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Violence & Place: Emotional Entanglements and Healing Spaces.

Architectural intervention and adaptive reuse explore the notion of topophilia and topophobia in other words, the desires and fears which people associate with specific places – the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of space

Woven within the architectural residue of all violence (not just direct, structural or cultural ), rests an alternative approach to reading the complexity of hostility whilst acknowledging the emotional entanglements of individual and collective trauma. A way to recognise the everyday impact of violence. The material traces of which offer reconciliation the opportunity to reconsider approaches to victim /perpetrator narratives, memory, silencing and meaning. An approach that identifies the impact violence has on the collective unconscious and archetypal aspects of the human psyche (Gustav Jung).

Architecture will engage the entangled emotions felt socially by the ‘community, victim and perpetrator’, it also offers an avenue to explore whether positive environments reduce the impact of transgenerational trauma, and where consciousness of interconnectedness can contribute to empathy and compassion thus developing a sustainable and resiliently peaceable environment.

One of the material consequences of violence is the erosion of place.

Attempts to acknowledge violence is often conducted in an emotionally entangled environment, full of raw feelings and misinformation. This can create a frightening and confused place in which people try to pick up the pieces of a fractured harmony. A haunting space eroded of trust and a feel of identity and belonging.

Philosopher, John Paul Lederach (2003: 54) argues that the complexity of building a resolution to violence should be embraced as it ‘often brings a multiplicity of options to the surface. If we pay careful attention to those options, we can often create new ways to look at old patterns.’ Society is full of old patterns of fear and prejudice which require fresh attention.

In recent years, architectural projects developed within complex and challenging contexts have struggled to legitimately represent local people and the traumas they have endured, and are therefore unfit or counterproductive.

These projects often come with a political agenda and have little impact on the everyday life of people affected by violence.

Architectural projects often appear cosmopolitan in design, form, material, and scale with little relation to the vernacular or violence. All too often, projects become standardised statements of modernisation, elite driven and socially clumsy, in the rush to take ownership of an awkward narrative, memory and a palatable response .

In my opinion, a successful architectural approach understands each building is imbued with memories and meaning, this informs a rigorous analytical process which determine the host's make-up (profile) or the ‘DNA’ of a building. Once the profile is understood then the response begins to become more in tune with its environment and people. As I argue (Hay, Spirindonis and Voyatzaki , 2010: 175), the adaptive reuse of ‘architecture and meaning has to be conducted in a sensitive and considered manner with a firm focus on conserving the building integrity and authenticity whilst developing existing values and introducing new ones.’ A theoretical nod to, “first we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again-ad infinitum”, an ‘adaptation of Winston Churchill’s address to the nation in 1943 explaining the re-building the ‘Houses of Parliament’ after its destruction during the Second World War. “First we shape our buildings, then they shape us,” (Brand, 1994: 3)

Architectural methods and theory that engage violent behaviour invite us to bear witness to trauma and to reconsider trauma and our relation to it.

Berger and Wong (2013: 10) suggest that material traces of violence become themselves new witnesses that embody the multi functions of passing on difficult memories to new generations, imitating the indispensable process of re-appropriation needed to revise traumas, heal and negotiate a new relationship between memory, place and daily life, while exploring Third Space as the cultural location of hybrid communities.

We require spaces and places made whilst mindful of many who cannot speak anymore, who have no eyes, ears or numbers engraved on their skin anymore,’ buildings have a predetermined cultural significance. The flow of time and nature result in the disappearance of the last witnesses, leaving us the ethical task of passing on the stories to the new generations, giving them a ‘nomito’ (stern warning) to neither forget nor repeat the tragedies of the past: ‘as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or what you have been” (Barnes 2011).

As Berger and Wong (2013: 4) state, ‘Any engagement with memory must also reckon with forgetting. Memory and memorialization are selective processes.’ However, the use of architecture sets a scene for re-experiencing a traumatic event in an otherwise safe context which can take out some of the sting.

Repetition of just about any stimulus or experience will result in what researchers call habituation – a reduced physiological response to the stimulus (Wegner and Gold, 1995). Repeated re-experiencing of a traumatic memory in a safe setting can dampen the initial physiological response to trauma. (Wegner and Gold, 1995). Architectural intervention and adaptive reuse explore the notion of topophilia and topophobia in other words, the desires and fears which people associate with specific places – the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of space – Tuan’s fields of care and emotional attachment helps lead the architectural response to Edward Said and Homi Bhabha’s theory that geopolitical processes of power and resistance rely on spatial metaphors (Hubbard and Kitchin, 2010).

Therefore, it’s imperative to explore the importance of addressing the emotional entanglements, and the more direct influences that might impact reconciliation, in order to re-read narrative, recognise memory and explore memorialization in such a way that healing is given a better chance.

Image1: Banksy Art

Image 2: Theft of the same Banksy Artwork CNN


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