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Architecture and Politics of Urban Spaces

Session XII-17, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • Patrick Wolfe’s well-worn claim that settler colonialism is a “structure not an event” ushered in thinking of the ongoing two-fold structural logic of indigenous dispossession and expanding territorial control in settler colonial projects. Whereas scholars have approached the structural logic by focusing on property ownership, policing, and academic disciplinary knowledge, this paper focuses on the use of architectural history as a method for consolidating spatial control in Tel Aviv. This paper explores the question: how do architectural preservationists in Tel Aviv use the history of modernist architectural as a tool to reinforce Wolfe’s “structure” of settler colonialism through the built environment? I argue architectural preservationists in Tel Aviv weave together Israeli national mythology and the histories of modernist architecture to both further the project of Palestinian dispossession and to expand administrative control. I advance this argument by drawing on semi-structured interviews with preservationists in Tel Aviv, the analysis of UNESCO World Heritage List materials, promotional materials from the White City Center in Tel Aviv, and architectural history texts on the White City. The argument proceeds in three parts. I show how Israeli architectural historians blended Israeli national mythology and the histories of modernist architecture as a narrative strategy to counter the ascendance of revisionist Zionism in Israeli politics and exercises of military power in Lebanon, West Bank, and Gaza Strip in the 1980s. These narratives on Tel Aviv were validated by the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003 with the addition of White City Tel Aviv. I then show how this validation contributed to the proliferation these narratives in architectural history texts and architectural tourism in Tel Aviv. The paper concludes that there is a need to interrogate both the forms of knowledge and the wider institutions that promulgate these narratives forms, because the reproduction of settler colonial logics in Tel Aviv find resonance throughout the MENA region, in settler states like the United States and Australia, and in urban space around the world.
  • The inception of the modern practice of town planning is dominantly traced to 1909, when the first Town and Country planning law was published in Britain. This law was transformed to the various British colonies in the early decades of the 20th century, forming planning laws and practice throughout the empire. In 1921, the law and its derivatives were introduced in Palestine, by then under British Mandate, forming the first modern planning basis for the area. British planners as well as local practitioners, including newly arrived, European Zionist architects, soon engaged with the new planning regime, shaping anew a local urban and rural landscape. British planning is considered an act of modernization, and an introduction of an advanced practice and discourse into the backwards, traditional landscape of Ottoman Middle East. Recent scholarship, however, sheds new light on the period prior to the British mandate in Palestine and questions the alleged backwardness of local governmental practices and conventions. In my paper, I will examine the actual transformation from modern ottoman town planning to British planning, concentrating on the following topics: 1. How different was modern British from modern Ottoman planning? 2. Which networks were dominant in each planning regime, and were they different or continuous? For example, who were the foreign architects and engineers advancing modernization and urban planning in each period? And finally, 3. How did these affect practices of land ownership, parcellation and development, producing different notions of the city and its society? The paper will focus on the life and work of Ben Zion Guini, the Jewish municipal engineer of Jaffa in the first two decades of the 20th century and the municipal engineer of Jerusalem during the time of the transition from the Ottoman to the British empire. Guini was born in Izmir, studied in Paris and worked both under Ottoman Empire and British mandated, working alongside many practitioners, both local and foreign. Guini's life and practice embody many of the transitions and networks the research wishes to explore.
  • This paper demonstrates how urban space offers a key mechanism for political mobilization and resilience, particularly among groups that exhibit characteristics of both political and social movements. This paper illustrates how, in the early 2000s, pro-Kurdish movement, either banned by the state or denied access to Parliament used urban planning to resist state coercion and foster Kurdish nationhood in Turkey.This paper employs ethnographic, spatial, and historical research methods. My ethnographic fieldwork (between 2007 and 2019) in Diyarbakır covers a time of deep conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish movement, during which the city has undergone dramatic physical, political, and social transformations. For over a decade, I have carried out ethnographic research in Diyarbakır, during which time I conducted over three hundred interviews with mayors, governors, local authors, community leaders, urban planners, architects, artists, activists as well as ordinary citizens from a variety of backgrounds. I demonstrate how architecture and planning can be an innovative resource to mobilize society, articulate political identity, and resist state coercion. It illustrates how spatial interventions of the pro-Kurdish party and urban confrontations at the local level have been instrumental to forming a new politicized Kurdish identity. This paper evinces how fluid conditions of control over urban space—through constantly shifting planning schemes and power relations, land speculations, informal housing practices, and appropriations of public space—allow a variety of actors to contour new political fields and conditions of identification in the city.
  • During the 80s’, Egypt was amid a rising Islamic revival movement that shaped different aspects of daily life. An Islamic alternative was represented to an anticipating audience in a wide range of fields; banking, cinema, literature, politics, and eventually architecture. This paper focuses on how architecture in Egypt during the 1980s reflected such change. Architectural magazines such as ‘Alam al-Binaʾ, ‘The World of Construction,’ in press from 1980 to1999, claimed in its mission statement to revive the authentic values of Islamic architecture. Through its pages, the magazine promoted an understanding of Islamic architecture as an architecture produced in correspondence to legal texts. In other words, for a building to be Islamic, it has to follow strict “Islamic legal-based” interventions characterized by a literal interpretation of religious texts. This interpretation was better manifested in the work of the Center of Planning and Architectural Studies ‘CPAS’, led by Abdel Baki Ibrahim (1926-2001), the owner of ‘Alam al-Binaʾ magazine who tried through his work to materialize the ideas he promoted in his magazine. This paper tries to read “Islamic” architecture not only as part of a transforming social landscape towards piety but as an act of piety in and of itself that should be performed by pious architects. It also situates this understanding of the “Islamic” in architecture in relation to the Aga Khan Award for architecture, especially during the 1980s, which the magazine heavily criticized and tried to parallel by advocating an award that focuses on the “Islamic” essence that the Aga Khan, according to them, seemed to miss.