forms of belonging), this new approach requires to understand the cultural, technological, and material links—whose effects have been variously described as “freak displacements,” “disjunctures,” and “frictions”—configuring the different spatial articulations of contemporary culture. The house, in these contexts, no longer relates to phenomenological ideas of place or community stability, but with “the estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world in an unhallowed place” that many have explored through the condition of the “unheimleich” (unhomely) and through postcolonial studies The architectures built with remittance money arriving to different Latin American countries, for example, perfectly illustrate this condition. But this case manifests how the sense of home and the uncanny condition of contemporary forms of residence exceed the aesthetic problem of representation of both individuals and communities, aiming to make themselves at home in different architectures. Indeed, there are specific bodies at stake here, as well as specific resources and material transactions. And while money, in this case, seems to travel swiftly between the nations of emigration and immigration, technical knowledges are modified in their translation between the two for the construction of these characteristic architectures, and individuals are often trapped by borders, or have their defining forms of citizenship change while crossing the border.
The architectures associated with the aforementioned transactions and operations sometimes entail the definition of a homogenous landscape. On other occasions, the architectures respond to the construction of differentiated (or decidedly differentiating) representations of identity for diverse geographical contexts or “imaginative geographies” within this global landscape. In some cases they result in material boundlessness, while in others they are manifested in the definition of material boundaries. Considering these changing forms of identity construction, distributions of property, and constructions of enclosure is as far from the advocacy of nomadism, as it is from the celebration of a return to local traditions and rooted communities. Many critical projects exploring nomadism in the last decades have been grounded in the pursuit of a cosmopolitan, secular society, freed from local ties. However, the same mobility that these projects celebrated has been coincidental with neoliberal regimes that have led to the precarization of labor, massive concentrations of wealth, and dispossessed populations kept in transit. Similarly, the construction of home, or a sense of home, has been many times followed by the design of separating barriers that manage the flows and passage of bodies, information, goods, whether they are conceived at the scale of the house, or that of the territory: from door lockers, safe rooms and gated communities, to the architectures of seasteading, the design of autonomous enclaves, and security border walls.
And yet, other forms of architectural practice offer new forms of engagement with our contemporary changing realities, and challenge distinctions between inside and outside between host and guest. The development of such project and intervention strategies was one of the goals of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016: After Belonging. For example, Open Transformation, a project developed within that context, proposes innovative systems for meeting asylum seekers needs and “intervene in the larger process of displacement derived from global migration, including real estate market forces and housing solutions.” Their application bnbOPEN, presented as an alternative or supplement to reception centers, would enable the newly arrived to find and share ordinary housing with the local inhabitants. Similarly, an abandoned fruit orchard on the edge of the Oslo Torshov Transittmottak, a transit center for refugees and asylum seekers from wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, is the site of a project by Eriksen Skajaa Arkitekter. The architects, after analyzing how this site is used by the residents at the centre as a free source of fresh fruit, as an area for collective action, consequently designed an architectural device: an apple press. Constructed together with the local community, the apple press is a space where new collectives become possible through the harvest, and where the inhabitants could go beyond the dualism between the need for intimacy and the need to take part in the collective life and dense living quarters in the facility. Another example of how architecture and architects could contribute to the definition of alternative spaces of belonging and inclusive imaginaries of home is Matilde Cassani’s design for Prato’s gonfalone — a type of heraldic flag and traditional symbol of identity for every Italian commune and municipality. Located in the vicinity of Florence, Prato currently has one of the biggest Chinatowns in Europe, with more than 50,000 inhabitants (more than half allegedly without work permits), and one of the engines for the manufacturing of “Made in Italy” labeled products which the industry proudly sells throughout the world as a trademark of quality based on “local” standards of production. Together with representatives of the local institutions, and using as a starting point the existing gonfalone and its language, Cassani actualized the collective memory of the city in accordance with the changing needs of the contemporary world, and its new local identity.
These projects and positions address and imagine the architectures of new constructions of belonging, new ways of being together, new collectivities, and inclusive architectures of the home, where other transactions, connections, and solidarities to occur. By questioning universal and traditional notions of home, as well as a nostalgic search for a lost understanding of belonging, these architectures foster alternative forms of cooperation and cohabitation, identity construction, distributions of property, and constructions of enclosure which in turn have the capacity to transform the attachments between individuals, and the relation between communities and the territory. That is, the spaces and conditions that define the ‘being at home.’
1 An earlier version of this text was published in the Introduction to After Belonging: The Objects, Spaces, and Territories, of the Ways We Stay in Transit, Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio G. Galán, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis, Marina Otero Verzier eds. (Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2016), 12-23.
2 Description of scenes in the Sri-Lankan-born British singer M.I.A.’s music video “Double Bubble Trouble.” “Double Bubble Trouble” is a song from the album Matangi (2013), written by Maya “M.I.A.” Arulpragasam, Ruben Fernhout, Jerry Leembruggen, and Rypke Westra, produced by The Partysquad, and released on May 30, 2014.
3 Alibaba Group Holding Limited, “Annual Report for the Fiscal Year ended March 31, 2016,” p. 77, http://www.alibabagroup.com/en/ir/ pdf/form20F_160525.pdf.
4 https://www.instagram.com, accessed June 5, 2016.
5 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division,“Population Facts:Trends in International Migration, 2015,” December 2015, accessed May 24, 2016, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/populationfacts/docs/MigrationPopFacts20154.pdf.
6 United Nations World Tourism Organization, UNWTO Annual Report 2015 (Madrid: United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2016), 2, http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/pdf/annual_report_2015_lr.pdf/.
7 Brian Chesky, “Belong Anywhere,” Airbnb Blog, July 16, 2014, http://blog.airbnb.com/belonganywhere/.
8 Oliver Laughland, “Australian government targets asylum seekers with graphic campaign,” The Guardian, February 11, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/11/government-launches-new-graphic-campaign-to-deter-asylum-seekers
9 These fences challenge the free movement of individuals established by the Schengen Treaty. “The Schengen area and cooperation,”EUR-Lex, last modified August 3, 2009, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legalcontent/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Al3-3020. Rana F. Sweis, “Jordan Closes Border to Syrian Refugees After Suicide Car Bomb Kills 6,” The New York Times, June 21, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/22/world/middleeast/jordansyria-attack.html?_r=0.
10 Design-Build Structure. Solicitation Number: 2017-JCRT-0001. Agency: Department of Homeland Security. Office: Customs and Border Protection. Federal Business Opportunities website, February 24, 2017; https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=b8e1b2a6876519ca0aedd748e1e491cf&tab=core&_cview=0
11 “Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigemand Ramon Vilalta Receive the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize,” Announcement, The Pritzker Architecture Prize, March 1, 2017: http://www.pritzkerprize.com/2017/announcement
12 Iiam Stack, “Donations to A.C.L.U. and Other Organizations Surge After Trump’s Order,” The New York Times, January 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/us/aclu-fund-raising-trump-travel-ban.html?_r=0
13 Anne Frugé., “The opposite of Brexit: African Union launches an all-Africa passport,” The Washington Post, July 1, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/07/01/theopposite-of-brexitafrican-union-launchesan-all-africa-passport/.
14 “The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the Khilãfah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.” Abu Muhammad al-’Adnani al-Shami, “This Is the Promise of Allah,” video transcript released by Jihadology.net / Al-Hayat MediaCenter, June 19, 2014, accessed July 8th,2016, https://ia902505. us.archive.org/28/items/poa_25984/EN.pdf/.
15 Declan Walsh, “Facebook Envy Lures Egyptian Teenagers to Europe and the Migrant Life,” The New York Times, June 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/24/world/middleeast/facebookenvy-and-italian-lawlure-egyptianteenagersto-europe.html/.
16 The expression “imaginary communities” was famously coined by Benedict Anderson in his work on modern nationalism. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, rev. Ed. (London and New York:Verso, 1991).
17 See, for example, Pierre Bourdieu, “The Berber House or the World Reversed,” in Social Science Information 9, no. 2 (1970) and the more general arguments by Amos Rapoport, “Sociocultural factors and house form,” in House Form and Culture (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969).
18 Homi Bhabha, “The World and the Home,” Social Text 10, no. 2 (1992); Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference” in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995); Anna L. Tsing, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).
19 See Bhabha, “The World and the Home,” 141–2: “The unhomely is the shock of recognition of the world-in-the-home, the home-in-the-world. Although the ‘unhomely’ is a paradigmatic postcolonial experience, it has resonance that can be heard distinctly, if erratically, in fictions that negotiate the powers of cultura difference in a range of historical conditions and social contradictions.” The notion of the uncanny, originally a Freudian notion, has additionally been linked by Julia Kristeva to an analysis includes both one’s own other as well as an understanding of the stranger as part of one’s own self. See Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 181–2. 20 As Jacques Derrida has problematized, subjects do not carry rights and duties during their physical transit: these are continuously negotiated at each side of the border line. See Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000).
21 Edward W. Said, “Imaginative Geographies,” in Orientalism (London: Penguin, 1978).
22 Gilles Deleuze reported from the work of Felix Guattari how we might live in “a city where one would be able to leave one’s own apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation.” Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992): 7.
23 Edward W. Said, for example, understood the potentials of exile as a form of freedom from local ties and detachment from orthodoxy. “The exile knows that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional. Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons, and are often defended beyond reason or necessity. Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience.” Edward Said, “Reflections on exile,”  in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), 147.
24 See Open Transformation, a project developed by Elisabeth Søiland, Silje Klepsvik and Åsne Hagen for the In Residence Program of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale, After Belonging: http://oslotriennale.no/en/torshov
25 See, Eriksen Skajaa Arkitekter “The apple orchard at Torshov reception centre,” in After Belonging: The Objects, Spaces, and Territories, of the Ways We Stay in Transit, Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio G. Galán, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis, Marina Otero Verzier eds. (Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2016), 196-197
26 See Living Outside the Walls: The Chinese in Prato, edited by Graeme Johanson, Russell Smyth, and Rebecca French (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).
27 Manufacturing Assemblages in Prato, In Residence, Oslo Architecture Triennale (OAT) 2016, After Belonging: A Triennale In Residence, On Residence and the Ways we Stay in Transit, OAT website: http://oslotriennale.no/en/manufacturing See also “Sewing machines, dragons, watermelons and firecrackers,” project by Matilde Cassani and commissioned by the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016, Matilde Cassani website: http://www.matildecassani.com/#myCarousel31