Architecture is usually thought of as synonymous with building, and this notion strongly informs both how architects perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. However, much of the work of architecture takes place before and after the actual act of construction: As architects probe the conditions governing the territories in which they are intervening, they observe, ask questions and venture into realms beyond that of the construction site. In a process similar to that of investigative journalism, they collect pieces of evidence, analyse them and synthesise them into a narrative. Thus, architects also reveal the mechanisms that tend to remain in the background: They use their spatial analyses to visualise the exploitation, management and control of their respective territories, such that certain conditions, which otherwise would remain under the radar, become apparent.
“Under the Radar”
16 November, 2019 – 15 March, 2020
S AM Swiss Architecture Museum
Steinenberg 7, 4001 Basel
Projects participating: ‘Handbook of Tyranny’ by Theo Deutinger (AT), ‘The Murder of Halit Yozgat’ and other investigations by Forensic Architecture (UK), ‘Italian Limes’ by Studio Folder (IT), ‘Smuggling Architecture’ by Kwong Von Glinow (USA), ‘Swiss Lessons’ by EPF Lausanne’s Laboratoire Bâle (CH), ‘Sand and Labour’ by Architecture of Territory at ETH Zurich (CH), ‘Parallel Sprawl’ by Kunik de Morsier (CH) and ‘Meteorological Architecture’ by Philippe Rahm (FR).
A contribution to spatial literacy
The exhibition ‘Under the Radar’ at the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum (16/11/2019– 15/3/2020) presents major international research projects dealing with this investigative architecture: ‘Handbook of Tyranny’ by Theo Deutinger (AT), ‘The Murder of Halit Yozgat’ and other investigations by Forensic Architecture (UK), ‘Italian Limes’ by Studio Folder (IT), ‘Smuggling Architecture’ by Kwong Von Glinow (USA), ‘Swiss Lessons’ by EPF Lausanne’s Laboratoire Bâle (CH), ‘Sand and Labour’ by Architecture of Territory at ETH Zurich (CH), ‘Parallel Sprawl’ by Kunik de Morsier (CH) and ‘Meteorological Architecture’ by Philippe Rahm (FR). The focus is on the methods, content and conclusions of these spatial analyses of territory. The studies render global themes such as borders, legal norms and conflicts visible on a local scale, thus contributing to spatial literacy. Ultimately, the exhibition conveys an expanded understanding of architecture, one that sees the design of spaces as inextricable from the analysis, design and interpretation of territory.
‘Handbook of Tyranny’
In the first room, Theo Deutinger’s ‘Handbook of Tyranny’ is presented. With this handbook, he aims to lay bare the relationships between political power, territoriality and systematic restrictions. His contribution to the exhibition presents these connections using detailed, non-fictional illustrations: of walls, fences, prison cells, drones, police tactics and so on. These matter-of-fact technical drawings foreground the mechanisms of control that affect humans and animals in equal measure.
The second room features projects by the research agency Forensic Architecture, founded in 2010 by Professor Eyal Weizman. This group investigates cases involving human rights violations, political violence and environmental destruction. Working with or on behalf of victims, human rights organisations, environmental justice groups, media organisations or international criminal investigators, the agency applies state-of-the-art methods of forensic and spatial analysis in order to examine architectural, urban and territorial spaces. For instance, it assessed the racist murder of Halit Yozgat in an internet café in Kassel, Germany, using a 1:1 model and re-enactments, which enabled the agency to disprove the contradictory claims of a key witness. In addition, the investigations ‘The Killing of Tahir Elçi’, ‘Killing in Umm al-Hiran’ and ‘Sea Watch vs. the Libyan Coastguard’ are presented in the form of films.
The third room features projects by Studio Folder and Kwong Von Glinow. The former’s research project ‘Italian Limes’ investigates Italy’s Alpine border, which follows the watershed that separates the drainage basins of Northern and Southern Europe. Running mostly at high altitudes, it crosses snowfields and glaciers that are currently melting as a result of climate change. As the
watershed shifts, so too does the frontier. Due to this phenomenon, Italy, Austria and Switzerland signed two bilateral agreements in 2008 and 2009, introducing the legal concept of a ‘moving border’. The exhibition installation ‘Italian Limes’ shows the effects of climate change on geopolitical concepts: Borders have both a material and imagined form, and ecological processes can call the very idea of territory into question.
With its research project ‘Smuggling Architecture’, the office Kwong Von Glinow investigates the catalogue homes that are typical of American suburbia. The focus of this project is on the interior layout of these model houses, which the architects transform in a subversive manner. In the exhibition module ‘Smuggling Architecture’, visitors can walk down a suburban street with three models of modified catalogue homes that have been opened up so that the ‘smuggled’ elements are easily recognisable. Kwong Von Glinow understands these designs as psychograms of a society that refuses to do without the technological advances of modernity, yet insists on hiding these behind a shell of obsolete aesthetic notions.
The final room presents studies by Laboratoire Bâle (Prof. Harry Gugger, EPF Lausanne), Kunik de Morsier, Architecture of Territory (Prof. Milica Topalović, ETH Zurich) and Philippe Rahm. With its study ‘Swiss Lessons’, EPF Lausanne’s Laboratoire Bâle (laba) speculates about what Switzerland will look like in the year 2048, the year in which the first Swiss Constitution of 1848 will be celebrating its bicentennial. With a statistically well-established rise in population from 8.5 to 14 million by that year as a base assumption, the study analyses the possible effects of this population increase on the territory and on the people. This growth will have a major impact on Switzerland: Pressure on both urban and rural areas will rise, while the country’s infrastructure will change dramatically. The results of the study, as well as student projects from the laba, are shown here in the form of graphics, maps, a publication and a sectional representation of Switzerland.