LABORATORIES OF RETURNS at the Netherlands Architecture Institute – International Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam 2009

Posted: 5.10.2009

24 September 2009 – 10 January 2010


There is a two directional movement embodied in the concept of refugee. The first trajectory is a literal “line of flight” that carries the refugee away from her home and into the “danger and safety” of exile. The other, in opposite direction but in direct relation to the first, is that of return. The first is an incessant process of transformation and the second is the practice of political desire. But return cannot be understood as suspended politics, rather as politics endlessly practiced at present: through the form of architecture that seeks to communicate temporariness, and through cultural, political, social and military organizations and mobilization. Furthermore, the practices of return are articulated in relation to two places at once — the place of refuge and the site of origins – and both are thus fundamentally spatial practices that often mirror each other. When return becomes possible, the site of origins is already irrevocably transformed. Although displacement has often been from the rural, a return will always to the urban. It is never a simple turning back of time, a return is always a return to the already built.


Our work on the appropriation of settlements and military bases to be evacuated –the “future archaeology” of Israel’s occupation — may articulate a certain laboratory of returns. Recently, this study was expanded to include other instances of displacement such as the afterlife of Italian colonial architecture in Libya — one of the least known but most radical laboratories of architectural modernism. This allows us to expand on the arsenal of the various architectural practices of transformation, always both mirroring and subverting the architecture of built. The revisiting, re-occupation, and appropriation of the already built is thus the urgent task of architecture. A commission by Miske village descendants, to think through spatial strategies for ‘present return’ has lead to an approach that simultaneously involves dealing with the space of displacement (Palestine refugee camps across the Near East) and the place of origins (the fields that are today’s remnants of original villages): A stereoscopic planning – every material intervention in one site has affects across borders in another.


Returns a project by Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman

Return to Nature: Mario Abruzzese, Jiries Boullata, Sara Pellegrini, Francesca Vargiu. Landscape design and models: Situ Studio, NYC

Return to the build: Vittoria Capresi, Lorenzo Pezzani

Present Return: Nina Kolowratnik, Marcella Rafaniello, Merlin Eayrs, Ahmad Barclay, Maria Rocco, Sebastiaan Loosen, Bert Ruelens, Tashy Endres, Mahdi Sabbagh

Architects and artists in residence: Elodie Doukhan, Marco Cerati, Beatrice Catanzaro, Maria Vittoria Mastella, Vera Schmidt, Rachela Abbate, Silvia Columbo, Chloe Athanasopoulou