arch-peace editorials

20 June 2018

A Place to Live

 © Camille Gharbi

These pictures were taken over spring 2016, in what was called the Calais Jungle.
They display some of the constructions that were built by refugees and association workers in the slum, which sheltered several thousands of people since 2014 and was dismantled in October 2016 on government order.

The constructions shown here are decontextualized.
They are isolated from the original environment which has polarized media attention for so many years and about which so much as been said, shown, written on, and which was finally destroyed as no better option was found. Perhaps so that it can’t be seen anymore.

The buildings are standing in front of us, isolated from a noisy context.
They are not talking anymore about an inextricable situation, neither are they the symbol of an
international crisis, a problem we struggle to solve, a drama we don’t want to watch.
They are simply standing in front of us and talk just for themselves.
They are questioning us. Sometimes with violence but also with humour.
Beyond the cliches and the miserable representations which are usually associated to such places as the Calais Jungle, those constructions show us the incredible resilience of the people who built them.
They tell us about lives that strive for a new start, about cleverness, creativity, hope, and mutual assistance.
They talk to us about pain but also about strength and optimism.

As many qualities that, in another world, we might have been able to acknowledge.

Camille Gharbi

© Camille Gharbi

 © Camille Gharbi

 © Camille Gharbi

 © Camille Gharbi

 © Camille Gharbi

 © Camille Gharbi

 © Camille Gharbi

© Camille Gharbi

© Camille Gharbi

© Camille Gharbi

© Camille Gharbi

Série de 12 photographies / Camille Gharbi

Ces images ont été réalisées au printemps 2016, dans ce que l’on appelait la «Jungle de Calais».
Elles donnent à voir quelques une des constructions qui s’élevaient alors dans le camp de lande, qui a abrité plusieurs milliers de demandeurs d’asile et a été démantelé, sur décision du Ministère de l’Intérieur, à l’automne 2016.

Les constructions montrées ici sont décontextualisées.
Elles sont isolées de cet environnement qui polarise les médias depuis tant d’années, sur lequel on a tant écrit, lu, montré, regardé, et que l’on a fini par détruire, faute de mieux.
Peut-être d’ailleurs pour ne plus le voir.

Donc ces constructions se tiennent là, devant nous, isolées d’un contexte bruyant.
Elles ne parlent plus d’une situation inextricable, elles ne sont plus le symbole d’une crise mondiale, d’une problématique que l’on ne sait pas résoudre, d’un drame que l’on ne veut pas regarder.
Elles sont là, simplement, et ne parlent que pour elles-mêmes.
Elles nous interpellent. Avec violence, parfois, avec humour, aussi.
Par delà les clichés, les représentations misérabilistes, les préjugés que l’on peut associer à ce contexte particulier qu’était la Jungle de Calais, elles nous montrent la formidable résilience dont ont fait preuve les personnes qui les ont bâties.
Elles nous parlent de vies qui cherchent à se reconstruire, elles nous parlent d’ingéniosité, de créativité, d’espérance, d’entraide, de coopération, de souffrances, et d’optimisme.
Elles nous parlent simplement du désir de vivre, et de l’incroyable force que cela peut déployer.

Autant de choses que, dans un autre monde, nous aurions peut-être su mieux voir.

NB : En février 2016, le tribunal administratif de Lille valide le principe d’évacuation de la zone sud
de la jungle de Calais. Toutefois, le juge constate l’installation, sur cette zone, de «lieux de vie»
aménagés par les migrants, « qui leurs sont nécessaires et auxquels ils sont attachés pour des
raisons culturelles notamment ». Le juge des référés estime en conséquence que la mesure
d’évacuation de doit pas porter sur ces « lieux de vie ».
Considérant cette décision, migrants et associations écrivent sur une grande partie des cabanes, maisonnettes, et autres constructions qui abritent les réfugiés l’inscription « lieux de vie ».

25 March 2018

ARTICLE | Patterns of Footscray

Understanding Melbourne’s multicultural melting pot

A Vietnamese grocer on Paisley Street extends its shop onto the footpath Image: Jimi Connor.

Underneath the perceived boundaries and divisions of Melbourne’s suburbs exists a fluid and constantly evolving network of multicultural communities. Arguably, these overlooked populations have played a pivotal role in the development of the social and cultural fabric of Melbourne; helping to define now sought-after suburbs like Carlton, Brunswick and Collingwood. The suburb of Footscray, located five kilometres west of the city of Melbourne, is a major point of confluence for some of Melbourne’s largest multicultural communities. From its infamous notoriety as a haven for drug users, to its current status as an entry point for immigrants, the urban environment of Footscray has successfully adapted to accommodate to the needs of a constantly developing city. It has achieved this by enacting an alternative model of urban development: whereby different waves of immigrant communities have been able to alter and adapt the urban environment—to suit their own particular practices and identities. The result is an urban fabric that is wholly unique: a complex hybrid of contrasting cultural practices, which overlap and intertwine with one another.

The suburb’s architecture is a collection of hybrid typologies that are continually morphed and appropriated to suit evolving functions and uses. Bus shelters double as temporary market stands; ethnic restaurants co-exist as civic centres for different local communities; and sidewalks provide opportunities for informal economies to sprout spontaneously. There is no singular idea or definition that explains the ephemeral identity of the suburb, but rather it exists as a collection of overlapping patterns. Footscray is governed by its own unique pattern language.

The Hellenic Building along Leeds Street is a prime example of the manifestation of multicultural urbanism. This building demonstrates how, over time, buildings have been continually adapted to suit new functions and uses that come as new ethnic groups emerge Image: Jimi Connor.

Pure architectural form does not exist in Footscray. The streetscape and built fabric is always experienced and understood as a multi-layered combination of elements, and not as a singular entity. The context reads as a complex amalgam of heritage; signage; cultural re-enactments; appropriations; and human interactions. The buildings seem to fade into the background, and what emerges is a complex layering of fine-grain elements: signs; decorations; furniture; cables; etc. These ephemeral elements add to the vitality and intensity of Footscray’s street life. Shops often extend their commercial activities out into the public realm, using the footpaths as extensions to their stores. Throughout the ‘residential’ areas of Footscray exist a number of dwellings that have been converted into commercial outlets. What are seemingly single-use residential dwellings—in maps and planning overlays—often contain mixed use commercial activities. It is not until one looks at the buildings at a finer scale that this level of appropriation and adaptation is made clear. The ‘shop-houses’ are commonly found in the surrounding residential neighbourhood, offering services such as hair salons; dentists; and massage and acupuncture clinics. These hybrid typologies highlight unique aspects of scale form and use throughout Footscray: demonstrating the potential of mixed-use zoning; and highlighting the flaws in separating uses through regulatory systems and planning overlays. The ‘shop-house’ typology appears to have emerged informally: a condition of living and working in the same place; often occurring out of financial and cultural necessity.

What is commonly seen throughout Footscray is the innovative appropriation of available urban infrastructure, and the complex negotiation of public and private space. Everyday grocery stores and retail outlets set up as platforms and stalls—often made of crates and boxes—in which fruit and vegetables are displayed in a market style manner. Acts of appropriation like this exist throughout Footscray’s public realm. They not only aim to satisfy the immediate needs of particular people/groups; but are also representative of a failure in the current system to satisfy particular economic, social and cultural conditions. This fine-grain urbanism not only adds to the intensity and liveliness of the streetscape; but also represents how informality is used as a tool for individuals to engage and shape their own environments. Architecturally speaking, the buildings themselves merely act as shell’s for individuals and groups to appropriate. The awnings, although not of particular architectural merit, create arcade-like enclosures which have a profound effect on the experiential qualities of the street. Fine-grain signage and ephemera in both Vietnamese and English languages decorate the shop windows.

Alongside its role to mitigate socio-economic inequity, the informal economy of Footscray is integral to its vitality as a suburb. Informal traders, selling culturally specific goods, have established a vibrant and burgeoning informal economy: whereby cultural practices have been given a platform for re-enactment. Spatial and socio-economic situations are manifest in the way good are sold on the streets. Cheaper goods are often displayed informally, outside shops and along particular streets with high foot traffic. Chinese and Vietnamese traders can be seen catering for the large South-East Asian population, and have successfully transformed Leeds Street and Hopkins Street into market-style commercial precincts. A number of the informal street traders own shops within the commercial precinct but choose to sell their goods on the street: capitalising on pedestrian flows during certain times of the day.

Unfortunately, the uninhibited and informal urban characteristics that make up Footscray’s distinctive identity are currently being diminished. With forceful development of multi-storey apartments of up to 25 storeys, Footscray appears to be following an inevitable narrative of calculated gentrification and consequential transition. The unique urban fabric is undergoing significant changes as Melbourne’s middle class populations begin to expand outwards. Over-scaled and insensitive developer-driven projects have encouraged and elevated the process of gentrification. Will Footscray be able to adapt to such changing urban conditions? Will it retain its title as Melbourne’s vibrant multicultural melting pot?

James Connor is a graduate of the Bachelor of Architectural Design from the University of Queensland and Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne. Since graduating, James has gained experience working on a variety of residential and urban projects in both Australia and Europe. Throughout his studies, James has focused his research on cities, informal urbanism, housing affordability and participatory design.

Tahj Rosmarin is a graduate of the Bachelor of Architectural Design from the University of Queensland and Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne. Since graduating, Tahj has gained experience working on a varied collection of design proposals; ranging from small- scale residential projects, to large scale urban design work. Through these experiences Tahj has gained skills and abilities ranging from presentation to working drawings. Tahj has become keenly involved in the idea of a bottom up and participatory based architecture.

12 December 2017

EDITORIAL | Precarious Shifts in Homelessness Policy

Hard-line civic law changes, damaging to the rights of homeless persons, appear destined for defeat. But compliance officers may yet wield greater powers, and a crackdown on Melbourne’s most vulnerable is still on the cards.

Tsiboho, photographed sleeping rough at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets - 03/12/17.

Homelessness is on the rise in Melbourne. The increased presence on the streets, especially in the inner city, can hardly go unnoticed. Rough sleepers are seen bedding down on footpaths throughout the CBD, an uncomfortable truth that might have been inconceivable 5 or 10 years ago. It's a concern matched by data. In 2015 council’s StreetCount survey observed 83 people sleeping rough, the next year the figure had ballooned out to 247. Of those surveyed in 2016, 68% had been entrenched in homelessness for over a year. Coupled with an acute shortage of supportive housing, and with welfare services already stretched, Melbourne’s dire trend looks set to continue.

The City of Melbourne’s response to the unfolding crisis was unsettling. Apparent pressure from Victoria Police saw the creation of draft local law amendments, gazetted for community comment in February. They contained greater powers for civic law enforcement. The wording expanded the definition of camping: not only would the term include those sleeping in tents or cars; it could also include persons under blankets and sleeping bags, or without any bedding at all. Furthermore, ‘camping’ would not just be reserved for overnight or longer stays, it might mean those stopping for any time; even resting out in the open, during the day. The result of these changes, seemingly subtle, would be anything but. It would give council officers the power to move-on rough sleepers from any public open space. Failure to comply could be met with police arrest.

But the amendments didn't stop there. They also proposed to allow council officers to seize and impound any unattended belongings. Homeless persons were now expected to guard their possessions constantly, or risk having them confiscated. And if that wasn't enough, council also suggested a degrading $338 fee for retrieval. A ludicrous plan, offensive even if it could have been afforded.

Many wondered where these punitive measures had come from. The council that had historically defended the disadvantaged, with sound homelessness policy, was now appearing to turn its back. So significant were the implications that news spread far and wide. Even the UN body responsible for human rights caught wind of the plans, and gave a scathing assessment through Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha:

“The criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law..the proposed law goes further and is discriminatory - stopping people from engaging in life sustaining activities, and penalising them because they are poor and have no place to live.”

The local backlash was just as decisive. The City of Melbourne’s public consultation process received a staggering 2,556 responses, with up to 90% recording a negative reaction. 84% against expanding the definition of ‘camping’, and an overwhelming 98% against the charge to recover belongings. Many respondents regarded the amendments as a shift in the council’s culture, as noted in high level analysis from the Submissions Committee:

“Although the focus of the the proposed Local Law is on improving amenity, the proposed changes have been seen as ‘referendum on homelessness’ and a change of approach from Council’s current role of supporting homeless people.”

In the the face of widespread condemnation, the council backed down. In September, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle announced that the controversial amendments would be shelved. The mayor had received advice from law firm Maddocks reinforcing the concerns of legal professionals and homelessness advocates: that the laws may be in breach of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; and could “conceivably” result in cruel or degrading treatment. The mayor summed it up as follows:

“I have no doubt that any change to the local law would be tested in the courts, which could tie us up in expensive legal proceedings potentially for more than a year. Whether you win or lose you lose. You lose in time, you lose in the people you're trying to help, you lose in dollars.”

However, it was also revealed that council had already begun trialing a new Homelessness Protocol, drafted in association with Victoria Police. The protocol encourages greater intervention under the existing Activities Local Law. And whilst the law does not authorize a police response, it does emphasise greater collaboration between agency law enforcement and council’s Authorised Officers. The protocol also indicates the changing nature of council’s engagement with homeless persons, favouring “more assertive actions”. These include provisions to remove unattended belongs:

“Items left unattended which impact on the amenity, enjoyment and use of the public space or that create a potential security risk will be removed with personal items stored and the remainder disposed of”...”Belongings should be kept to a reasonable minimum, being two bags which can be carried and other bedding like a sleeping bag, blanket or pillow.”

Rough sleepers will be not be allowed to gather together in number, with groups of more than 4 considered to be a “heightened amenity impact”, to be “strongly discouraged”. Council officers will have the authority to disperse larger groups and can “call on police to intervene if safety risk is perceived”. Entrances to businesses and residences must not be blocked: “customers are to be free to enter and exit all buildings when open”. Disabled access must maintained throughout the municipality and not be impeded.

What both examples above demonstrate, is that council has firmly shifted policy towards a “lower tolerance of street clutter and amenity impacts”. But whilst ‘street clutter’ may be qualified as more than 2 bags of personal belongings; or more than 4 rough sleepers gathered together, an unacceptable ‘amenity impact’ is more difficult to identify. The protocol states that “behaviour in the public space should not impact the enjoyment of other users of the public place”, and gives a scenario example:

“A group of rough sleepers set up in one city block during the day which intimidates other user[s] of the public space and impacts amenity.”

The appropriate response under the existing law is then given:

“CoM will use its power under the Activities Local Law regarding behaviour (part 2), specifically nuisance (clause 2.1a) and amenity (clause 2.1b) to take action and will call upon VicPol to intervene if safety risk is perceived.”

The degree to which a homeless person's’ presence or activity ‘intimidates’ other users, or provides a ‘nuisance’ seems highly subjective. Assessment of such would be up to the discretion of the individual officers involved. However, it should be noted that council has provided a strong mechanism for public complaint making, with options available to report a homeless person's behavior via automatic telephone prompts.

Lara Brown and Stephen Herbst representing Architects for Peace at council’s submissions committee meeting on 06/04/17. Our written submission against the proposed local law amendments was received by council in March. Photo Chester Ngan.

It is clear that homelessness policy in City of Melbourne is undergoing a process of change. Evidenced in the Local Law amendments, and the homelessness protocol, is a perceptible shift of focus. The field of view is being redirected towards addressing the coalface symptoms of homelessness, and away from its root causes. Council appears to be intent more than ever on ‘cleansing’ its streets, rather than lighting up ‘pathways out of homelessness’ for the city’s vulnerable.

Thankfully, community expectations have not moved in the same direction. The impassioned response to the proposed Local Laws shows a discerning acknowledgement of the complexities of the homelessness crisis. There was a clear call for compassion, from constituents and community organisations alike, and respondents reinforced the need for increased supportive housing and welfare services.

Architects for Peace firmly shares this sentiment, and continues to watch this area closely. We will look to share further developments, as the homelessness protocol proceeds through its trial phase.

Stephen Herbst - Editor

13 November 2017

Parque Forestal: a persistent urban project that integrates nature and city

El Parque Forestal: persistente proyecto urbano integrador de la naturaleza y la ciudad

In the month of urbanism, I was invited to write a column for the National Museum Benjamín Vicuña MacKenna (Santiago, Chile). This column is intended as “a space of reflection and participation and seeks to collect the opinion from citizens, specialist and academics on the city”. I chose to write about Parque Forestal, an urban park designed in the year 1900 by the French architect George Dubois. 

This linear urban park is significant in that it recognises and incorporates the geographical situation and natural landmarks defining the city (the Andes, its mountain ranges, and the Mapocho River). Because of the Parque Forestal´s flawless design logic, new parks continue to be created in all the municipalities crossed by the river. These parks stretch along the Mapocho river, creating a system of open spaces—urban “windows”— and allowing us to contemplate the Andes mountains in a continuous manner.  

In times when urban gestures tend to be timid, surrendering the responsibility of cities (in all their complexity) to others, often the market and their developers, it is crucial to revisit and value the work done by our predecessors—the urbanists—and recuperate the drive that will permit us make cities better places for all. (Article in Spanish, published by the MNBVM on November 1, 2017).

Parque Forestal y Río Mapocho durante la proyección del Museo Arte de Luz, donde 14 artistas expusieron sus obras (2015). 
Frecuentemente asociamos el urbanismo a los llenos formados por los edificios e infraestructura. Se nos olvida que parte importante de esta forma e imagen de la ciudad está compuesta por sus espacios abiertos, los vacíos, los espacios verdes—esos relieves que nos recuerdan que la ciudad respondió en su origen a su situación geográfica y paisajística natural—.
A pesar de que en Santiago transgredimos constantemente estos orígenes, aun conservamos sus huellas. Entre estos, el río Mapocho, algunos de los riachuelos (hoy canales), incluso nuestra avenida principal (Alameda) que alguna vez fue un curso de agua. También nos quedan parte de las vistas majestuosas de la cordillera que se insinúan entre edificios y gigantografías que imponen en el habitante sus burdos mensajes.

En la conformación de Santiago, se valoró y destacaron sus orígenes, su topografía y es así como el río Mapocho, a pesar de la canalización que lo despojó de su capacidad de mantener sus ecosistemas, fue por otra parte enaltecido con el Parque Forestal. Parque lineal, diseñado por el arquitecto francés George Dubois en el año 1900, como primer parque urbano moderno del país y que formó parte de un conjunto de estrategias urbanas que transformaron y humanizaron la ciudad.

El Parque Forestal, que acompañaría en su recorrido al Río Mapocho, fue concebido como lugar de paseo y contemplación, de encuentro e integración, fue delineándose paulatinamente con edificios residenciales y coronado por el Museo de Bellas Artes (1905-1910). La irreprochable lógica de su concepción como paisaje urbano longitudinal, unificador y complejo en su ambición, permitió que en la medida que la ciudad crecía, este parque continuara extendiéndose e integrando municipios, más allá de lo originalmente proyectado. Es así como nuevos parques se han sumado a su sistema, tanto desde el oriente como del poniente de la ciudad, uniéndose a este poderoso gesto urbano inclusivo.

Además de la belleza de su diseño y sus árboles, el Parque Forestal tiene valor inmaterial como construcción cultural reconocida en su calidad de zona típica. En el esparcimiento y el caminar se mezclan y conviven creativamente diversos grupos sociales, diversas edades y nacionalidades, enriqueciendo el parque con sus picnics, actividades comunitarias y variadas expresiones artísticas. En tiempos de condominios (ricos y pobres), donde lo fácil e inmediato es optar por el cerramiento y la exclusión—la antítesis de lo urbano—, el Parque Forestal, hito urbano integrador, complejo y persistente, se mantiene firme y abierto.

El parque Forestal nos recuerda que es posible e indispensable pensar la ciudad desde el proyecto urbano, con estrategias generosas que nuevamente transformen a Santiago y la conviertan en una ciudad amigable. El proyecto urbano requiere valorar los vacíos, proveyendo con más avenidas en la que podamos reconocer el entorno natural con sus magníficas vistas de la cordillera, integrando a todos sus habitantes en el reencuentro con la naturaleza y de paso, en el redescubrimiento de nuestra identidad.

Vista de la Plaza Italia (Baquedano), desde el Parque Forestal, con la cordillera de fondo (2017). 
Tanto hacia el oriente, como al poniente de la ciudad, nuevos parques se han integrado al sistema originado por el Parque Forestal (vista del parque en la comuna de Providencia).

Beatriz Maturana Cossio (PhD): Architect RMIT University. Master of Urban Design and PhD, University of Melbourne, Australia. Academic Director & Director of International Relations at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Chile. Adjunct Professor of RMIT University, Australia. Founder of Architects for Peace.