on site review 24: migration

migrate: to remove from one place of residence to another at a distance, especially from one country to another.

migratory: given to migration; migrating at certain seasons; roving or wandering in one’s mode of life; unsettled.

original call for articles for On Site 24: home + migration

In this issue we would like to investigate the meaning of home and how it is shaped —by immigration, emigration and relocation, and by tenure, rootedness and permanence. There are many reasons for people to move to somewhere else, from simple desire to great fear. At the same time there are people who never move, who are not particularly nomadic nor interested in being so.

This topic starts to open up as soon as you start to think about it:

the concept of cultural diffusion which characterised geography and anthropology for most of the 20th century relied on people carrying with them material traditions, if not the objects themselves, as they moved, especially across North America.

What do refugees bring with them when they flee, live in a camp for 6 years and finally arrive in a new country? How does one build a home from nothing in an alien culture? Is a 'home' achievable, or does it only happen after a few generations?

Is it important for architecture to read as a cultural act, complete with cultural signifiers, or do we have an architecture of assimilation where there is no possibility of attaching independent cultural meaning to, say, a developer house?

Is this inadvertent or intentional?

How much of the concept of 'home' is dependent on ownership? Is it necessary to even have a home, or is a house enough? Must we keep talking about the homeless? could we not call them the un-housed?

How much of the idea of a home is bound up with class? 19th century house pattern books published plans for a number of house-types from cottages to gentlemen's residences. These pattern books were carried across North America where one could reinvent oneself as a gentleman by building a gentleman's house.

The mobility within a city as people move to better and better neighbourhoods as their economic prospects increase, and vice versa, works against the development of 'community', yet this is what planners aim for: stable communities. What does that actually mean?

As always, we trust that a wide range of articles will develop around this theme, but as a reminder, we like construction issues and theory. We like engineering and art. We like drawings and photographs. We like sophisticated architecture and vernacular traditions. We especially like enthusiasm and energy.

what we got:

The genesis of this issue on migration came from a suggestion for an issue on home that came from a fellow in southern Ontario who defined home as he knew it: a farmhouse built by great-grandparents and still occupied by his family – a rich slate of childhood memories of visiting, smell of baking, orchard, etc. I thought a bit about this and couldn’t think of one similar kind of deep home-based memory in my own life, possibly, probably because I come from western Canada where very few of us have any sort of intergenerational claims to land or a house.

This was in 2010 when Angela Merkel had just claimed that multiculturalism didn’t work. Multiculturalism! the foundation of modern Canada! It seemed to be working here, did that fact have anything to do with the act of migration, things jettisoned, new ties to land and place established? It never ceases to amaze how otherwise theoretically and politically genned up some of us are, we have a deep reservoir of social laws laid down in our childhood. My British PhD supervisor at UBC claimed that we, his very multicultural graduate seminar, could hardly understand other cultures deeply because we had grown up in the monocultures of previous eras. Thinking about this (a lot of thinking goes on in my head as I sit there stunned after such pronouncements) and my Grade 1 class in the mid-1950s with my little friend Pindar Singh down the street, Denise Camiade from across the Gorge, Donny Albany from the Esquimalt Reserve and the Norwegian family next door; in high school we had Hungarian refugees, Acadians, Quebecois, Brits, Ukrainians from the prairies, Sikhs from the Vancouver Island lumber industry, Chinese descendants of the railway workers, and First Nations children from the Nanaimo Reserve adjoining the town. Most parents had accents, as did a lot of the teachers. This was hardly a living monoculture.

But I lived on Vancouver Island; my grandparents on both sides emigrated from Britain straight to the west, to Alberta, without spending any time in Ontario or Quebec. One set even came via the Pacific. It’s a different country out here, which explains a lot about the politics of BC and Alberta. But that’s by the way.

Migration affects subsequent generations in ways we hardly know about yet. The immigrants are pushed out of their home countries through wars, famines, economic depressions, lack of opportunity, and a whole host of personal circumstances: too large families, too repressive societies, straight-jacket religions. Or, they are pulled by the sense of freedom and opportunity in a new place; they can become who they were meant to be in a Rousseauian sense, avoiding familiar chains of attachment. The children of immigrants often negotiate the difficulties between their parents and the officialdom of the new country: there is great pressure on them to do well, as by immigrating their parents often lost any status or advantage they might have once had. The third generation, having grown up with their done-well parents, are the ones with choices.

It is the second and third generations that choose to become architects, among other professions. The question is, are they able to practice a multicultural profession, or are they merely multicultural participants in a much more homogenous architectural edict. It was a modernist concept of a universal architecture that covered all exigencies: an international style. Postmodernist identity politics would seem to require a less universal architecture, or at least a more culturally responsive one.

To answer this, it might be an idea to look specifically at architecture and migration: the building structures that assimilate, or divide, or alienate. The examples in this issue come from all over the world showing us, at least, just how intercultural On Site’s contributors are. So many have negotiated cultural identities. What they see in the world is as individual as they are themselves.

the cover:

The photograph on the front cover is ‘Leaving Newfoundland’ by Marianna de Cola. Her article and photo essay in this issue, ‘Shift: Newfoundland’s South’ starts thus:

‘In tracing the course of the Trans Canada Highway, the far eastern end terminates in the province of Newfoundland. The island is connected by ferry to the rest of the country. Newfoundland’s cultural, political and economical existence is a phenomenon that has been affecting the physiology of the province for its entire lifetime. This province’s birth in Confederation initiated the acceleration of the modernization of this place. A government program to resettle edge dwelling Newfoundlanders to larger urban centers shifted and pushed populations to focus on resources inland. People transferred their families, cultures, and floated their houses from places with “no great future” to more centralized and accessible areas. Many towns had been forgotten; many names have been erased.’

“Losing too is still ours, and forgetting still takes shape in the kingdom of transformation when something’s let go of, it circles; and though we are rarely the center of the circle, it draws around us its unbroken and marvelous curve.” — Rilke