26th November 2014

The Showroom, Cinema 4, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield

Programme // Abstracts // Biographies // Theory Forum ///// Call for Visuals!

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In a world of rising inequalities and growing conflict borders are multiplying and becoming increasingly complex. Whilst the border as spatial metaphor is used extensively in architecture, borders as political and material realities are often overlooked. This conference explores architecture's relationship with border geographies.

Metaphors such as channels and filters describe the selective nature of contemporary political borders by foregrounding the contradictions of movement and flow on the one hand and hardened barriers on the other. At the same time, contemporary border studies have shown the border to be a complex social and cultural institution that operates topologically. Yet, the political border is usually represented as a line and is predominantly viewed as such in policymaking through a top-down international relations perspective. How can architectural research allow a more nuanced relationship with different types of borders? How do we represent borders as topological spaces rather than the flat two-dimensional planes of standard maps? What happens when rigid political borders cross fluid ecologies? How are ecological borders acknowledged or not in planning and design?

Ecological borders not only operate at the level of the landscape or territory, but also at the level of the body. Posthumanist discourse blurs the borders of who or what we consider human. In a technologically mediated world, where does the border between the body and the environment lie? Traditionally the humanities have been concerned with the Enlightenment ideal of the human, but how might the humanities contribute now that we are all, following Rosi Braidotti, at the same time more and less than human. For the architectural humanities, the question could be one of mediation. If architecture as practice has traditionally mediated between humans and the built environment how might it now act as a mediator between different spaces, species and ecologies.

Borders are here conceptualised as political, ecological and social. We would like to explore what approaches and methods are required for a critical engagement with these different types of border spaces. We aim to explore these and other related questions through theoretical, methodological and design based approaches.



Ursula Biemann

From Post-colonial to Planetary Perspectives

Based on comprehensive research and fieldwork, the video artist elaborates the profound interlocking of migration, resources, and ecology. Looking at the clandestine migration system in the Sahara through the Sahara Chronicle, and global warming in Deep Weather, the presentation discusses aesthetic means that address the underlying logic interlinking distant sites. At the forefront of her practice is, as ever, a deeper investigation of how reality is constituted: First, through the movement of people as a space-producing practice. And second, through a series of experiments of how the artist could inscribe herself in the very space that she is producing both by physically traversing it, and by generating videographies.

Lindsay Bremner

Technologies of Uncertainty in the Search for MH370

It is very rare, if ever, that the Southern Indian Ocean has come into view with the intensity that it did than during the search for missing Malaysian Airways Flight MH370 in March and April 2014. In what follows, I will recount the futile search to locate the airplane in this remote and inhospitable part of the ocean and argue that its continued invisibility reveals that the ocean remains a limit condition to contemporary human knowledge, its validity, methods, technologies and scope.

James Bridle

The Electromagnetic Border

I will be discussing the use of technology to extend border zones, effectively infinitely, from their physical geography. I will explore this in the use of teleconferencing in migrant interviews, UAV patrols in international waters, artificial intelligence and biometrics, and ultimately in algorithmic constructions of citizenship itself.

Beatrice De Carli & Alexandre Frediani

Bordering Citizenship in São Paulo: Buildings as frontier zones

The city centre of São Paulo has increasingly become a key site for local housing movements to challenge the rules and practices of differentiated citizenship in urban Brazil. This is in line with Sassen's analysis arguing that the last two decades have seen "an increasingly urban articulation of global logics and struggles, and an escalating use of urban space to make political claims". Organised vacant buildings and occupations led by social movements in the centre of São Paulo are prominent examples of urban spaces being appropriated to advance the claims of otherwise marginalised urban subjects.

In the face of rising inequalities and social and spatial divisions across the city, squatted buildings thus emerge as a frontier space with political consequences at various times and scales. Apart from acquiring a symbolic value in the debate over regeneration and gentrification processes in the inner city area of São Paulo, vacant building occupations are simultaneously intended by their proponents as a means to provide shelter to those in need; experiment alternative ways of producing low-income housing in well-located urban areas; and contribute to wider struggles for urban reform across Brazil.

This paper explores in detail the spatial practices of individuals and groups occupying a building known as Ocupação Marconi. It focuses on the production of the building being seen as a device for advancing alternative formulations of citizenship, and discusses the spatial and social implications of this interpretation at different scales.

Celia Lury

Double Blind, Double Bind: The plane that disappeared - (a problem of first and second order observation)?

The empirical focus of this paper is 'the disappeared plane', Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370/MAS370), the scheduled passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing that lost contact with air traffic control on 8 March 2014 at 01:20 MYT, less than an hour after takeoff. The paper explores how it is possible for a plane to 'disappear' in an era of total planetary observation by describing the composition of a surface of visualization in terms of the boundary-making capacities of hypotheses of sight. It will be argued that, as a function of algorithmic rules of digital computation, today's surfaces produce a patterning of vision that is cross-cut by multiple orders of observation and a whole variety of depths, intensities, neuroses, psychoses, and densities. In dialogue with Galison's work on secrecy, the paper aims to show how the apparently edgeless surface of the locally flat surface of global planetary vision is striated not only by multiple corridors and targets, but also by blind spots, fuzzy patches and edges, resulting in the production of the recursive fractal of public-private in terms of degrees of public-ness and complex patterns of political and economic inclusion, exclusion and belonging.

Omar Nagati

Blurring boundaries, reconstituting borders: Examples from Cairo public space since 2011

Over the past three years, Cairo has been experiencing major political transformations played out on its streets and in its public space. Throughout alternating conditions of flux and restoration, disruption and reestablishment of “order,” CLUSTER has been involved in a number of research and documentation projects as well as design schemes and intervention strategies to account for these changes and critically engage its spatial implications.

Over the past three years, Cairo has been experiencing major political transformations played out on its streets and in its public space. Throughout alternating conditions of flux and restoration, disruption and reestablishment of “order,” CLUSTER has been involved in a number of research and documentation projects as well as design schemes and intervention strategies to account for these changes and critically engage its spatial implications.

These projects range from the micro‐scale of sidewalks and in‐between spaces, to the city scale of infrastructure and public services. One common theme underlying these examples is the constant interplay of contestation and negotiation between not only competing interests and stakeholders, but also competing frames of reference and normative orders, whereby borders between public and private, formal and informal, and the spatial and political are being repeatedly blurred and reconstituted.

This presentation offers a background for the broader context of the rapidly shifting political and urban landscapes in Cairo during the past few years, and discuses a few examples ranging from street vendors, downtown passageways, to informal development along the Ring‐road and Ard al‐Liwa community Park.

Lorenzo Pezzani

Liquid Traces: Investigating the deaths of migrants at the EU's maritime frontier

Because any trace on water seems to be immediately dissolved by currents, the oceans have long been associated with a permanent present, that resists any writing of history. Their liquid expanse has equally represented a challenge for governance: the impossibility of drawing stable boundaries in ever changing waters has led to imagine the seas as a space of absolute freedom and flow - the "free seas". This presentation takes a radically different approach and seeks to reconceptualise the sea as a material field of struggle. Starting form Forensic Oceanography, a project that I have co-led since 2011, I will talk about the policies and practices by which the Mediterranean Sea has been recast as the Southern border of the EU, causing over 16.500 documented deaths over the last 20 years. A complex sensing apparatus is fundamental to this form of governance that combines the division of maritime spaces and the control of movement, and that instrumentalises the partial, overlapping, and "elastic" nature of maritime jurisdictions and international law. And yet those very remote sensing devices, when used against the grain, can provide evidence of the violence perpetrated against migrants at sea and help to challenge the regime of visibility imposed on this contested area.

Helen Pritchard

Participatory Research for Monitoring Air Pollution: Citizen sensing for fracking-related environmental concerns

A number of environmental sensing technologies and practices are emerging that seek to enable citizens to use DIY and low-tech monitoring tools to understand and act upon environmental problems. Such "citizen sensing" projects intend to democratize the collection and use of environmental sensor data in order to facilitate expanded citizen engagement in environmental issues. But how effective are these practices of citizen sensing in not just providing "crowd-sourced" data sets, but also in giving rise to new modes of environmental awareness and practice?

The Citizen Sense project investigates these questions by attending to the relationship between technologies and practices of environmental sensing with citizen engagement. This presentation will discuss Citizen Sense project work on participatory engagements with "pollution sensing" in relation to monitoring air quality near infrastructure of unconventional natural gas extraction in the form of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) in northeastern Pennsylvania, USA. This presentation will outline citizen-sensing practices that monitor fracking-related pollution that are already underway, and it will discuss our attempts to contribute to monitoring processes through further participatory and practice-based citizen-sensing initiatives.

Pelin Tan

Transversal Materialism: On method, artefact and exception

The paper addresses the question: what is the method for understanding architectural or spatial production or artefacts that are placed among situational relations in the political landscape and environment? I suggest some responses to this question in three contexts: the method itself, anachronic meaning of the artefact and the design of exception. In the architecture faculty at Mardin Artuklu University (Turkey) near the Syrian/Iraqi border, I run a forensic architecture graduate course, where we research methodology addressing refugee conditions, the urgency and design of camps, related co-existence of public spaces, forensics of the excavation of past extrajudicial killing (faili meçhul), and communities inhabiting the conflict territories along the border. In my talk I will discuss how a transversal instituting and methodology is possible - or is it possible - in order to run such an architectural education and alternative pedagogy. How can a collective experience of the translocal production of knowledge and of instant alliances lead to the creation of common spaces for uncommon knowledge in war zones?


Ursula Biemann is an artist, writer and video essayist. Her artistic practice is strongly research oriented and involves fieldwork in remote locations where she investigates the political ecologies of oil and water. The Broad Art Museum Michigan recently awarded her with a commission for a new video work Forest Law (2014) on the resource ecology in Amazonia. Her video installations are exhibited at the International Art Biennials of Istanbul, Liverpool, Sevilla, Shanghai, Gwangiu, Montreal and in museums worldwide. She published several books, is appointed Doctor honoris causa in Humanities by the Swedish University Umea and received the 2009 Swiss Prix Meret Oppenheim. www.geobodies.org

Lindsay Bremner is Professor and Director of Architectural Research in the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Westminster. She was previously Professor of Architecture in the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia (2006 - 2011) and Chair of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (1998 - 2004). She is an award-winning architect and writer and has published, lectured and exhibited widely on the transformation of Johannesburg since the end of apartheid.

James Bridle is an artist, writer, and publisher based in London, UK. His writing on literature, culture and networks has appeared in magazines and newspapers including Wired, Domus, Cabinet, the Atlantic, the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Observer and many others, in print and online. His artworks have been commissioned and exhibited worldwide and on the internet. He lectures regularly at universities, conferences and other events. His formulation of the New Aesthetic research project has spurred debate and creative work across multiple disciplines. His work can be found at http://booktwo.org.

Beatrice De Carli is an architect and a Lecturer at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield, where she leads the MA in Urban Design. She previously held positions at Politecnico di Milano, Italy, and at the University of Leuven, Belgium. Her research is at the intersection of urban design and critical spatial theory, exploring questions of equality, diversity, and participation in spatial practice. Beatrice is an Associate at Architecture Sans Frontières UK and the Secretary General of ASF-International, a non-profit organisation that works between architecture and community and international development.

Alexandre Apsan Frediani is a Lecturer on Community-led Development in the Global South at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London, where he co-directs the MSc in Social Development Practice. His research interests include the application of Amartya Sen's Capability Approach in development practice, participatory planning and design, and squatter settlement upgrading. Alexandre has worked with grassroots collectives and development agencies across Africa and Latina America. He serves as a Trustee for Homeless International, and as an Expert Affiliate for Architecture Sans Frontières UK.

Celia Lury is Director of the Centre for Interdisicplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick and ESRC Professorial Fellow, working on a project called Order and Continuity: Methods for Change in a Topological Society. She recently co-edited a Special Issue of Theory, Culture and Society on Topological Cultures.

Omar Nagati is a practicing architect and urban planner who currently lives in Cairo. Having studied at UBC, Vancouver and UC Berkeley, Nagati adopts an interdisciplinary approach to urban history and design, and engages in a comparative analysis of the question of urban informality in developing countries. He teaches part‐time Urban Design Studio at the MSA University in Giza and has recently cofounded CLUSTER, a platform for critical urban research and design initiatives in downtown Cairo. clustercairo.org

Lorenzo Pezzani is an architect based in London. Since 2011, he has been working on Forensic Oceanography, a project that critically investigates the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea using imaging, mapping, and modelling technologies. In the frame of this project, he co-founded the WatchTheMed platform. He is currently completing his PhD at the Centre for Research Architecture (Goldsmiths College), and is a Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL).

Helen Pritchard is a researcher on the European Research Council project "Citizen Sense" at Goldsmiths, University of London. "Citizen Sense", led by Jennifer Gabrys seeks to generate new interpretive understandings of citizen sensing through an iterative relationship between theory, practice and field-based investigations, and to put forward new models for understanding citizen sensing. Helen is completing a Phd on "Animal Hackers", in Geography at Queen Mary, University of London. Her interdisciplinary practice-based work brings together the fields of Computational Aesthetics, Software Studies, Environmental Practice and Feminist TechnoScience. Helen's practice is both one of writing and making and these two modes mutually inform each other in order to consider the ethical and political impacts of computational regimes. Helen has shown work internationally including DA Fest International festival of Digital Art, (Bulgaria), Spacex (UK), Microwave Festival (Hong Kong), ACA Florida, (USA), and Arnolfini Online (UK).

Pelin Tan is a sociologist and art historian, Associate Professor and Vice Dean of Architecture Faculty, Mardin Artuklu University, Turkey. She completed her post-doctoral research on 'artistic research' at the ACT/ Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tan is co-director with Anton Vidokle of the '2084' series of films on the future of art history. She was the associate curator of Adhocracy team, Istanbul Design Biennale, 2012. She is author of the forthcoming book: ARAZİ (Critical Spatial Practice Series, eds. M. Miessen & N. Hirsch, Sternberg Press, 2015).

Theory Forum

Border Topologies is part of the Theory Forum, an annual event at Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA), focusing each year on a topic of contemporary relevance for architectural theory and practice. It is supported by the Globalisation and Spatial Practice research group at SSoA.

Conference attendance by invite only. If you would like to attend, please contact Sara Lancashire at SSoA.