Yasaman Mohsanizadeh

How can Language Change the Way We Design Architecture?

| Turin, Italy | Unit 21 | 2018

Awarded Distinction for Design

 

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1st, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants lack representation in the policies and urban planning agendas of the Five Star Movement, Turins incumbent political party. As a result, there are residing social, cultural and political conflicts, further heightened by the lack of communication and use of language between these communities that retains the inter-group social conflicts. The design project investigates the ways in which common difference and language can be utilized as an antidotal design tool to create a progressive and ethnically representative model for the architectural practice and in effect, give authorship and political visibility to diverse communities.
I am responding to the urban­ context of Barriera Di Milano, as it is considered by the cultural association of Turin “Officina della Memoria”14 as the longest standing migrant neighbourhood showing the most flux since the 1800’s, as well as the most diverse in relation to languages spoken. The 6 communities within this district are the Moroccans, Albanians, Romanians, Peruvians, Chinese and Italians. More recently, as analysed by Angelo Scotto, a professor in political and social sciences, the economic and political development have “brought inflows of asylum seekers and migrants from diverse regions, including Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.” Highlighting a consistent flow of migration that is continuously changing alongside economic demands, similarly to the built environment. The migrants are made visible in the built environment through the multitude of small businesses – mainly commercial units, the cultural market on Piazza Foroni, as well as in individual buildings such as the baths of Via Agliè where the representation of heterogeneity normalised the use of the space, enabling people from different communities to develop an association with a part of the built environment. Consequently, working side by side evident in the art work, signs and working equipment on the walls and within the premise. In addition, language is also subjected to this notion of change through socio-political constructs and by way of becoming a hybrid between 2 or a few, thus, I am interested in understanding the ongoing flux inherent in these communities as they move and adapt.
Moreover, Pietro Cingolani, a researcher of culture, politics and society characterized the neighbourhood as “densely built around narrow streets, with very few squares, no green space and a lot of disused industrial areas.”5 Lacking in schools and community facilities, like “a ghetto full of contradictions and poverty, with tensions that pit immigrants against the native residents along ethnic as well as intergenerational divides.”6 These social divides are contingent on the lack of communication between the communities, the political power forces, the city planners and architects. Although recent architectural development(fig.4) has attempted to resolve some of these disparities in the built environment through community involvement, placemaking and policy making7 they are ultimately failing, denoting not only the tired design methodologies, but also the lack of cross cultural belonging between the communities and public spaces, the importance of which is evident through the association of spaces within the urban environment to themselves. An example of this is “a section of the gardens around the ping-pong table”8 occupied by the young Romanians who “emphasize their sense of belonging and the role of social control they exercise in these public spaces.”9 Hence a lack of representation can be identified as a causal factor in the residing social conflict and lack of inter-group communication between communities, displaying a struggle for agency and power within society and the built environment. Grillos avoidance in representing these communities singles out the migrants, reducing their influence and visibility within the political process and development of the city. As a result, the power struggle strengthens the residing social conflicts and builds the competitive fight for agency and belonging within the built environment.
The critical link between the intersection of numerous languages and the resulting development of social conflict within Turin is a point of interesting social fact, a realised and active reality in the site context. Cingolani identifies language within the built environment as a method of enforcing crime and social control. People “approach alleged drug dealers, to draw attention to them with shouts and insults, and to threaten to call the police.” The use of Language in this context highlights one of the many ways it can and is instramentalised, but most importantly, focusing on the method of its use; shouting as apposed to written, further illustrates the urgent immediacy and frustration of the community in obtaining a voice and the political power struggle for visibility. The outcome has been that some elderly residents have “abandoned the area out of resignation” or they have been criticized by the town planners as they “remain closed up in their houses.” Consequently, these social conflicts have an impediment on how cities and buildings are used by other members of the community and are “exacerbated when the object of dispute is public space.”
The 5 linguistic rules that I use throughout the process of applying language to test the development of architectural form are initially derived from the futurists understanding of activating language, which are then developed into a version of my own. The tests explore their capability in changing the way we design through their impact on architecture and the site through a rule-bound system, illustrating how language can activate change and give authorship to the communities. In sum, the ambition of this design project is to investigate how language can be applied within this context, to develop architectural outcomes that empowers and gives authorship to multilingual communities, whilst highlighting the role of the architect and the community within the process and outcome of design. In doing so, the process aims to design a free space, a library for the community.

 

            

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