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Introduction/ Nader Ardalan and Karla Cavarra Britton, Guest Editors

By April 27, 2021May 2nd, 2022No Comments

Published in 2A Magazine Issue #45 – Summer 2020

The condition of displacement–or the moving of peoples away from the locus of their sense of place or home-is at the root of our human condition,

more so now than at any other time in history. By the end of 2018 more than 70.8 million individuals were displaced worldwide as a result of violence, persecution, conflict, or human rights violations. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, one in every 108 people globally is now either an asylum seeker, internally displaced, or a refugee ( Climate change has exacerbated this phenomenon of human displacement, for it now impacts the loss of habitats around the globe, including the islands of the Pacific Rim; cities along the United States’ Atlantic Coastline such as Miami, Florida, and places with soaring temperatures such as the territories of the Middle East (especially Iran), South East Asia, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

While these facts are familiar, the astounding spatial and architectural implications of displacement are just now coming into focus. Displacement is, of course, an existential condition as well as a practical one. More than a metaphor, displacement has been at the core of the Abrahamic religious traditions, from the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, to Noah and the flood, to the exile of Hagar and Ishmael, to the exodus from Egypt, to the flight of Mary and Joseph. This far more profound sense of human desolation caused by displacement is captured in the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi’s “Song of the Reed”:

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

Seeking to draw attention to both the tangible and intan gible relationships between architecture and displacement, the co-editors of this issue of 2A Magazine, Nader Ardalan and Karla Cavarra Britton, gathered together 17 responses from the fields of architecture, philosophy, urbanism, history, and the arts to address this fundamental and pressing on-going human predicament.

Displacement and architecture may be read as suggesting a set of binary oppositions. Displacement implies the state of being uprooted and in flux; architecture, on the other hand, as the art of building, implies a sense of being grounded, implying stability, dwelling, and even permanence. As with a spiritual riddle, these binary oppositions-the permanent and the transitory, the fixed and the mutable, the dynamic and the static-informed the broad field of exploration that stands in the background of these essays. The essays are therefore grouped according to three broad areas of discussion related to these binary tensions of architecture and displacement: first, philosophical meditations and historical reflections; second, a set of artistic responses addressing artistic and photographic representations of the state of displacement; and third, case studies in architecture reflecting the theme of displacement.


The collection is bookended by two substantial essays. The first is by the philosopher Karsten Harries, whose meditation on displacement and architecture is both a comprehensive and rigorous intellectual framework for addressing this theme, as well as a deeply personal reflection on his own experience as a refugee from Germany during the Second World War. Harries’ essay is complemented by the concluding Coda on the nature of displacement and homelessness by the teacher and architect/ philosopher, Tom Barrie, in which he reflects on displacement as a constant in the history of humankind and offers a legendary, redemptive story of the hero’s journey that is one of separation from the familiar and a journey to the unknown, followed by a return “home” with insight or knowledge gained along the way. Between these two essays, there comes a variety of insightful offerings in diverse genres which amplify the profound themes introduced by these framing essays.

The papers collected here grew out of the conference, “Displacement and Architecture,” convened by the editors and held in May 2018 at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture and the Coral Gables Museum. The city of Miami itself provided an especially fruitful place for this discussion, given both the city’s long history as a crossroads for migration and its topography, which is now severely impacted by frequent flooding as a result of climate change. Under the auspices of the Architecture, Culture and Spirituality Forum (ACSF), the international conference drew together professional architects, scholars, and artists to open up a discussion of the multiple dimensions of displacement, addressing the physical as well as spiritual ramifications of natural disaster, forced migration, and deportation. For many people around the world, the response to displacement lies in strengthening a commitment to the common good both at a local and a global level. The social vision that is at the heart of our profession as architects-and which is at the heart of the mission of ACSF-surely helped to inform the question of how architecture ought to address a world marked by so much turbulence and displacement.

Supplementing the essays collected here, recognition is given at the end of this magazine to three important con tributors to the original conference: the Berkeley, California based architect Ronald Real, who presented a talk on the subject of his book Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (2017); the Berlin-based architect Eike Roswag-Klinge, who addressed his firm’s work on buildings made of earth, bamboo, and timber, and his construction of the School at Rudraphur, Bangladesh for which he won the 2007 Aga Khan Award in Architecture; and finally, Mitra Naseh, who curated the concurrent exhibition “Sheltering Survivors”, held at the Museum of Coral Gables which brought attention to the humanitarian need to shelter the displaced Mention should also be made of three awards made at the symposium. Having delivered the keynote address, Karsten Harries was honored with the ACSF 2019 Award for Outstanding Achievement; and the ACSF Symposium Scholarships for students, emerging professionals, and junior faculty were awarded to Nesrine Mansour and Sevcan Ercan. In addition, an exhibition of the 2016 winners of the Aga Khan Award for architecture complemented the proceedings. Finally, the editors would like to express their gratitude to Rodolphe El-Khoury, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Miami; the staff at the Coral Gables Museum; AIA Miami for its sponsorship of the conference; and the Aga

Khan Award for Architecture for its support of this endeavor.

The Architecture, Culture and Spirituality Forum (http:// is a non-profit, non-sectarian research group created in 2007 with the expressed intention of engaging the interrelationship of culture, spirituality and the built environment in order to address the world’s most pressing issues. Today its more than 500 members from around the world believe that contemporary global culture requires insightful studies, reflective place making, critical assessment, and open dissemination of information regarding the transcendent in the built environment.

By “transcendent” is meant considerations associated not only with the sacred or metaphysical, but also ones that facilitate human health and wellbeing, care for the environment and other beings, and provide careful nurture of considerations of phenomenological perspectives and recognition of the importance of ephemeral qualities such as beauty, atmosphere, and interpersonal connections and community. The Forum’s members understand the need to engage an international audience and operate in a way that is inclusive, integrative, interdisciplinary, diverse, ecumenical, multicultural, and intellectually rigorous on the leading edge of scholarship and practice.