Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Repurposing the Settlements

I just came across an excellent little interview published in the January issue of Canadian Architect with Eyal Weizman apparently on the eve before he delivered the Stirling Lecture. It's a good quick dose on the planning evolution of the settlements, colonial spatialization and the form identities of conflict, the Palestinian resistance to speculative post-settlement adaptive reuse, and - the absurd realities of repurposing 40 years' worth of the occupation’s architectural garbage as a wave-breaker outside Gaza’s port.
Incidentally if you are in Vancouver Eyal is speaking tonight. New York this Thursday, at the CUNY Graduate Center on The Architectures of Lesser Evil. Then, end of March at UPENN for Slought’s Evasions of Power Conference Series. And, Eyal if you are reading this, I’d love to invite you back to New York late May for an event Subtopia may be co-hosting. I mean, you are the most demanded architectural lecturer worldwide, if I read that right, right? Would love to hear from you.

Anyway, some good snippets posted below:

“[t]he most interesting project was one where the Palestinian authority invited me to think with them settlement reuse in post-evacuation times. It became a very intense problem leading up to the Israeli evacuation in August 2005: what do we do with the settlements when they are evacuated? Are they to be abandoned, reused, converted, recycled? What do you do with a set of suburban single-family houses? It was difficult, because the Palestinians rejected them as suburbs. The proposal was finally to spatialize a set of public institutions into the evacuated shells of settlements: agricultural university, a cultural centre, a clinic for the Red Cross, and so on.”

[Image: Military forces install a shrine, created by the Serbian Orthodox Church, on the disputed border between Serbia and Montenegro. Photographer unknown, 2005.]

“Israeli architecture in the '50s and '60s, Alfred Neumann, Zvi Hecker and Eldar Sharon were doing hillside habitat systems before Safdie was. It was a sophisticated modular modernist architecture already influenced by local typologies of Arab villages--Friedrich Kiesler once called the Israel Museum built in similar modular style "an Arab village built in international style." Many other international figures who were drawn to Jerusalem and advised on building there never contested the politics that allowed this form of construction to occur in the first place--that Jerusalem has been occupied and must be united under the Israeli regime. The question was how to make an architecture that would naturalize Israeli domination there. Starting in the late 1970s, ideas originating in new urbanism--of walkable communities and repetition and variation of typologies--were used in several settlements. In the 1980s, Israeli settlements mimicked gated communities. The strangest thing is when Israeli architects are influenced by Palestinian architecture, the very habitat against which they are constructing.”

[Image: Israeli Defence Forces use Bulldozers to demolish a house in the Jewish settlement of Morag in the southern Gaza Strip.]

“[Martin Bressani] You could do a spatial history of warfare, of conflict. What about the reverse? Can we learn from your study of military urbanism something fundamental about architecture?

[Eyal Weizman] Certainly. This research looks at the way in which forms emerge across the landscape--not only as the result of a master-planning process, but of a set of conflicts: armed conflicts but also wider social conflicts. These are registered in space: land annexation, the way roads are rerouted, and so on. I'm interested to learn about the way in which conflicts are mediated into form. Take, for instance, a multi-polar force field in which NGO activity, UN activity, independent settler groups, independent resistance groups, peaceful demonstrations, and the high court etc. all intersect. The politics of their interactions are registered in space. So for example, Israel's Wall--the "security fence" between Israel and the West Bank--could be seen on one scale as a giant state project. But it also reacts and incorporates these micro-forces into its path. Therefore, the understanding of intense conflicts allows you to identify the way political forces are constantly brought into the organization of form. And, in fact, every city is a register of these forces. But in this region it happened much faster; formative forces are brutal and explicit. It's a perfect laboratory. The Israeli government was never able to institute the wall in the way it was designed. Sometimes the form of the wall is determined by something as mundane as some nature enthusiasts trying to protect a hill with some wild irises on it. Or by settlers saying, "If you cut us off from that Palestinian village we will have no cleaning ladies anymore."”


Post a Comment

<< Home