Refugees: a new category of people that has erupted onto the surface of our troubled contemporary world. Millions of displaced people who have become a population that could fill a country of its own, waiving their own Olympic flag and creating a ‘crisis’ in international hallways. Besides the suffering, the most distressing part for a refugee is having fallen under this shameful label – the loss of home. No matter where refugees settle, their loss is irreplaceable. There is no place like home.
The search for home, however, has not only become a concern for those who have been forcefully displaced through circumstances, but also for many of us who try to find a definition of home in this modern era. Many of us have an inner refugee longing for a place to settle. The rise of modern nomadism is evidence of a new state of homelessness where the wreckage of home and the haunting dream of a new one are in constant conflict.
Through his work, Anssi Pulkkinen brings this wreckage straight from Syria into alarming proximity. Standing in the heart of European cities, the Syrian rubble can no longer stay trapped in our psyche. Although the element of scale is missing -whole cities have been reduced to rubble in Syria – the symbolic journey of this wreckage corresponds so closely to a refugee’s journey that it creates an inescapable connection with the psychological baggage a refugee carries with him or her.
As an architect, this connection is even more evident for me in how our surroundings are built and how we relate to them, a topic I have explored in my book The Battle for Home and which I further explain in the piece I wrote for this upcoming publication along with nine other writers. In the Mobile Home(less) book and project, each one of us ‘plays’ his or her own ‘instrument’ in conversation with Pulkkinen’s art installation.
Losing my city to destruction while continuing to live surrounded by its open wounds made me ask myself certain questions that you will read about in this contribution; questions such as ‘when does a city become a city?’, ‘how is the city structure guarded?’ and ‘what is the architect’s role in all this?’.
My piece The Architecture of Cities and Social Codes tries to answer these critical questions by examining the conditions of a peaceful social code where the configuration of the space and its aesthetics play an important role in maintaining the functionality of a peaceful environment. Our ancient cities in Syria had a paradigm that has proven to work for hundreds of years. They created a kind of womb that its citizens could feel satisfied and safe in, that they could belong to. They enabled an economic growth that sustained the city’s life cycle. And, they were a peaceful place for the coexistence of different communities with different backgrounds. Still, there have been times when all this collapsed because of various factors. These factors have greatly influenced how our cities have transformed in shape and form. Many of these transformations took place before the war, while the outbreak of conflict has wreaked havoc on what remained.
At this critical time, when Syrian cities are facing massive destruction all around, there could be no greater cause for us to reflect on the lessons that can be learned from the history of building in these cities, and how these lessons might be put to use once again. In my piece, I identify three main elements in the architecture of ancient Syrian cities that have created conditions for a peaceful social code among their people. I also discuss the ‘tipping point’ at which ‘success’ becomes self-destructive within the locality. This is a concept developed by the American urban activist, Jane Jacobs, which I have further expanded and made specific to Syrian cities.
Settlement is what we as humans do on this earth, it is the sphere in which we organise and order our being. Our towns and cities are the locus of this settlement, but they have to have the qualities that will allow us to find our way back home.
Blog post of January 2019: In 2018, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme focused on Transition. In 2019, our theme is RE/definitions.
For some years now, I have tried to live my life with this principle in mind: because everything around us is constantly in transition, almost anything can become a reality. By this I mean our fears as well as opportunities, both the positive and negative ways of thinking about the future of our world. Personally, I would like to believe that we are capable of moving towards a better tomorrow, even if reality as filtered through our daily newsfeed often seems to contradict this.
Blog post of December 2018: How did you wake up this morning? Maybe to an alarm on your cell phone? What was your first thought? For many of us it’s “Can I sleep for another half hour?”. And, what was your last thought of the evening? Maybe you thought about whether you could watch just one more episode on your streaming service or whether it was really time for you to go to sleep. In fact, it is likely that these were the first and last risk management decisions of your day. Each of one us makes hundreds of risk management decisions whether we are at home, in our free time, or at work. Do you know the kinds of risks you are taking while navigating the digital world in our everyday life?
Blog post of June 2018: What if the future of music came from the Far North? There is no doubt that Nordic and Finnish musicians play an important role in the international music scene. Every category has a Nordic touch : vocal and instrumental music, metal, traditional and contemporary music, and jazz. Unlike here in the South, there are no fixed boundaries between musical languages in the North. Every musical genre finds its place between tradition and modernity, fusing into a fertile synergy without losing its own character. This is one of the cultural strengths of the Nordic countries.
Blog post of May 2018: For several years, this small international festival has been experimenting with new curatorial practices in a fierce and open way. The festival distinguishes itself by introducing co-curating, by politicising curatorship, and by rethinking the international. Baltic Circle hereby positions itself as a forerunner and is an ideal ground to visit with students who are themselves operating in the field of “expanding curation”. Three students, their tutor (Lara Staal, independent curator and publicist) and artistic director of DAS Theatre Barbara Van Lindt visited the festival and proposed some moments of exchange. In January we invited artistic director of the Festival Satu Herrala to visit us, and engage in a conversation where we reflected upon our visit (and already anticipated a next visit, in the autumn of 2018…)
Blog post of April 2018: Less than two months ago I moved from Tokyo to Brussels, straight into the heart of Europe and the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s great programming for 2018! We have our excellent previous Director Aleksi Malmberg to thank for carrying out the preparations for the start of the year, as well as our amazing team, with whom I now have the privilege of adding new initiatives and ideas to the programme.
Blog post of February 2018: “Okay, so there’s nothing here on the Sami people”, I noticed at the end of an introductory tour of the House of European History. I was visiting the relatively new House of European History at the beginning of February as part of a group of twenty odd individuals involved in the Remembering 1918 programme. Each one of us had the task that day of leading our own public tours of the House of European History. After the introductory tour, we were given a few hours to prepare to offer our own views on the museum’s exhibition which deals with European history.