What is a Refugee Crisis?

This year, events in the Middle East, Africa and Europe have led to popular movements that have been described as the largest refugee crisis since WWII.  This demands a response, and how this crisis is defined, mediated, and understood is central to the responses (global and local, personal and political, affective and activist) that can be generated.  This day-long workshop, along with an accompanying visual archive, will consider the question of “what is a refugee crisis?” focused on media combined with political theory.  Speakers include Lorenzo Pezzani and Charles Heller, Forensic Architecture; Mia Cherlene White, University of California/Santa Barbara; Thomas Keenan, Bard College; Mezna Qato, Cambridge University; Paul Feigelfeld, Leuphana University; Itamar Mann, Georgetown University; Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, DAAR; Ayten Gundogdu, Barnard College.

March 11

10:00am – 6:00pm
Pembroke Hall 305
172 Meeting Street,


Common Assembly IV (Taiwan)

DAAR long-term project Common Assembly presented for the first time in 2011 in Neuchâtel (I) and later in 2012 in Nottingham (II) and New York (III), this September will take a form of an art installation in Taiwan (IV) to think through spaces for political participation, decision and action for exiled communities.

The centrepiece of DAAR exhibition is a life-sized section through the abandoned Palestinian Parliament in a suburb of Jerusalem – a parliament that has never been used. Construction started during the 1996 Oslo Accord when peace seemed possible and was halted in 2003 after the Second Intifada, (the Palestinian uprising) marked the failure of the political process.

The project began with the discovery that – mistakenly or intentionally – the building was constructed on Israel’s unilaterally declared border within Jerusalem. The parliament is partly within Israeli territory and partly within Palestinian controlled land – a small strip, no wider than the border line, is in legal limbo.

DAAR has built the section of the abandoned Palestine Parliament that the border line crosses in three dimensions. This suspended and elongated structure act as a forum for debate on political participation and how to be organised for exiled and geographically dispersed people.

National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (September 19–December 6, 2015)

Artist Making Movement – 2015 Asian Art Biennial

Tree School in Shufat refugee camp, Jerusalem


In September 2014, the School for Girls in Shufat refugee camp in Jerusalem, designed by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti and Livia Minoja for the UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Program, opened its doors to 1000 students.

The design of the school is inspired by the experimental educational approach cultivated by Hilal and Petti in Campus in Camps*, an educational program based in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem and the tree school**,  communal  learning initiatives that are not confined within the traditional walls of academia, but which cut across different forms of knowledge, integrating aspects of life and dialogue with the larger community.

Their approach is devoted to the formation of learning environments where knowledge and actions are the result of a critical dialogue among participants, and in direct connection with communities where the interventions are taking place. To describe this egalitarian, creative and experimental environment, they use the Arabic term Al jame3ah. Translating in English as “the university”, the literal meaning of Al jame3ah is “a place for assembly”. As such, its educational approach is to create a gathering space and a pluralistic environment where participants can learn freely, honestly and enthusiastically and where participants are involved in an active formation of knowledge based on their daily lived-experience.

The common learning environments that they create are constantly reshaped in order to allow the accommodation of new interests born from the interaction between the participants and the social context at large. Here the aim of their approach is to reconcile knowledge with actions in a manner that escapes from the from the limitations of “pure theory” or “pure activism”.

Al jame3ah is not an isolated utopia, but rather it is a space that aims to contribute to the way schools and universities understand themselves, and overcome conventional structures. In doing so, it seeks forms of critical intervention for the democratization of knowledge production.

121128 one plan


The generative form of the School for Girls in Shufat is a circular space, an hexagonal form in which students are equally invited to participate in the class discussion, whether in an indoor classroom or in the outdoor gardens.

The open spaces of the gardens have been implemented by DAAR residents with the participations of students, teachers and organizations from the refugee camps in coordination with UNRWA. They are spaces where gatherings can take place more informally outdoors and under trees.



For Louis Khan, schools began with a man under a tree, who did not know he was a teacher, sharing his realizations with others, who did not know they were students. 

In this pedagogical spirit, the open spaces of the gardens in shufat school offer the possibility for the constitution of  a tree school where people from the community could become teachers and activate community-based discussions around topics that the participants can choose according to their relative needs.

The tree school is a device that creates a physical and metaphoric common territory where ideas and actions can emerge through critical, free and independent discussion among participants.

*Campus in Camps explores and produces new forms of representation of camps and refugees beyond the static and traditional symbols of victimization, passivity and poverty(www.campusincamps.ps)

**In occasion of the 31st Bienal de São Paulo in 2014, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti and the Brazilian based art collective Contrafilé formed the first the tree school in Southern Bahia with thinkers, artists, and activists from the quilombola movement, the Landless Workers’ Movement and Palestinian refugees in order to activate community-based discussions around the role of education as a liberating and democratizing tool. Tree schools have been established in Cuernavaca, Beirut and Bangalore.(http://www.campusincamps.ps/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Tree-School_Digital-Book_FINAL.pdf)

Italian Ghosts

During the period of its Fascist regime, Italy employed modern architecture to represent its imperial ambitions in Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Ruins of Roman era architecture in Libya were used as political anchors to legitimize the “return” of Italy to these territories and the creation of a “new Roman Empire”.

However crucial they were for the colonial project for Italy’s history and identity the modernist architecture of Italian colonialism is as little known as the entire period of Italian colonialism and its ongoing legacy.

The embarrassing elegance of these architecture contrasts with the crimes of the colonization that have never been acknowledged; the “Gheddafi-Berlusconi reconciliation” of 2009 attempted to bypass, ignore or forced to produce a farce of the past.

The afterlife of these buildings might help to unpack and reveal the strict problematic relation between modernism and colonization, Italy and its colonial ghosts.



DAAR contribution to Monditalia, Venice Architectural Biennale curated by Rem Khoolhaas in 2014 is an installation that turn a confessional inside out, shifting it from being a religious-psychological apparatus for personal redemption into a political tool that calls for the exposure of the neo-colonial relations that still tie Europe and Africa in a thousands of webs.







Common Assembly: Deterritorializing the Palestinian Parliament

Common Assembly: Deterritorializing the Palestinian Parliament is a long-term project to think through and conceive spaces for political participation, decision and action for all Palestinians. In the next months, the United Nations and several other international organizations will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state and a member of their assemblies. These events are framed by other liberation struggles and civil turmoil throughout south-eastern mediterranean countries. Whatever the vote’s outcome, Palestinians must deal with a significant spatial and political problem: how can political participation and representation be organized for a partially exiled—and therefore, geographically dispersed—constituency?

DAAR has been granted access to the Palestinian Parliament building in Abu Dis. It was constructed with international donations during the Oslo Years, but the project was abandoned before completion. Now the Wall cuts the building off from Jerusalem. Thus, the building stands like a monument to the collapsed peace process. This condition of local impossibility, however, allows for a political imaginary to arise. Thus, the building becomes a starting point to imagine new types of political assembly.

We will use the building both as a site of intervention as well as a site of architectural speculation. Our aim is to work through an understanding of the relationships between territory, population, and political representation. In Palestine, the population cannot be represented by a single parliament building, as it would serve only a people within imposed borders that fragment all those who see themselves as Palestinians. It must therefore operate through disassociations in which the constituency, the building and the territory are categories that constantly move in relation to each other.  Therefore, the project seeks to operate simultaneously in different sites: re-creating and activating what we call “common assemblies” in several locations inside and outside Palestine.


Video of the lecture “Spatial ordering of Exile” New School New York City, Nov. 2014

Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal are a team of two extraordinary architects who live permanently at Beit Sahour on the outskirts of Bethelem in Palestine. They have worked since 2007 to revitalize, reconstruct, take apart, and reconceive both the ruins and abandoned spaces that are the remnants of the vast spaces throughout Palestine that have been destroyed, dispossessed, cut into pieces over some sixty years since the Nakba in 1947. Their work is extraordinary because it is unique in every way: from those they call on to work with them (artists, film makers, architects, young people from the refugee camps) to the visions they conceive and the materials and histories on which they draw. Their work is an engagement with what others think as impossible: how to imagine a future made out of ruins that are openings to new possibilities? How to take an abandoned military Israeli military site and reimagine its possibilities for habitation? How to imagine living in the enemy’s house? Refusing to wait for politicians or legal systems to change the terms of the debate, Petti and Hilal are changing those terms in advance and through the new infrastructures they both imagine and make possible. What kind of public space might be envisioned and built (as they have) at the center of a refugee camp while endorsing and making more real the “right of return”? These creative, modest, and brilliant young architects open their home to those from around the world to live and think with them through art, video, architecture, anthropology and history and more. Their two principal projects, “Decolonizing Architecture” and “Campus on Camps” are living archives in formation, of what is needed to think a future even as checkpoints stop their entry, arbitrary roadblocks cut access to villages, even as those who are ready to take up month long residencies in their compound are denied access and stopped at the airport gates.

Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal have no pretention. They are mobilizing the dormant energies around them and around the world to activate acts of political creation — their efforts are not designed to tell us what’s wrong with Israeli policy but to embrace a notion of critique that allies with Foucault’s definition: not to be governed by these people, at this time, in this way. They came to speak to us at the New School on the late afternoon of November 17, 2014. The Orozco room was at full capacity with people camped outside the doors. The anthropologist, Ilana Feldman, who is studying their projects, was there to comment as were Carin Kouni who directs the Vera List Center and myself. Listen closely to their visions, attend to their practices and projects. And if you should find the opportunity, take part in this venture in any way you can! This is engagement and critique oriented to the possible, to the making possible of what is deemed not possible, and to the future tense.

Ann Stoler, Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at the The New School for Social Research in New York City


Visible Evidence, the annual scholarly conference on documentary film, media, culture and politics. Visible Evidence 21, as is traditional, will feature a range of panels, workshops, plenary sessions, screenings and special events around documentary, its practices, histories and theories.

Decolonising Architecture: Interventions in the Field of Vision ‘The Morning After’ with Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti
Saturday, December 13

Venue: School of Arts and Aesthetics Auditorium, Jawaharlal Nehru University Time: 7pm

Using their recent publication, Architecture after Revolution (Sternberg Press, Berlin 2014), as a structuring device for their presentation, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti will share a set of architectural fables from the unfolding struggle for Palestine. Their proposals are future speculations about the seemingly impossible, the actual transformation of the very structures of domination. At times these involve ‘cinematic’ interventions that organize the field of vision.


Incontro con Peter Schneider, Alessandro Petti e Seba Kurtis al MAXXI di Roma


Open Museum, Open City
29 November, 17.30

MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts
Via Guido Reni 4A – 00196 Rome

L’approccio speculativo dello scrittore, quello operativo dell’architetto, quello intimo del fotografo sono punti di vista per guardare al fenomeno prolificante della crescita di muri – fisici, emotivi, politici, sociali – che segnano e disegnano i confini del mondo in cui viviamo.

A testimonianza di un muro caduto lo scrittore tedesco Peter Schneider, autore di romanzi come Il saltatore del Muro (1982), del saggio Dopo il muro: i volti della nuova Germania(1992) e del più recente Berlin Now: The City After the Wall (2014), che ha indagato i cambiamenti della città di Berlino dal punto di vista sociale, politico e artistico negli ultimi decenni.

Di luoghi dilaniati da contrasti e muri di incomunicabilità parlerà anche Alessandro Petti, Direttore dello studio DAAR Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency con sede in Palestina che opera in Medioriente con progetti che nascono dalla lettura e dalla “decolonizzazione” dei luoghi, spesso macerie, duramente colpiti dai conflitti.

Peter Schneider, Alessandro Petti e Seba Kurtis
Modera Francesca Fabiani


Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal at the New School, NYC – Nov 17th at 6pm



Public square, Fawwar Refugee Camp, Hebron, West Bank. Photo by Adam Ferguson

The Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility hosts a lecture by Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal entitled “Spatial Ordering of Exile: The Architecture of Palestinian Refugee Camps.”

The lecture is followed by a roundtable discussion with Ilana Feldman (Associate Professor of Anthropology, History and International Affairs at George Washington University), Carin Kuoni (Director of Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School for Public Engagement) and Ann Stoler (Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research).

The event is part of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility 2014-15 Lecture Series “Rethinking Refugee Spaces: Architecture, Design, and Politics” and is co-sponsored by the Global Studies Program, The New School for Social Research, Vera List Center for Art and Politic and Bard College.

Monday November 17th 2014 at 6pm
Orozco Room (A712)
66 West 12th street New York NY

OPEN CALL: DAAR residency 2014/15


Winter Residency – (01 November 2014 – 31 January 2015)
Spring Residency – (01 March 2015 – 31 May 2015)

DAAR is glad to announce an open call for architects, artists and cultural practitioners interested in exploring the intersection between space and politics in one of the world’s most conflict-charged areas. By joining the DAAR team this year, the participant will be invited to explore the concept of “exile”. Rather than seeing exile as a state of postponements – delaying actions until a particular time is fulfilled ¬– it will be considered as an operational tool for actions taking place in the present are and able to transgress borders and forced dislocation. DAAR/studio in exile seeks to mobilize exile as an architectural and political concept. Architecture is produced by the interaction of three basic elements: site, social context and the architect. Exile – the forced distance between communities, architects, and buildings – is a prevalent condition within rapidly transforming contemporary Southeastern Mediterranean countries and is challenging this triangle of local relations.

The resident should be able to work in extreme and difficult situations and with limited resources, handle frustration linked to a military occupation, have team spirit while being able to work alone with a high degree of self-initiative. Good proficiency in both written and spoken English is necessary, Arabic is an asset as are familiarity with the Palestinian context and contemporary discourses on Palestinian refugees, high motivation and personal identification with DAAR’s projects and approach.

The resident will be offered a studio and residency at DAAR in Beit Sahour (Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories) for a period of 3 months (beginning November 1st or February 1st). Working days: from Monday to Friday (10am to 6pm). The resident will enjoy weekly lectures and seminars, walks, field trips and collective meals.

Interested candidates are invited to submit a CV and cover letter, both in English, explaining their motivation in wishing to join DAAR residencies. Please forward the application and CV as soon as possible to info@decolonizing.ps: before the beginning of the Winter Residency – (01 November 2014 – 31 January 2015) or before the beginning of the Spring Residency – (01 March 2015 – 31 May 2015).

In collaboration with Foundation for Art Initiatives, British Council, Delfina Foundation