THE GLOBAL SHELTER IMAGINARY is, in part, a response to arguments previously advanced by its own authors. In an essay concerning the way that architectural and humanitarian discourses have each labored to dissociate the concept of refuge from that of the refugee we sought to show how each domain has turned the other into a kind of compensatory form.1 In humanitarian thought, we maintained, shelter becomes a fetish for threatened rights, and in architectural discourse novel forms of relief become substitutes for a shelter that is nowhere really on offer. As time passed, however, we came to see this same argument as an intuitive but inadequate step toward describing an empirical—though abstract—reality. We began to understand that the role we had accorded to architecture in humanitarian reason was itself an effect of contemporary humanitarian reason. Indeed, however counterintuitive it may appear at first glance, the argument elaborated in the following pages is that the humanitarian order’s investment in architecture normalizes its disinvestment in the protection of the dispossessed.
It took us a while and a great deal of research to develop these arguments. We would like to express our thanks to Lucia Allais and Zeynep Çelik, editors of the journal Grey Room, for giving us the opportunity to test-drive the early versions of what has become a work of profound importance for us. Equally, we would like to thank Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Ijlal Muzaffar, Mark Jarzombeck, and Miriam Ticktin for their meaningful contributions to a refuge/refugee round table published in the same venue. They spurred us to continue onward. Conversations with Romain Desclous, of UNHCR, and Märta Terne, of BetterShelter.org, also proved invaluable.
Initial drafts of The Global Shelter Imaginary were written at the Montalvo Center in Saratoga, California, where the authors made use of the time and space offered by a Lucas Program Fellowship to reframe the work. Without the kindness and support of Montalvo’s Kelly Sicat and Lori Wood, we would not have been able to find the time or place to collaborate so effectively. They are probably unaware of it, but a number of conversations with Laurie Anderson, Karrie Hovey, and Kio Griffiths during the period of the Lucas Fellowship greatly helped us to refine the argument. Drafts of the resulting text were presented before colleagues in the academy. We are grateful to Ana Teixeira Pinto for giving us the opportunity to present the project at the Porto Design Biennial, and to the Colgate University Social Science Faculty workshops for a chance to discuss its argument in draft form. We would also like thank Antoine Bousquet, Romola Sanyal, and Ayça Çubukçu for inviting us to present portions of this study at the London School of Economics’ Human Rights Centre. Equally, we are grateful to Aggie Hirst, Paul Kirby, Charlotte Heath-Kelly, and Oren Yiftachel for their probing questions during that event. If we still messed up, it is our fault entirely. They did their best.
In the course of writing The Global Shelter Imaginary, each of the authors suffered the loss of a parent. We dedicate this work to them.