samedi 31 juillet 2010

# PALESTINIAN CHRONICLES /// Duheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem

The Palestinian refugee camps which are present in most cities of the West Bank and the Gaza strip are precarious pieces of urbanism similar to slums that host the village population that was living on the territory that was given to Israel in 1948 by the United Nations. Duheisha is one of those camps in Bethlehem hosting currently around 10 000 people.
The main problem with refugee camps is that every new building, construction, renovation are ratifications of the situation and seen as a resignation to it. The architecture developed there is thus very handmade, almost accidental sometimes but creates a surprising form of beauty.

# PALESTINIAN CHRONICLES /// The other side of the wall in Abu Dis

A wall having by definition two sides (and that is what his violence is about), here is the sequel of the last article: the exact other side of the wall (you can tell with the Mosque' minaret on the two articles' fourth picture) within the West Bank in Abu Dis.
It is important here to insist on the fact that the wall is absolutely not matching with the 1949 armistice Green Line and thus split an Arab district of East Jerusalem, sharing DE FACTO its people between Israeli sub-citizens on one side and Palestinians who are not authorized (for most of them) to go to Jerusalem on the other side.

vendredi 30 juillet 2010

# PALESTINIAN CHRONICLES /// The Wall in East Jerusalem (written on July17th)

I am in Palestine for two weeks (based in Ramallah) and I am thinking to update boiteaoutils on a daily basis about what I am observing from there.I spent my first day in East Jerusalem which was annexed by the Israeli Army in 1967. The separation wall is then built far away from what should be the legal border between Israel and the West Bank. This wall thus splits completely an arab district into two parts. At some point of the wall, not so far away from a group of arab houses, Israeli militaries (I discovered that too late not to be spotted !) are surveying the neighborhood from what seems to be a normal house...
The principle of this wall is as much to filter, control and prevent the movement of the Palestinian population as to claim a tremendous amount of land which attempts to include in the "Israeli territory" as many illegal settlements as possible.
nb: those pictures are taken from the "Israeli side" (even though as I wrote before it is not supposed to be an Israeli area).

dimanche 25 juillet 2010

# PALESTINIAN CHRONICLES /// Interview of Raja Shehadeh

Thanks to Romaric, my friend who works at French publisher Galaade, I had the chance to meet Raja Shehadeh for an interview he kindly accepted.
Raja is a lawyer in Ramallah since the end of the 70's and has dedicated his carrier to cases of expropriation of Palestinian lands by the Israeli.
He wrote several books, including Occupier's Law and Palestinian walks.
Ramallah. 21st July 2010

Leopold Lambert: The particularity of your actions is that you are a lawyer. Despite the fact that law is violated every day by the State of Israel, what may be some naivety from me makes me think that it is the one domain that can save Palestinians from oppression. Would your expertise agree with that?

Raja Shehadeh: When I started as a lawyer, I had an exaggerated view of the importance of law. I took very seriously that law was a weapon. I still consider seriously that law is a way of preserving civilization. I have great respect for and belief in International Law, because it came as a result of wars, terrible devastating wars. In the beginning, the International Law for the protection of civilians came from people who did not think that they could stop wars with law but that within the reality of war and hostilities, there could be some protection for civilians and that there could be limitations on conquest the acquisition of territories. So something as basic as the Geneva Convention and the Hague regulations say very simply that no gain should be made through belligerency. So if a war takes place, regardless why and who started it, and territories are occupied, the occupier may transfer its civilian population to the occupied territories. It's very logical. It does make sense and it should be preserved, this is a very important principle.

At the same time, there are things that derived from this principles. If the situation lasts, the occupier may do certain things and may not do other things: he may not change the law, he has to care for the welfare of the occupied population and so on. When I came back from my legal studies, I saw that the basis of these principles were being violated and that no work was being on done on this in the late 70's. Very little work was being done. Verbal condemnations of Israel were being made but not real studies which were really important to do.

So, yes, I do believe in law. And I also believe in taking legal actions to test the possibility of how far you can go and what was the legality of the Israeli actions. The Israeli government and politics were telling the Israeli settlers that they were not taking anybody's land because this was state's land. Of course we must not forget that even if it were state land, the occupier may not take it to use to established settlements for its own population. The whole project is wrong. The Israeli supporters of settlements tried to show it is done through proper legal means, I and my colleagues showed there was no legal basis for taking Palestinian land. It was tantamount to stealing land.

At the same time, it was not really clear to me how the Israeli legal apologists were thinking and what was the nature of the legal arguments they were employing to justify their other policies in the Occupied Territories. So it was a process of discovery in a sense. Then, after going through quite a lot of case work, in court, by thinking, by reading and exploring the legal aspects, I began to understand that what underlies the Israeli position is religious ideology. Ultimately, what they are saying is: "This land belongs to us. God gave it to us". How do we get to appropriate it, is a mere detail." In furthering this the Israeli High Court played an important role. For example in the very first challenge to the High Court, the military had used the method of expropriating the land near Ramallah. When the Palestinian owner of the land challenged this order, the Court said: "Expropriation is not a proper way of taking the land because expropriation implies long term and the occupation can not be for a long term..." They didn’t say taking the land of the occupied population for building settlements for the occupier’s population is wrong. Just that this way of doing it is not right. What they were also saying was that if you use expropriation to take the land, the implication is that the land is not yours because you can only expropriate other people's land.

Later on, in another challenge, which was in Nablus where there is now the settlement of Elon Moreh, they said that expropriating private property was illegal but also that if the land were to be declared “State's Land,” then that it would be possible to take it for establishing a settlement. So since that case, the Israeli military government has been “expropriating” the land by declaring it State's land. To carry this out they changed the local law. One of the principles of the International Law is that you cannot change the local laws and there are local laws about what constitutes State land and who can make such a claim and who has the burden of proof and what it takes to lift it. They changed all of this and reversed it. They said: "Anybody who claims that it is not State's land (that is challenges an order the military makes that a certain land is State Land) has the burden to prove this." So instead of the takers proving that the land belonged to the State, it was to the other party who had to prove otherwise. The burden of proof was shifted. And they went further by restricting the definition of private land to land which is actually used continuously for ten years and so on. They made it more and more difficult for Palestinians to succeed in holding on to their land and protecting it from being taken by the settlers. Every time we managed to break through, they raised the bar and made it yet more difficult.

In the beginning, we thought that we could burden the system by bringing many cases and through applying moral and psychologically pressure by essentially proving that it was but a process of large scale theft of the land. But we were dealing with a government with seemingly unlimited resources and they started to make it more difficult and more expensive for us to pursue these cases. For example they made it necessary that we had to submit along with the case, survey maps of the entire area under consideration which sometimes included scores of acres, What the government making the claim should have done was shifted to the private owners.

It became clear to me that the basis for the actions of the Israeli government was not legal but ideological, namely that the whole of the land in their view was public, that the only legitimate public was the Jewish public, that the Jewish public had this land 2000 years ago then they left, and meanwhile other people, non Jewish, came and used the land, now those people are on parts of the land so the part where they actually using will for the time being be left to them, but only these areas, all the rest will be “returned” to its rightful Jewish owners.

Then, a very important process started at the beginning of the 1980's, which is the land use planning. The British had made statutory regional plans for the central and southern region of the West Bank; and the Israelis decided to revive these plans which were done in the Mandate times and were still being enforced in Jordan. Jordan had also passed a Planning Law in 1966. Through military orders this law was basically massacred. Where the law had involved the community in the course the planning, this was canceled and all the members of the Supreme Planning Committee became Israeli military personnel. Most of the lower committees were cancelled. Then they took those original plans and they simply unilaterally amended them. Of course those plans did not include any settlements because they were created before 1967. So the Israeli military planners placed settlements in the middle of these region and started making local zoning plans, town and village plans for all the Palestinian villages in the West Bank. The just drew a circle around the built up areas and declared this to be the border of the village for the next forty years. When negotiations seemed to be on the horizon this process was speeded up so that by the time that the Oslo Accords were signed statutory zoning plans for all the villages had been completed which the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to amend. The confinement of the Palestinians was achieved and the bulk of the land was left for the establishment and expansion of the Jewish settlements.
Again, I and other lawyers and planners started in the late eighties to take objections against these plans. A good number of objections were submitted. Sometimes they accepted to revise the plans but it was very difficult. This is why now, when you travel in the West Bank, you notice how the villages do not look so much like villages anymore. Traditionally the villagers built one floor with a garden and there was a sense of space because villages like cultivating the land around their house. Now, most villages have houses of several floors and they look cramped. That is because they are not allowed to go beyond the set borders. When they do the Israeli army come with their bulldozers and demolish this “illegal” homes.

Not only was Israel taking Palestinian land, they were denying the Palestinians from expanding on what was left for them. The process, interestingly enough, follows that of Israel; of Galilee mainly. In Galilee, you notice the exact same phenomenon. The Arabs' villages, towns and cities (Nazareth for example) are all very cramped. The villages would own land, outside of these, but they would not be allowed to build on it. Same process here. Not as severe as in Israel but with the same pattern.

And there was also a plan for the roads which was published in 1984. Not only did they plan for the settlements but also how the settlements would relate to Israel and how they would be connected to each other; connected in such a way as to disconnect the Palestinians from each others. It is all part of a total vision. It actually started very early on and that is why I felt it was very important to work on the legal aspect. Through the legal aspect, you can explain, reveal, describe, expose how this works.

Leopold Lambert: Even if the suspect is pretty much the same person than the Judge?

Raja Shehadeh: Yes; because as long as they say: "You have the means to appeal, to object.", then you have to use it in order to use all your options. Your case will be a very much stronger case if you have done this. I was able in 1985 to publish my book Occupier's Law in which I was saying that I, not only know that it is a case, but I have tried to go through the Israeli set channels to object and to challenge. The result was that the case became stronger by going through those processes.

Leopold Lambert: If we attempt to focus a little bit on architecture itself; as Eyal Weizman wrote about the notion of urbicide as being not included enough within the International Law which is not specific enough to architecture; maybe an extremely useful project here would be to redact a law that focus very precisely on architecture: its construction but also its destruction.

Raja Shehadeh: Actually, a good case to compare with would be South Africa. Also there they used architecture and town planning to implement their apartheid laws. It was very much part of the policy. I don't know how it all looks now but it is not easy to undo.

Leopold Lambert: But in this hypothesis of a new law, architects and lawyer should work together to make it happen. Do you believe yourself that there would exist any way to implement it on the international scene?

Raja Shehadeh: We have to distinguish between a situation where the state has sovereignty and one where there is occupation. In the case of the Occupied Territories international law says that: "Regardless of how the building takes place or how the appropriation of land takes place, it is illegal."

In the case of South Africa, it was also covered because apartheid was a crime against humanity. Perhaps in the Israel of 1948 it would be more appropriate in the sense that the Palestinians were Israeli citizens, and as such they were subjected to a process in which urban centers are done in such a way as to oppress them. It might work better in the framework of a sovereign country in which one group of the population is submitted to urbicide. In the case of Gaza and the West Bank it is already illegal.

Leopold Lambert: So does that mean that you don't believe so much in this architectural international law?

Raja Shehadeh: I would not be against it as such. I would not say it is a bad thing for example to describe the situation here as one akin to apartheid because it helps people to understand the situation. If there is an international law that looks at architecture, that's a plus! But it is just an addition to an illegality that is already implied.

Leopold Lambert: My point would be that if one observes the current situation in which Israel violates the law on a daily basis but the International Community do not take the measures against that, then one could think that fragmenting the law into series of very precisely described cases of violation through architecture that could ultimately lead to several recognition of these situations.

Raja Shehadeh: Yes, that's true. I also think that when you are developing an international law, you obviously do it for more than one case, for more than Palestine and Israel; so perhaps, by focusing on this case and showing how an aggressor implements policies, you can also prevent it from happening in less typical cases; in urban centers for example or with gated communities.
I think it is an important development, it is a departure. The International Law has not moved in this direction, it is a good direction to move to.

jeudi 22 juillet 2010

# PALESTINIAN CHRONICLES /// OCHA oPt. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in occupied Palestinian territories

OCHA oPt. (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in occupied Palestinian territories) is a good proof that despite a total lack of measures taken by its head, the UN is actually doing some very good work of information in Palestine. In fact OCHA oPt's website hosts a very precious series of maps that documents the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza (borders, jewish settlements, walls, checkpoints etc.) Those maps are available for free at he OCHA office in Jerusalem (the office is actually almost on the 1949 Green Line) or downloadable online in pdf format.
It is a very useful tool for anybody working on this topic or travelling in Palestine.

mardi 20 juillet 2010

# Barcelona and Paris, cities of sand

Borrowing Ethel Baraona's quote of today: “There is nothing built on stone. Everything is built on sand, but it is our duty to edify as if the sand should be stone” -Jorge Luis Borges

Being currently in the Middle East, it will be hard for me to get my mind out of it. Here are two pictorial invasions of the desert in European cities, Barcelona and Paris. The first was a campaign of information during Barcelona's drought in 2008 and the second one is the not so new Cedric Klapish's Peut être (1999) that dramatized a near futuristic Paris which has been filled by the sand. Life being on the roof, a whole subterranean way of living is happening inside the former buildings; unfortunately it seems that it was not Klapisch's main interest...

lundi 19 juillet 2010


...I received messages that I should be careful with what I published on boiteaoutils from Palestine in order not to suffer a pretty hard time at the border by the Israeli army. I therefore decided that it would be more cautious to wait to be back in Europe to present my articles about what I am observing here.
Sorry about that, I just have no idea which should be my degree of paranoia...

samedi 17 juillet 2010

# Suspended Bivouac Shelters on Deconcrete

As short as great article on Deconcrete entitled Suspended Bivouac Shelters...

Also see BLDG BLOG's last article about this strange Michigan triangle...

More articles very soon

mardi 13 juillet 2010

# The obscure history of suburbia by Noam Chomsky, Peter Galison and Mike Davis

Respectively in 5 Codes, War Against the Center and City of Quartz, Noam Chomsky, Peter Galison and Mike Davis bring other explanations about the creation of Suburbia than the most known one concerning the idea of an American visceral desire for land ownership.

- In the following excerpt, Noam Chomsky evokes the 1940's General Motors, Firestone Rubber and Standart Oil California's conspiracy to buy and destroy the urban collective transportation system in order to make cars and oil as indispensable as they are today. This conspiracy was then followed and institutionally implemented by the Eisenhower Administration's National Interstate and Defense Highway Act in 1956 which was the first real step of what we nowadays call "urban spreading".

Noam Chomsky: It [suburbia] was created in the 1940s by the biggest state social engineering project in history under the Eisenhower administration –beyond anything they did in Russia. The specific goal was to eliminate public transportation, destroy the inner cities, forces everyone to use cars, trucks. And in the 1940’s there was an authentic conspiracy, a real one, between General Motors, Firestone Rubber, and Standard Oil California to buy up the public transportation, destroy it, and force everyone into buses and cars. The conspiracy went to court and they were convicted and fined –I think $5000 or something. Then the government moved in and took it over, under cover of defense.

Stephan Truby: You mean President Eisenhower’s National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956?

Noam Chomsky: Yes. The pretext of the National Defense Highway Act was that we have to move missiles around the country. But the point of it was to massively subsidize road transportation –cars, trucks, gasoline and so on- and to undermine public transportation.

Chomsky Noam in conversation with Daniel Mock and Stephan Truby on Homeland, Paranoia and Security in Igmade. 5 CODES. Architecture, Paranoia and Risk in Times of Terror. Basel: Birkhauser 2006

- In War Against the Center, Peter Galison establishes that suburbia was created in the very beginning of the Cold War as a military strategy of dispersion in order to avoid the possibility for a nuclear strike to affect too considerably the United States. Even the planning of the road would then be extremely important: evacuation roads, military reinforcement road (I even heard about highways that was designed to allow planes to land on them), replacement roads in case of the first being destroyed etc.

“It was in this context that in August 1951, the president announced a national policy for industrial dispersion, and the National Security Resources Board quickly followed with a booklet entitled Is Your Plant a Target? that proclaimed, “The risk of an all-out atomic attack on the United States grows greater each day, since we are no longer the sole possessor of the secret of the atomic bomb. This means that no industrial area in the Nation can be considered safe from attack.”20 To guarantee survival, the National Security Resources Board insisted, would require that productive capacity be protected: “The dispersion (or deployment in space) of new plant development for war-supporting industries can make American production less vulnerable to attack.” Space could protect men at the battlefield, the authors continued, and space, by multiplying targets, would diminish “the vulnerability of any one concentration.””

Galison Peter. War Against the Center Grey Room. Cambridge: MIT Press 2001

- One last component of this political interpretation of suburbia's birth is brought by Mike Davis in his City of Quartz (and also in Michael Sorkin's Variations on a Theme Park). In this book about Los Angeles, Davis affirms that public space in the American city has been destroyed for a reason of control and security, free gathering of people being too hazardous and uncertain for a system that bases its self-sustainability in the anticipation of its subjects' behaviors. Suburbia is thus a way to kill the Mediterranean street to replace it by the road or the highway that prevent any social interaction between people.

"The 'public' spaces of the new megastructures and supermall have supplanted tradtionnal streets and disciplined their spontaneity. Inside malls, office centers and cultural complexes, public activities are sorted into strictly functional compartments under the gaze of private police forces."

Davis Mike. City of Quartz. London: Verso 1990

Another very interesting book about suburbia (more on its urban typology than on its history though) is Alan Berger's Drosscape. Wasting Land in Urban America

lundi 12 juillet 2010

# HETEROTOPIAS IN CINEMA /// The Element of Crime by Lars Von Trier

The Element of Crime is a 1984 movie by Lars Von Trier that dramatizes a post-apocalyptic (sepia) world where people lives in the ruins of the ancient one. The scenario focuses on a tense detective trying to find back the tracks of a serial killer. The result is an ambiguous mix of film noir and science fiction with a slight dose of influence by William Burroughs.

jeudi 8 juillet 2010

# Excursions on Shawn Sims & Erik Martinez (Part 2)

A bit more than six months ago, I published Shawn Sims & Erik Martinez's Thesis Research for Michael Chen and Jason Lee's undergrad thesis studio [CRISIS FRONTS] at Pratt Institute. This article is about the project that came out of this research.
Excursions on Volume is a study about freight and its participation to counterfeit market. Shawn and Erik thus created their own "counterfeit" freight production by designing a harbor that creates its own terrain thanks to the containers' weight. In fact, the containers are sitting on a mechanism that dredges the ooze in the bottom of the Hudson River and thus transforms a deep muddy material into a physical more or less solid reclaiming land. The heaviest the container is, the most effective the process of solidification which produces an interesting contradiction with capitalism's eternal wish of profitability. In fact, the most effective container is the one that did not succeed to make itself cheap (i.e. light). One can even think of some "counterfeit" containers filled with concrete, extremely expensive to freight but tremendously effective in the production of land...

Here is a small text related to the project:

Historically the process of standardization has spawned from the need for new structures of efficiency. The performance requirements of this process create unbiased arteries that are susceptible to forms of exploitation. This entails that at a global logistical scale, the network is blind with regard to the status of the goods; being licit or illicit. As globalization generates new organizational models for distribution, the intelligence of the counterfeit network is understood to be its ability to uncover and anticipate opportunities embedded within these structures of efficiency.
The modern shipping container is analogous with these standardized practices, both physical and protocological, and in an effort to increase globalization, this mechanism generates an opportunity for the insertion of a hack. Perhaps with an excursion into understanding the ability for weight and volume to be an operable energy, the container field of a port becomes an untapped resource able to generate new land.
Currently the dredged materials form the Hudson River are carried out into the ocean and dumped because of their toxic attributes. However the toxicity levels are dropping and for the first time since an industrialized New York, the sediment collected from dredging operations has the potential to remain in the city and be utilized in this land forming process.
The use of weight as a latent energy, and of dregde as a material are combined to reconsider the arrival of infrastructure to a once industrialized Hudson river. The fluctuating weight of container traffic is utilized to rigidify dregde to create a pixelated landscape which emerges from the existing water level. The commercial materials utilized within this infrastructure provide an emerging architecture with the products necessary to begin a series of retail and market spaces. A porous pixelated landscape rigidified by a membrane is stretched vertically to enclose space and change continuously as the market fluctuates in size.

mercredi 7 juillet 2010

# Braille Education Ball by Danielle Pecora

My friend Danielle Pecora just won the Design 21's Game Changers Competition (in partnership with UNESCO) which was proposing to elaborate a game or a toy that questions an issue. Danielle who did her undergrad in Parson school of design and grad school in Pratt Institute's school of architecture, designed the Braille Education Ball that proposes to blind and sighted kids to learn braille while playing with a beautiful toy.

Here is another article about it on FastCompany