Project by
Signe Perkone
Master Track
Luc Willekens, Engbert van der Zaag, Mike Emmerik

Inhabiting Contingency

The initial aspect of migration, which this project set out to explore, was incoming refugees in Latvia. This is part of a global situation but a new phenomenon in what might be called “less desirable” states in Eastern Europe, where the society is much more close-minded and infrastructure for migrant integration is lacking. However, before refugee integration can even be considered, it is crucial to understand the particular situation in Latvia and its origins.

Latvia is a post-Soviet state, which has inherited a struggling economy and a politically divided society with a large non-integrated minority of ethnic Russians. Though now part of EU, NATO and OECD, this has meant a rapid shift from planned economy to hard-core neoliberal capitalism during the 25 years after regaining independence, which in itself creates very particular social conditions, and asymmetries. A few of these are of particular interest to this project, such as discrepancy between economic freedom and actual quality of life, weak community ties, and mistrust in collective action.

On a global scale migration can be viewed as a force, as a constant flow, within which the current increase in refugees is but a small fluctuation in a larger flux. The economy is becoming increasingly globalised but this is not followed by globalisation of politics, which means that the power of politics gives way to the power of capital, ever increasing asymmetries in the form of uneven development.

Research questions
Certain conclusions need to be drawn in order to pose the right question.

  • Premise I: a project aimed directly at integrating refugees or providing them with particular opportunities risks discriminating locals of equal socio-economic situation, and thus instantly marginalising the newcomers.
  • Premise II: a single building is incapable of accumulating enough agency to achieve real change or address the full complexity of the described situation
  • Research Question: how can a system be created, which interacts with the particular situation and location, and empowers migrants and locals to act together to balance existing asymmetries and have maximum creative productive impact?

Design Methodology Description
The theoretical tensions and questions of conceiving a project have been approached through the development of an apparatus model which maps factors relating to migration (i.e. global factors driving migration, state factors guiding the choice of destination), and complex state machinery of interlinking factors, as well as how factors pertaining to migrants themselves influence their ability to make a life in the chosen destination state.  

All the layers of the apparatus are in effect simultaneously and are in constant tension and flux. Realisation of the inter-connectedness of all factors points towards the fact that addressing precisely the relations between them, not each factor independently, might prove to be the most effective. From this apparatus, by means of analysing which factors have the most and strongest relations to others, one can start to develop a program, which focuses not on working with particular factors independently, but seeking which sets of relations can be parametrised in order to achieve the most creative productive impact.

Further to the apparatus analysis, a significant aspect of the process was analysing the urban fabric of the chosen site, the city of Riga in Latvia, and looking for the abovementioned asymmetries in spatial terms – places where urban grids clash or disintegrate, as well as mono-functional “dead” zones, post-industrial areas, gaps, hiatuses and disused, forgotten areas.

Goal of the project
The goal of the project is not to “solve a problem”, indeed, the described situation is viewed much more as an opportunity, not a problem, because problem solving is always backwards looking and expects a situation to be “solved” and finished but in reality that is never the case. This approach aims to take into account the different set of drivers, skills and desires that migrants bring with them, and analyse the particularities of the situation into which they arrive, and while providing a certain setting and necessary specific tools (as extracted from the apparatus and location analysis, and additional research on relevant issues), leave open the various different directions in which this project could develop in actuality.

Above is the system of elements which, acting in unison and maximising the agency gained from inter-relation of the different elements, can empower migrants and locals to act together to balance asymmetries and improve their situation. The goal is to use situated knowledge to created something specific but at the same time embrace responsiveness to change and contingency over time. The architectural project is not treated as an object but as an environment.