Decolonizing Architecture I and II: demolition, reuse, subversion

Projects: P’sagot and Oush Grab

Evacuated colonial architectures were alternately understood as symbols of racist ideologies, physical entities embodying power relations, military weapons or ammunition, the sites and instruments of a crime, and even haunted places. In this class, we will look at different approaches to dealing with colonial structures.


Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman, “Architecture after Revolution,” Sternberg Press, 2013. (Introduction, Prelude, Chapter III and IV)

Frantz Fanon, “The Wretched of the Earth,” 1961 (Chapter I)

Decolonizing Architecture III and IV: Lawless Lines and Common Assembly

Projects: Lawless lines and Common Assembly

The Palestinian Legislative Council building—known as the Palestinian Parliament—is simultaneously a construction site and a ruin. The construction of the building started during the euphoria of the Oslo Accord. The location in Abu Dis was chosen as a first step toward the establishment of East Jerusalem as the Capital of the future Palestinian State. With the collapse of the Oslo Accords, the eruption of the Second Intifada and the construction of the Wall just a few meters from the building, the project has been abandoned. Today, its massive presence and incompleteness dramatically embody the frustrated ambitions of the Palestinian political leadership. How could the building be re-imagined as an extraterritorial assembly that will include the Palestinian population exiled from the country? How could a reflection on the public and the commons politically revive the abandoned building? Is this building the ultimate form of the Palestine assembly and democracy, or do new political and architectural forms need to be reinvented?


Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman, “Architecture after Revolution,” Sternberg Press, 2013 (Chapter V and epilogue)

Carl Schmitt , The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 1923

Alain Badiou, the Paris Commune, 2006

Decolonizing Architecture V and VI: Returns and Atlas of decolonization

Project: Returns: the right to free movement

The notion of “return” has defined the diasporic and extraterritorial nature of Palestinian politics and cultural life since the Nakba in 1947-48. Often articulated in the “suspended politics” of political theology, it has gradually been blurred in the futile limbo of negotiations. To reintroduce the return into public debate we are suggesting the use of the term Returns, to start to explore different political possibilities in which return could take place.

Project: Italian Ghosts

During the period of its Fascist regime, Italy employed modern architecture to represent its imperial ambitions in Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. The presence of ruins of Roman era architecture in Libya were used as political anchors to legitimize the “return” of Italy to these territories and the creation of a “new Roman Empire”. However crucial they were for the colonial project and for Italy’s history and identity the modernist architecture of Italian colonialism is as little known as the entire period of Italian colonialism and its ongoing legacy.

The embarrassing elegance of this architecture contrasts with the crimes of the colonization that have never been acknowledged; the “Gheddafi-Berlusconi reconciliation” of 2009 attempted to bypass, ignore or forcibly produce a farce of the past. The afterlife of these buildings might help to unpack and reveal the strict problematic relation between modernism and colonization, Italy and its colonial ghosts.


Architecture after Revolution (Chapter I)

Ghassan Kanafani, Return to Haifa (1970)

Decolonizing Knowledge: Campus in Camps

Project: Campus in Camps: the right to create meanings

Campus in Camps uses collective discussions and courses to transform the notions of “space” and “agency” into practical, community-driven interventions. These practice based interventions are a corollary to Campus in Camps’ contributions to the way formal educational institutions understand themselves and their role in society, aiming to overcome conventional structures by intersecting rigorous research with the everyday life in refugee camps, involving teaching staff from universities and students (refugees and non-refugees).


Booklet Campus in Camps 00

Thomas Keenan in conversation with Carin Kuoni, “The Political in and of Art”

Alessandro Petti, Decolonizing Knowledge, Archis N. 3, 2015

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed 


Project: the tree school

The Tree School is a project initiated by two groups that share a common interest in decolonizing knowledge: Campus in Camps and Brazilian-based art collective Contrafilé. The project is part of the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, and aims to cultivate and produce knowledge that emerges from regions of the world that rarely speak to each other, despite the fact they have much in common. In this, The Tree School, which was formed to make new forms of knowledge production possible, presents an initiative that aims to bridge ‘two worlds’ that share similar urgencies in terms of social justice and equality.


Campus in Camps and Contrafile, “Tree school book”

The Collective Dictionary: Al-Masha or the Common

Project: a square in Fawaar Refugee Camp

In 2007 UNRWA´s Camp Improvement Programme began a participatory design process for the construction of a public square in Fawwar Refugee Camp. Camps are political spaces and their built environment is a symbol of political struggle. How can one build an open public space in an exceptional environment where the concept of public and private does not exist? In an environment where any urban elements that resemble those of a city threaten the temporariness of the camps and are therefore seen as jeopardizing the refugees’ right of return? The notion of constructing a public square in the camp was controversial and it questioned how the community defined and perceived the spatial image of the camp. Moreover, it raised questions of how the space would be used and by whom. Was the plaza for children to play, for men to gather? Could women use the plaza, and if so, what activities were socially acceptable for them to carry out in this space?


Sandi Hilal, Roofless plaza. 

Sandi Hilal, A Plaza in a Camp: A Play in Four Acts

Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, “Reimagining the Common: Rethinking the Refugee Experience,” in The Human Snapshot, Thomas Keenan, Tirdad Zolghadr (Eds.), Sternberg April 2013

Silvia Federici, Feminism And the Politics of the Commons, 2008

On line platform Al Masha or the space of the common

SEMINAR: Tensta konsthall “Migration history and Politics”

November 9th, 2017

When asylum rights are continuously violated and Migration is economized, a need is created to counteract knowledge deficiency and stop historical ignorance from spreading. Tensta konsthall has therefore initiated a collaboration with several universities and research institutes, resulting in a multi-disciplinary night class beginning in February 2017. The class covers the history of Migration, cross-border policy in Europe and internationally, Migration beyond the concept of the nation state, asylum rights, etc. Contemporary art will be a feature throughout the course, as the questions and ideas addressed are at the core of the work exhibited at the konsthall, and artists working with the themes will join the class, sharing ideas and insights.

In collaboration with Södertörn University; Stockholm University; REMESO – Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society at Linköping University; Royal Institute of Art; Uppsala University and Malmö University. In English.
This fall, Tensta konsthall’s course in the history and politics of migration continues. During two intense afternoons, lectures, discussions and screenings are held with researchers, curators and artists from Forensic Architecture (London), Savvy Contemporary (Berlin), REMESO (Linköping University) and DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency in Palestine). Topics addressed are the erased history of refugee camps, images of smugglers, anti-colonial migration and philosopher Hanna Arendt’s (1906-1975) thoughts about the right to have rights, among others.

With artist Cana Bilir-Meier, historian Håkan Blomqvist, ethnicity professor and author Stefan Jonsson, researcher Mahmoud Keshavarz who works with migration and design policy, researcher Anna Lundberg, focusing on human rights and refugee issues, historian Fredrik Petersson whose research area is transnational anti-colonialism, architect and professor Alessandro Petti who, together with Sandi Hilal, initiated the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency in Palestine, curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung who runs the artistic platform Savvy in Berlin, focusing on decolonial practitioners, as well as the architect and professor Eyal Weizman who has initiated Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths in London, an agency that works through architectural and technological research projects to expose political conflicts, surveillance and border policy.



Soliciting Contact Zones and Healing Spaces by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung

There seems to be a general consensus that our time is experiencing an extremely stormy weather. Figuratively and metaphorically. The radical shift towards the far right and ultra neoliberal regimes as we experience in most of Europe, the USA, India, Cameroon, Brazil etc seem to sound the gong of a new era. Or is it a continuation and affirmation, a transformation and amoebic re-form of patriarchy and whiteness, fascism and xenophobia, over-simplifications and projectionism? The lecture takes its cue from the recent German elections and the majestic striding into the German parliament of the far right party, AfD. It will be an effort to reflect on the world vortexing into a state of (self-) dilapidation from the vantage point of an artistic practice that is an enactment of citizenship. A vantage point that ruminates on breathing as an act of protest, and protest as an act of love. The lecture DEFIANCE IN/AS RADICAL LOVE proposes the establishment of contact zones and healing spaces, as the concepts of ‘they’ versus ‘we’, ‘them’ versus ‘us’, ‘yours’ versus ‘mine’ have failed us. Can art and art spaces be what Mary Louise Pratt terms ‘contact zones’, i.e. “spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery or their aftermaths as they are lived out in the world today?” Art and art spaces can be healing spaces in which protest is a form of cathartis.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, PhD is an independent art curator and biotechnologist. He is founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary Berlin and editor-in-chief of SAVVY Journal for critical texts on contemporary African art. He is currently guest professor in curatorial studies at the Städelschule Frankfurt. He was curator-at-large for documenta 14, and is a guest curator of the 2018 Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal. Recent curatorial projects include Every Time A Ear di Soun — a documenta 14 Radio Program, SAVVY Contemporary, 2017; The Conundrum of Imagination, Leopold Museum Vienna/ Wienerfestwochen, 2017; An Age of our Own Making in Holbæk, MCA Roskilde and Kunsthal Charlottenborg Copenhagen, 2016-17; Unlearning the Given: Exercises in Demodernity and Decoloniality, SAVVY Contemporary, 2016; The Incantation of the Disquieting Muse, SAVVY Contemporary, 2016.


Refugee Heritage

by Alessandro Petti

Refugee camps are established with the intention of being demolished. As a paradigmatic representation of political failure, they are meant to have no history and no future; they are meant to be forgotten. The history of refugee camps are constantly erased, dismissed by states, humanitarian organizations, international organizations and even self-imposed by refugee communities in fear that any acknowledgement of the present undermines a future right of return. The only history that is recognized within refugee communities is one of violence and humiliation. Yet the camp is also a place rich with stories narrated through its urban fabric. In tracing, documenting, revealing and representing refugee history beyond the narrative of suffering and displacement, Refugee Heritage is an attempt to imagine and practice refugeeness beyond humanitarianism.

Contemporary notions of heritage and conservation are buttressed by institutions of great power, which are often oriented towards cultural expropriation. UNESCO’s “Format for the nomination of properties for inscription on the World Heritage List (Annex 5)” is a monumental building built during a colonial era. Over the course of two years, organizations and individuals, politicians and conservation experts, activists, governmental and non-governmental representatives and proximate residents gathered to discuss the implications of nominating Dheisheh Refugee Camp as a World Heritage Site. Refugee Heritage seeks to deploy the potential for heritage to be mobilized as an agent of political transformation.


Hanna Arendt and the Right to Have Rights

by Anna Lundberg

In this lecture, Hannah Arendt’s writing on the right to have rights is in focus.

The presentation revolves around three arguments from Arendt. Firstly, the importance of belonging to a political community in order to have space to produce rights claims. Secondly, the argument that human rights, in their most basic form, namely to ensure the rights of humans as their humanity, paradoxically has the effect that human beings can not act as just rights carriers. This paradox is built into human rights. It involves major discrepancies between “human rights” as a basis for rights claims on the one hand and real access to justice on the other. A third argument by Arendt relates to the basis of human rights, and to the fact that humans are not born equal even if expressed in international agreements. This argument highlights the issue of how rights arise. This assumes, Arendt argues, that people come together and act politically. Searching for a principle that can underpin equality and freedom can in this context be constitutive for rights. In this way rights are re-created, or the conditions for how they are being raised.

Anna Lundberg is a professor of welfare law at Linköping University. For 17 years, she has worked as a teacher and researcher in the field of human rights at Malmö University, now recently in the research project “Paperless Children’s Rights Claims. A multidisciplinary project on rights claims and contradictions between rights regulation “, which has an activist approach. Lundberg has a critical view of rights discussions in which she tries to understand the radical potential of rights advocacy and on what grounds justice claims can be made.

The collective Dictionary: Normalization

Project: The Girl’s School in Shufat Refugee Camp: the right to stay

Shu’fat camp has been enclosed by walls and fences built by the Israeli government since 2002, trapped in a legal void neither inside nor outside the borders of Jerusalem. The inhabitants of Shu’fat are threatened to have their Jerusalem residency documents revoked and therefore be forced once again to leave their homes. Is architectural intervention at all possible in such a distorted and unstable political environment? How can it avoid the normalization of the camp which undermines the right of return of Palestinian refugees? How could architecture exist in the here and now of the camp, yet remain in constant tension with a place of origin? Within this context in June 2011, the girls’ school for 1,000 students tried to imagine, despite limitations, a different approach to education. In this class we will discuss how we failed to present an architectural project for the Chicago Architectural Biennial.


Alessandro Petti, “School in exile”, Archis N. 3, 2015

Sandi Hilal, Participation: notes of an architect

Sari Hanafi, Governing Refugee Camps

Ilana Fieldman, The Challenge of categories: UNRWA and the definition of a “Palestine refugee”

A Concrete Tent in Dheisheh Refugee Camp

Project: The Concrete Tent

The Concrete Tent deals with the paradox of a permanent temporariness. It solidifies a mobile tent into a concrete house. The result is a hybrid between a tent and a concrete house, temporariness and permanency, soft and hard, movement and stillness. The project tries to inhabit the paradox of how to preserve the very idea of the tent as symbolic and historical value. Because of the degradability of the material of the tents, these structures simply do not exist any more. And so, the re-creation of a tent made of concrete today is an attempt to preserve the cultural and symbolic importance of this archetype for the narration of the Nakba, but at the same time to engage the present political condition of exile.


Alessandro Petti, The Concrete Tent, 

Liberating temporariness. Introduction

Stateless Nation and the Road Map, Venice Biennale 2003

Emerging at the end of the 20th century, in the time of western nation-state formation, the Venice biennale was conceived on the model of international world fairs. The display space of the Venice Biennale Gardens is a space organized according to national pavilions, a metaphoric space for a world organized according to nation states. In 2003, we were invited to design a Palestinian Pavilion for the Art Biennale. We asked ourselves, how is it possible to represent a nation without a state in which more than half its members are dispersed outside of its borders? The result was a project entitled Stateless Nation.

The Road Map, presented on the same occasion, is a work produced with the collective multiplicity. The work is a result of an experiment carried out in the Jerusalem region. Filming in two different days an Israeli taxi driver and a Palestinian taxi driver moving from the south to the north of Jerusalem. The first journey took one hour; the second more than five. These taxi journeys underline the proliferation of borders, checkpoints and bypass roads – the DNA of today’s urban spaces. In this class we will explore the contradictions within contemporary territories, hyper-connected for some and segregated for others.


Stateless Nation”, Archis, #4 2003

Alessandro Petti, “Archipelagos and Enclaves” in “State of Exception and Resistance in the Arab World”, Sari Hanafi ed., The Center for Arab Unity Studies, January 2010

SEMINAR: Decolonizing North – more info soon

December 7th – 8th 2017

(more info soon)

Ramallah Syndrome

Ramallah Syndrome is the side effect of the new spatial and social order that emerged after the collapse of the Oslo ‘peace process.’ It is manifested in a kind of ‘hallucination of normality,’ a fantasy of the co-existence of occupation and freedom. It is as if the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state – in effect, indefinitely postponed – will be achieved through pure illusion. The consequence of this perpetual persistence of a colonial regime has not been sufficiently discussed. The colonial legacy is a vital link in national identity, and it must be resolved. Ramallah Syndrome is ultimately about the critique and potentiality associated with forms of resistance and subjugation in a colonial context.


Jamil Hilal – Abaher El-Sakka, A Reading on the Socio Urban Changes in Ramalah and Kufur Aqab,

Lisa Taraki, Enclave Micropolis: the paradoxical case of Ramallah-El Bireh.