Symposium Theme: DISPLACEMENT and ARCHITECTURE

The theme of displacement has drawn increasing attention in recent years from architects, historians, designers, urban planners, and artists seeking to meet the now growing range of challenges related to human settlement. These challenges especially include the tangible impacts of climate change, refugee communities, and the displacement of masses of peoples across the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe. In addition they also include the more intangible and accompanying challenges of psychological and spiritual displacement. These crises have moved the theme of displacement to the center of education, research, and practice in a wide ranging field of architectural design and urbanism and its related fields, including philosophy and theology. The global refugee crisis has been the focus, for example, of exhibitions such as that of the Biennale in Venice, “Reporting from the Front,” or “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter” at the MoMA in the fall of 2016. Of particular interest and value is “Shelter Design” exhibition planned by the Coral Gables Museum November 3 to May 27, 2018 that will partner with the Symposium to explore the various ways in which innovative design can be used for humanitarian purposes and how it can help those affected by the current refugee crisis, mass migration and natural disasters.

Government organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Global Change Research Program are pursuing design research into resilience and mitigations of the physical impacts of sea level rise and its social and cultural impacts. Urban history, too, as a field has reflected in recent years an intent to examine the ways natural disasters and patterns of forced immigration have shaped the history of our cities around the globe and have defined understandings of national boundaries and a global increase in a sense of uncertainty and fear. By way of example, one can point to the prominent role the theme of displacement has played in American History, such as the Cherokee Trail of Tears; the internment of Japanese during World War II; or in the American literary tradition through such classics as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

What is perhaps less acknowledged in these recent discussions regarding displacement are the cultural and spiritual concerns related to the experience of human communities. As the dictionary describes, to be displaced is “to move or to shift from the ordinary or proper place. As a ship at sea displaces water, so we are displaced when something greater than ourselves moves us in a new direction or state of being.” More than a metaphor, displacement has been at the core of Abrahamic religious traditions: from the story of the fall of Adam and Eve from Paradise; to Noah and the flood; to the exile of Hagar and Ishmael; to the traveling Ark of the Covenant that transported the sacred in the wilderness. Indeed, contemporary pilgrimages are rooted in the very idea of displacement, as one separates oneself from the familiar and journeys to a sacred site. This far more profound sense of human displacement is captured in the Persian poet Rumi’s Song of the Reed:

’Hearken to the Reed forlorn,
Breathing, even since ‘twas torn
From its rushy bed, a strain
Of impassioned love and pain’

This symposium will address the meanings and effects of specific examples of displacement through a variety of periods and regions on the spiritual lives of individuals and its impact on the built environment—from the Native experience in North America, to contemporary narratives of Syrian refugees. The University of Miami is an especially appropriate venue for such a symposium, for not only is Miami Beach at risk to surging oceans and the School of Architecture have one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, but the city of Miami itself, has served for decades as the principal port of entry for thousands of Cuban refugees seeking political asylum in the U.S.

The ACS 10 symposium seeks to call attention to the ways in which the theme of displacement addresses architectural and urban practice, education, and research. It will be exploring salient examples of outstanding works by leading world designers and papers that exhibit both theoretical and historical clarity.  Possible themes for the Symposium rubric might be organized by a set of binary oppositions, such as: Shelter/Dwelling; Transitory/Permanence; Intangible/Tangible; Border/Center; Silence/Light; Materiality/Emptiness; Time/Timeless; Intellectual/Emotional; and Local/Global.

Questions that might be addressed include: How is displacement at the heart of an understanding of urban space today? How does an emphasis on displacement reorient, and on what philosophical grounds may a phenomenological emphasis in architecture on the role of dwelling and sense of place be defined? How does displacement create new opportunities for a specific site, and serve to construct it as a place of identity? To what ends does displacement give form to one history of a people and eliminate alternative histories? Does the idea of the sacred remain fixed in time and place? How do religious practices and customs engage a culturally and spiritual alien built environment? How in a world shattered by so much displacement can reaffirmations of an inner constancy persist or be given metaphoric form? We look forward to a symposium and exhibition that will manifest the importance of displacement not only in the design of cities and buildings today, but also in the making and transformation of our understanding of the relationship of spirituality, culture, and landscapes that we now occupy and will occupy into the future.