The Building as Not Just an Artefact
Project_Coral Frontiers: Towards a Post-Military Landscape
Coral Frontiers is a proposal for a new infrastructure for coral regeneration on the Island of Diego Garcia. The project stretches beyond the scale of the island. It is also a geo-political intervention into a unique entanglement of military, human rights, and environmental stakes. The project explores how could an architectural proposal result in a shift in the balance of power that has crystallised in this remote island, and support the resettlement of the exiled community of its native inhabitants, the Chagossians. Diego Garcia is a coral atoll and British territory in the Indian Ocean that from 1966 operates as the biggest US military base outside the States. The Island is a little-known launch pad for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Pentagon calls ‘an indispensable platform for policing the world’. For this spatial anomaly to happen, one whole nation had to be – to quote the US Government – brutally ‘swept and sanitised’ and lost one of their fundamental human rights – the right of abode in their homeland. Still today, 40 years after their forced displacement, the majority of the 5000 Chagossians in exile are actively campaigning for their right to return.
Today is a crucial time to examine the island. By the end of 2016, the 50 year-long UK lease of Diego Garcia will expire. The negotiations for its 20 year extension have started in December 2014. This project explores a speculative scenario in which, due to pressure by the international community and human rights institutions, the Chagossian return to their homeland is one of the conditions for the US lease of the island to be extended. In order to avoid reproducing, through architecture, the colonial schema that first led to their forced displacement, I chose not to impose a design solution for the resettled community and leave to the Chagossians to decide how to inhabit the island. Instead, this project is a proposal for their first means of survival – the infrastructure that may sustain their resettlement. The Coral Frontier network, supported by UN Environmental Programme for biodiversity and led by the Chagossian community, acts as an environmental healer for the scared military lagoon that lost 2/3 of its coral area because of military activity: anchoring, dredging and explosions. While the island would initially be a shared territory between two opposite presences – an occupying army and a community of returning exiles, the project imagines the progressive replacement of the former by the latter, through a process of reclaiming water and land. Each platform is strategically located above one of the military anchoring points, which will, apart from being used to heal the coral, gradually reduce the anchoring area for the US military and reclaim the territory of the island’s lagoon until the military presence on the island becomes completely unviable. Just like it uses the fragility of the coral as both a weaponry and a line of defense, this project attempts to turn vulnerability into a force, and to challenge the defeatist assumptions that a small exiled community would always has to bend to the will of powerful governments.
Interview on Coral Frontiers: Towards a Post-Military Landscape
Who influences you graphically?
I enjoy various graphical styles and I always try to mix different mediums of representation while creating an architectural drawing. For this project in particular I was very inspired by the drawings done by the Constructivist architects. They used medium of propaganda posters not only to present their proposals but also to place them in a very specific timeframe and socio-political context.
You explore your proposal through different mediums- drawings, model and newspaper. To what extent do you believe that a proposal of this genre needs to be represented through the use of the newspaper medium in order for it to appear as actual?
The project acknowledges that the Island of Diego Garcia is constituted, instrumentalised, and actively produced through media presence and absence and therefore uses an imagined series of articles in the Guardian as the format and medium to articulate the proposal and, perhaps even more important, its spatial and social consequences. I believe that the newspaper format allowed the project to travel in time and made the proposal understandable not only to a specific architectural audience but to the general public. I very much enjoyed the comment of one of my colleagues after I have redrawn my research cartographies as Guardian info-graphics: ‘I still don’t understand it fully, but now I somehow believe you’.
What is the purpose and effect in using images as the Guardian photographs?
I used staged photographs of Chagossian exiles holding speculative Guardian covers both to engage with the local community and to show the possible impact of the project rather than the architecture itself.
You neglect to visually speculate on the reaction and re-integration of the returning exiles through perspective views, why so?
I was more interested in the geopolitical aspect of the project and to test the power of an architectural proposal beyond the conventional design framework that is often limited to the series of beautiful images celebrating buildings as artefacts. I believe that the greatest strength of the project doesn’t lie in the design itself but in its intention to provoke debate around the expulsion of the islanders and to serve as the political tool in the Chagossian campaign for receiving the right to return to the island. However, as the project was developed in collaboration with representatives of the Chagossian community and the inclusion of the project as an annex to the resettlement proposal is currently being discussed, I am very interested in the further development of the project and to make the proposal fully viable which would then include all the supporting and more detailed visualisations.
Rosa is a London-based architect currently working for Grimshaw Architects. In 2015 she graduated from Royal College of Art as Master of Arts in Architecture with a distinction in critical writing. Previously she has worked for several international architecture practices such as FMA (London, United Kingdom), MVRDV (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) and Studio Up (Zagreb, Croatia) as an architect and urban planner, publication and exhibition designer, PR and journalist. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including London Design Festival (2015), London Festival of Architecture (2014), SustainRCA Show (2015) and 50th Salon of Architecture in Zagreb, Croatia (2015).