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Author: Diego Barajas / Editor: Jennifer Sigler / Graphic design: Joost Grootens / Publisher: Episode-Publishers. Rótterdam. / Foreword: Bart Lootsma / Back cover text: Catherine David

INTRODUCTION. FICTIONAL URBANISM

This project studies global mobility and territories in dispersion. By “territories in dispersion” I refer to social habitats that are no longer physically contained in geographically continuous areas, but have been spread out and re-articulated by artificial means.
The de-territorialized condition created by increased mobility -particularly by migration- had led to an urbanism of artificial re-territorialization. This is a fictional urbanism – as based on mental but tangible constructions – that is manifested in the city as fragments, micro-environments of global circuits, each of which establishes its own identity, time, rules, and aesthetics – its own atmospheres. These fragments are globally connected and articulated by abstract infrastructures like telecommunications systems, as much as by physical places – ethnic shops, religious centres, etc. – and by the imaginary and idealized realms through which dispersed societies operate. This is an urbanism ruled by traditional values, by intuitive and emotional forces, as much as by efficiency and functionality.
This project argues that as patterns of dispersion intensify, they generate not just fragmented societies, but a new territorial cohesion – a realm in which the “the collective” has gained a new dimension. Cultural identity is no longer necessarily linked to geographical place, or to traditional territorial structures like the nation-state, but has become a particular concept attached to individual imaginations though subjected to and conditioned by the contradictory pressures of self-determination and commoditization.
This project is an attempt to trace the patterns of urban dispersals shaped by migration to the city of Rotterdam – a city whose harbour has made it one of the most concentrated points of settlement for Cape Verdean emigrants. As rates of resettlement increase, simultaneous with technological advances in recent years, cities like Rotterdam operate through direct relationships between the global and the personal; between world-scale social and economic networks and customized communication devices like the cellular phone. The implications of these networks are drastically changing our understanding of urbanism, a field traditionally limited to the architectural scales of the city. This project studies urbanism through these different scales, investigating the new phenomena that take root at their intersections. It examines the connection between architecture and infrastructure within de-territorialization processes, and the redefinition of the collective sphere through the close relationship between interior design and urbanism.
As a basis for comparison, I have prefaced this study of contemporary dispersion with a short analysis of Ludwig Hilberseimer urban projects of the 1930s – modern urbanism´s response to the technological advances and processes of dispersion that originated in the 1920s.
The first part of this project concentrates on the territorial structure of the Cape Verdean Diaspora. Very different from the notion of a nation as stable and self-contained, Cape Verde can be seen as a paradigmatic model of a dispersed community within advanced globalization. The disjuncture between the Dutch territory and the Cape Verdean nation has resulted in an economic and spatial reconfiguration of the Cape Verdean territory in a new urban dimension, creating an artificial re-territorialization and social cohesion.
The second part of this project analyzes the role of a specific kind of communication facility found in Rotterdam and other Dutch cities – the belhuis. Translated literally, the Dutch word belhuis means “call-house”. These telephone centres serve as bases from which members of immigrant communities in Dutch cities can make calls to their home countries. The belhuis is more than a community phone booth: it facilitates the operability of the dispersed territories, acting as an interface between “here” and “there”. But this interface is not of the smooth and sterile airport variety; inside, the belhuis is undeniably local; it´s atmosphere more “there” than “here”; more Cape Verde than Holland; more Santo Ãntao Island than downtown Rotterdam.
Finally, this project looks beyond the belhuis itself to the cellular phone, analyzing both its technical and aesthetic aspects in an attempt to identify new links between production processes, industrial design, architecture, and urbanism.
Despite the increase of migration from non-western societies, its urban consequences in the western world are still largely regarded as anomalies, or at best “transitory conditions” within the established models of development, and are often mentioned within a discourse on integration, which usually implies a brutal absorption into the dominant society. Because the urban conditions shaped by migration processes are not yet fully understood, we are not in a position to reap their urban planning potential. But an analysis of these phenomena from a different perspective reveals that they are not marginal aberrations, but sophisticated urban models in times of increased mobility and globalization.

Diego Barajas
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