Infrastructure space has perfectly streamlined the global movements of billions of products and tens of millions of tourists and cheap laborers, but at a time when 65 million people in the world are displaced, more than at any other time in the history of the planet, there is no sturdy logistical apparatus to move several million people away from atrocities like those in Syria.
Even though migrations are a constant in history, they are often treated like a temporary emergency. In recent centuries movements are especially stalled or precarious when encountering national sovereignty. The nation state has a dumb on-off button to grant or deny citizenship/asylum. The extrastate layers of governance, like the NGOcracy, offer as their best idea storage in a refugee camp—a form of detention lasting on average seventeen years. If the free zone is one of the chief nodes for the privileged movement for goods and people outside of the constraints of national law, the refugee camp is its perverse carceral cousin.
While the Syrian conflict has contributed to an extraordinary spike in refugee movements, there are other sources of migration moving in all directions. Labor migrations account for some part of the three million people moving to cities every week. Environmental migrations caused by desertification, sea level rise and other extremes of weather account for millions more. And streaming in the opposite direction from the Syrian conflict, the first global digital teenage war attracts not nations but an age group from anywhere in the world to annihilate each other in the desert.
Rather than reinforcing the ineffectual practices of refugee management, is it possible to slither in between the state and the NGOcracy and convert the powers of infrastructure space to serve not only free trade but also free migration? Rather than conceiving of design as a means to further institutional violence, can architects redesign institutions by inserting spatial variables into discussions of global governance? Refugees and other displaced people are often neutralized and isolated. There can be no exchange, no place, and no independent entrepreneurial work—only waiting and detention.. Aging nations sometimes regard the refugee population as a resource because of its relative youth, but what other assets of this population can be placed in productive interplay with other opportunities and problems that any community might have? How much time does the current population of refugees spend without the opportunity of working or exchanging? What assets of intelligence and talent are sidelined in the process of travel and detention? What are the spatial problems or opportunities that might be linked to these assets? If the sharing economy links millions of strangers globally, what are the technical or social mechanisms to facilitate the point-to-point sponsorship or linkage that fosters the most successful resettlements?
Might it even be possible to invert the unjust status of the refugee as rejected and victimized? Maybe migration is the adventure of learning that attracts and nourishes growing minds, and maybe the experience of being a refugee is associated with linguistic, diplomatic and leadership credentials. The arrival of migrating individuals might be anticipated and sought after. To capture a global imagination, the story of this passage is not a story about those who belong nowhere but rather a story about those who belong everywhere.
Previous seminar work with students in Copenhagen and Athens suggests that there is a great deal to do in a determined design studio at Yale.
Since the studio is about designing the linkages between transit and destination in time, there is no fixed site. And the studio offers support to students who might already be pursuing a project migrations of many kinds around the world.
Because of the diversity of locations and approaches sponsored in the studio, studio travel is not a site visit. The research does not focus on the study of refugee camps. And our experience of travel will always have the privileges of tourism that a migrating population rarely has. Still there may be travel that inspires a political imagination about migration. One trip explores Myanmar as a country experiencing both political and climate refugee movements even as it has being rapidly populated with global development. Another trip moves between Granada, El Ejido, and Seville by car then to Gibraltar and Ceuta by ferry. The trip could trace historical and contemporary movements in response to expulsions and sources of labor while also visiting “continental islands” suggestive of extranational enclaves. A third trip option treats as an adventure the exploration of the NGO network in Geneva.