Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency is an architectural studio and art residency based in Palestine which focuses on issues of statelessness and representing the unrepresented.
They are here nominated because of their extremely complex work in detangling the social and psychological factors that inform the way we think about space, settlements, refugees, and rights.
The group was founded by Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal, both of whom had worked previously on issues concerning stateless populations. Their mutual interest in this subject brought them together and led to the founding of the Residency.
Through their work, Petti and Hilal look at several important issues:
The first is how the process of colonization can be resisted through art and architecture. In any conflict, one side typically has a sizeable military and political advantage. For the group which has been colonized, the steps towards decolonization can begin through design. Petti and Hilal work on what they call the “decolonization of the mind,” looking for ways to overthrow the mental frameworks which undergird and sustain more physical and militaristic forms of occupation.
The second examines the “right to return.” It seems generally plausible that anyone would have a ‘right’ to live in a place if they’re been living there for years or decades – it fits with our intuitive understanding of the nature of ‘rights.’
However, the situation is much more complex for refugees or the forcibly displaced. If a community is removed from their neighborhood by force, they must always preserve the ‘right to return.’ That is, they must consider their displacement temporary or else acquiesce to the injustice done against them. In the case of Palestinian refugees, this right to return is moreover enshrined and supported by both international law and the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights.
Therefore, refugees must simultaneously preserve both a right to return and a right to place.
DAAR works on this duality through several strategic practices: among them, drawing together a consortium of global universities to create an educational program (Campus in Camps) that examines the living and spatial conditions in refugee camps. Additionally, DAAR has worked to create new ways of thinking about public space within refugee camps, and has completed numerous community scale projects.
The juxtaposition of a right to return and a right to place has frustrated many of the historical attempts at designing for refugees and refugee camps. The placement of infrastructure or amenities within a refugee camp can be viewed as making it permanent, and therefore sacrificing the right to return. Denying improvements to the camp and living in horrid conditions suggests that one plans to go back to one’s homeland – but it violates the right of every human being to make a home where they are.
DAAR’s work explores and mediates all of the issues and contradictions through camp planning, lectures, public works, residencies and books. We encourage you to learn more about their mission at the links below.