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Essay by He.Lo Architects.
This article is part of MoMA’s publication: Insecurities, Tracing Displacement and Shelter (Spring 2017)

MoMA: Tracing displacement and Shelter exhibition

For over 60 million persons in the world today, shelter is defined through constant movement or escape. Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter explores the ways in which contemporary architecture and design have addressed notions of shelter in light of global refugee emergencies. From the strengthening of international borders to the logistics of mobile housing systems, how we understand shelter is ultimately defined through an engagement with security. Refugee camps, once considered temporary settlements, have become sites through which to examine how human rights intersect with the making of cities. Bringing together projects by architects, designers, and artists, working in a range of mediums and scales, that respond to the complex circumstances brought about by forced displacement, the exhibition focuses on conditions that disrupt conventional images of the built environment.

Organized by Sean Anderson, Associate Curator, with Arièle Dionne-Krosnick, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design.

This exhibition is part of Citizens and Borders, a series of discrete projects at MoMA related to works in the collection offering a critical perspective on histories of migration, territory, and displacement.

Major support for the exhibition is provided by The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art. Additional support is provided by the MoMA Annual Exhibition Fund.

35.9176° N, 5.3670° W

Multiple territories are affected by transits, whether materially or formally, referencing two extremes of a spectrum that have been historically constitutive: arrival and departure.

Ceuta © He.Lo Architects 2017

This in between is a transformative context for people, the stranded and drifted, the uprooted and hopeful, who also share among these spaces a means to have their voices heard but, too often, not loudly enough.

Places such as Ceuta, adjacent to Morocco in North Africa, and other temporary settlements, refugee camps, and ports of exit, are witnessing migration on an unprecedented scale and are questioning notions of belonging and longing. Fears of the unknown and uncertainty, coupled with the global circulation of people, are not new phenomena, but sadly have reached new, record levels. Open and parallel structures converge along individuals’ paths for moments in time, often initiating an identity for remote places that are defined by temporality and unpredictability. How do we define these places? Connecting the realities of arrival and departure, of rejection and absorption, those structures that overcome geographical and political frontiers may be drawn in by typically unwanted and concealed spaces, while at the same time enhancing their accessibility.

Ceuta © He.Lo Architects 2017

One way, perhaps, to describe these catalytic yet desperate events is through the making of notational scores. Not only an interpretation, the score may be read as an initiation of a singular event in the spirit of John Cage and his contemporaries, who encourage that all are equally involved and implicated in the enactment of the score but without a fixed conductor. Systems of notation, whether seen through information or art production, encourage the formation of collectives. Such systems are also generators of participation, challenging authorship inasmuch as they signify that both the interpreter and the observer question the dialectics of origin and result. Notational systems offer moments of pure transmission, anticipating a future enactment and calls for improvisation, interpretation, and enactment of a spatial and social performance.

Hand Drawing Ceuta © He.Lo Architects 2017

When translated into the multiple languages of architecture and urbanism, notation also avoids redundancy and instigates momentum. Drawings and models function within a constant change of direction. The in-between allows room for chance, memories, and significations, prompting modes of enactment that are akin to notational scores. Similarly, in such cases diagrams might be seen as cognitive breakthroughs, but diagrams also make any activity analytical, if not predictable. Events such as mass migration and displacement cannot be simply represented with sterile diagrams, circuits, and predictability. The spatial mutability allows for unknown outcomes, synonymous with the situations of refugees and asylum seekers.

Methods of analogue architectural representation (paper drawing and physical modelling) bear the material traces of thought and temporality. Architectural drawings may be read as notational scores envisioning a happening of adaptable length and intensity, including repetition or sudden changes of direction, while also encouraging collective efforts. Similarly, as Rita Kersting describes in Spatial Murmuring (Papadakis, London 2013), “It is a good example of what they [He.Lo] consider architecture should be, a discipline that listens, pulls down borders and boundaries, and initiates close adjacencies for a dialogue — a different form of building.”

Ceuta © He.Lo Architects 2017

How are people, spaces, and ideas moving across and through heterotopic places of otherness? How do they migrate from one state of being into another and what does that mean for the creation of what Richard Sennett has described as “porous cities”? When states of matter migrate into different forms a suggestion that there is a new temporality emerges — a process perhaps best described by physics, when the condition of matter changes into another aggregate. Along with correlations of fluidity and geographic solidness, movement and stillness, architecture today should explore such changes of matter, to observe and question interfaces and immediate coexistences and the migration in between. Yet, similarly, adjacencies, be they social and spatial, are more present in times of reduced margins and distances, when segregation causes friction. Natural habitats and resources are inevitably threatened by the exponential growth of population and urbanization.

The proposed intervention is a mesh of landscape narrative, history, and a redefined typology of urban settlement. Initiating calmness and collective optimism, the intervention avoids adding instability and unnecessary provocation through a symbol of power. The height and alignments of the proposed scheme relate architecturally to its context. This project began while we were studying the rezoning of the settlement of Ceuta, aiming to free up land and remodelling substandard shelters, but it soon developed into an alternative model that investigates expansion, adjacencies, intersection, projection, rapport, and convergence. Just as bridges evolve to link separations, border crossings overcome political barriers and should become spaces of the shortest possible sojourn. Our project, CEUTA, is not solely about Mediterranean crossings; it is also about joining and empowering the helpless, and helping to ensure that their voices are heard loudly enough.

Ceuta © He.Lo Architects 2017

Essay by He.Lo Architects.
This article is part of MoMA’s publication: Insecurities, Tracing Displacement and Shelter (Spring 2017)

urbanNext (July 15, 2024) 35.9176° N, 5.3670° W. Retrieved from
35.9176° N, 5.3670° W.” urbanNext – July 15, 2024,
urbanNext March 23, 2017 35.9176° N, 5.3670° W., viewed July 15, 2024,<>
urbanNext – 35.9176° N, 5.3670° W. [Internet]. [Accessed July 15, 2024]. Available from:
35.9176° N, 5.3670° W.” urbanNext – Accessed July 15, 2024.
35.9176° N, 5.3670° W.” urbanNext [Online]. Available: [Accessed: July 15, 2024]

urbanNext | expanding architecture to rethink cities and territories


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