A great and final shift of global population is upon us. We will end the century as a wholly urban species. Seen by many in the West as a threat, this rural to urban migration will have profound implications on the geopolitical landscape and the lives and well-being of the migrants. Perhaps most importantly it might provide an opportunity to mitigate or even reverse the impact of global climate change as cities, through their economies of scale, have the potential to reduce demands for resources. Studio Arrival City is interested in the effect mass migration and urbanisation is having on our cities, focusing specifically on the notion of the Arrival City. Operating as transitional spaces for those entering the city, Arrival Cities in the words of Doug Saunders (author of Arrival City), are the places where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born.
Since the outbreak of Europe’s refugee crisis, Milan has become a major transit point for those landing in southern Italy heading to northern Europe to be reunited with family or to look for work. As more and more northern European countries close their borders, Milan is changing from a point of transition to a point of arrival for many migrants. Since 1999, the percentage of non-Italian residents in Milan has increased from less than eight percent in 1999 to almost 19 percent in 2017. Projections from Milan’s statistical office suggest this will reach 30 per cent by 2035.
A few tram stops from Milan’s historic centre sits the San Siro neighbourhood. Constructed during the second world war as a model for the future city, including 6,000 popular (council) homes. Today, 40% of the neighbourhoods 11,000 residents have a foreign background making the neighbourhood one of the most culturally diverse within the city.
The neighbourhood has a problematic reputation in part linked to the abusive occupations (squats) that are prevalent in the area. Mapping San Siro, an Action Research project based in the neighbourhood suggest that beyond the headlines there is something else: a galaxy of micro-worlds where the residents through the practices of everyday life have begun to reorganise spaces, rewritten habits and rules of cohabitation. When viewed as a whole the neighbourhood can be seen as a cultural mosaic that constitutes both a richness and a challenge for San Siro.
This year Studio Arrival City has been located in Mannheim, Germany. Mannheim is an industrial city of about 300,000 people in the Baden Wurtenburg region of Germany, bisected by the Rhine and the Neckar rivers. The city has a history of migration and hosting refugees — 44% of the population have a migrant background, the highest rate of larger German cities after Frankfurt. In September 2015 the City found itself at the centre of migrant crisis with its central station designated a so-called refugee “turnstile”. More than 80,000 refugees arrived in around 150 special trains via the Balkan route. Many of these people were temporarily housed in US Military barracks vacated by the Americans in 2010.
The studio has been investigating the notion of Mannheim as an Arrival City and has set out to explore how the new arrivals and a culture of openness and resourcefulness might inform new ecological forms of architecture and urbanism. Projects emerging from the studio include an Adhoc Embassy, a Nation State of Refugia and new ‘ tv drama’ documenting life as a migrant.
We visited Mannheim in November and met with representatives from the City of Mannheim including the Officer for Building Culture, and the leader of the Migrants for Cities Programme. We also had the opportunity to meet with a Professor and students from the University of Kaiserslautern who arranged a tour of the Spinneli Refugee barracks and to visit the self-build Community House which recently was awarded the Erskine Award in Architecture. The barracks site subsequently became the site for 2 of the students in the studio.
The insights on the city provided by the people we met whilst in Mannheim have been invaluable in informing and routing the projects in Mannheim. A number of students have retained links to contacts we met in Mannheim and have secured funding from the University to return to Mannheim at the end of the academic year to present the work of the studio and to run a series of workshops with local activists. They are also looking to set up a Live Project in Mannheim that will run next year.
2016/2017 Offenbach is nearly alright
Arrival was the key theme of the 2016 German Pavilion at the Venice Biennial; Making Heimat – an Arrival Country. The exhibition identified Offenbach-am-Main as a prototype Arrival City. Historically seen as the poor neighbour to Frankfurt to its west, the messy urban blocks that form the fabric of Offenbach sit in stark contrast to the looming presence of the European Central Bank over the river. Full of life, ringed with shops and cafes below apartments housing a wide range of people, the urban blocks of Offenbach support a rich mix of urban life that have enabled an Arrival City to take hold. Studio projects focused on a wide range of typologies ranging from alternative models of housing, cultural strategies looking to open up opportunities for cultural exchange and strategies for re-introducing industry back into the city.