October 19, 2010
by Canadian Architect
Although immigration is a dominant topic in contemporary culture, its discussion is often limited to the human experience, such as the crossing of borders and issues around national identity.
The upcoming exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) takes a slightly different perspective: how movement impacts on the built environment. Examples range from the coconut that can drift freely on the ocean current and reseed wherever it finds land, to government-enforced relocation, the uprooting and rearranging of communities in a way that changes landscape and society forever.
Using 15 “stories,” the exhibition will question and debate issues raised by increased global movement, such as: what is the cultural significance of a border today? How does the drawing of a map change the reality on the ground? What happens to citizens and their houses if, for environmental reasons, or due to government intervention, entire towns are moved? How do different cultural approaches to the use of public space define a city? Do we need to preserve our regional or national landscape, or can we accept and incorporate changes brought from other parts of the world? How can architectural projects be modified to allow for new and multiple uses and cultural needs?
Each section will be illustrated with significant contributions from the CCA Collection, including photography, letters, objects and film. The stories are:
Classification: The Cucumber
1988 EU regulations dictated the dimensions of the best-quality cucumber. Those that did not fit the classification precisely had to be reclassified as “intended for processing,” determining the variety of fruits and vegetables that we can grow and eat.
Wayfinding: The Canadian Arctic
For the Inuit, the relationship with the land is a matter of knowing thousands of sequential place names, which are learned over the course of journeys and discussions with elders. Places are described in terms of how one gets there, what one sees from there on the horizon, which way the prevailing winds blow, etc., providing an alternate perspective on the territory.
Definition: The Bungalow
The definition of the bungalow has evolved and adapted several times since it originated in Bengal, India. In early 20th-century Africa and India, the bungalow was the most desirable building type, being the domain of Europeans and senior government officials. Simultaneously, the name was applied to holiday homes or affordable lodgings In England and North America.
Cycle: Senegal – Italy – Senegal
In 2001, Senegalese economic migration to Italy was estimated at 80,000 to 100,000. Typically, each family member spends 3-5 years in Italy before returning home. Goods, materials and money to the value of approximately $400 million per year are sent back to Senegal and are responsible for the substantial development and urbanization of the country.
Interpretation: Bijlmermeer, The Netherlands
In the mid ‘70s, an ambitious 1960s housing project outside Amsterdam became home to Surinamese and other immigrants. They adapted the modern building to their needs and developed informal uses for the public spaces, such as markets and community centres.
Experimentation: Japan – Bolivia
Japanese communities in Bolivia were formed after a newly opened border, agrarian reform and economic problems encouraged some Japanese to experiment with farming. They changed the indigenous landscape by introducing new crops and techniques, such as wet rice farming.
Compromise: Mazara del Vallo, Italy
An earthquake in 1981 left the centre of the Sicilian town of Mazara largely abandoned. Historically one of Italy’s most important fishing harbours, it now supports some 4,000 fishermen, most of whom are immigrants. The immigrants dominate the centre (casbah) and the structure, buildings and public spaces of Mazara have been renegotiated with and for the new community.
Configuration: Newfoundland, Canada
Between 1954 and 1975, the provincial government of Newfoundland encouraged 300 isolated communities (around 30,000 people) to resettle in central areas. The higher housing prices in these areas often made the purchase of new homes unrealistic for the newcomers. Many economized by bringing their entire houses with them, often transporting them by sea. Thus not only the social configuration, but also the built environment of Newfoundland underwent dramatic change.
Inheritance: United States – Liberia
From 1816-47, former American slaves, often freed on condition that they emigrate, were encouraged to settle in Liberia, Africa. Around 17,000 made the journey, founded cities and developed a culture whose buildings reflected their origins.
Typology: The Call Shop
Small shops that provide telecommunication services can be found in urban centres internationally, offering long-distance calling and internet access for travellers, immigrants and temporary workers to maintain contact with places they have left. Although these shops appear all over the world, they have a common typology; they are simultaneously generic and independent.
Opportunity: Iroquois, Ontario
Proposals to open the St Lawrence River to ocean-going shipping in Canada in the 1950s involved the relocation of several Ontario communities. The town of Iroquois engaged Anglo-Canadian architect Wells Coates to design a new town for them. His Modernist proposal was never realized but remains interesting for its imaginative reconception of urban design in Canada.
Negotiation: Brazzaville, Congo
Substantial Chinese investment in Africa is having a cultural, linguistic and physical impact in many parts of the continent. The reconstruction of Brazzaville, post-civil wars in the Congo in the 1990s, has been mostly outsourced to Chinese companies who provide a reconstruction package and receive oil and natural resources in return.
Expertise: Barre, Vermont
Recruiting skilled Italian stonecutters to work granite in Vermont in the 1890s allowed the industry and town to become not just a source of raw materials, but of finished products. They specialized in fine work, sculpture and monuments and established schools to teach these skills.
Value: The Sacred Ibis
The Sacred Ibis was imported to French zoos and parks in the 20th century. Subsequently, some escaped Ibis were found to be feeding on the eggs of endangered native birds. In 2007, local officials used EU laws prohibiting the introduction of non-native water bird species to enact a total cull of Sacred Ibis colonies in the region. The Ibis o
nce occupied a principal role in ancient Egypt; millions of the birds were mummified and buried in honour of one of the principal gods, the Ibis-headed Thoth.
Drift: The Coconut
The coconut is a global traveller, riding the ocean currents at the whim of the weather and tides. With its tough fibrous husk and air-filled seed, it can float great distances and germinate if it reaches land within four months of leaving its source. In this rare case, no human laws can curtail the coconut’s freedom.
Journeys: How Travelling Fruit, Ideas and Buildings Rearrange Our Environment runs from October 19, 2010 to March 13, 2011. For further information on the exhibition and related programs, please visit the CCA website at www.cca.qc.ca.