Migration and Discrimination: Mellon Seminar Students Travel to Berlin

group of people walking in front of a building
The field trip visited Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner's Siedlung Britz. photo / Iftikhar Dadi
group of people standing and viewing a modernist apartment building from a distance
Students and faculty visit Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitacion during their eight-day field trip to Berlin. photo / Sasson Rafailov (B.Arch. '17)
a person, center, looking up taking a picture with their phone
Mellon seminar student Elie Boutros (B.Arch. '20) looks up to capture an element of the lobby at David Chipperfield's rebuilt Neues Museum while visiting Berlin's Museum Island. photo / Iftikhar Dadi
group of people sitting on steps in front of large columns
Students on the steps of K.F. Schinkel's Altes Museum with faculty members Werner Goehner and Esra Akcan. photo / Iftikhar Dadi
December 12, 2017

Students enrolled in the fall 2017 Mellon Expanded Practice Seminar, titled Migration and Discrimination, traveled to Berlin this September. The eight-day excursion, described by Hallie Black (B.Arch. '19) as "a whirlwind of architecture visits and global insights," was planned as an extension of time spent in the classroom studying cities that have been heavily impacted, both historically and currently, by the movement and settlement of migrant populations.

Encompassed by the larger vision for Mellon seminars to "focus on the intersection of urbanism, design, and the humanities," coinstructors Esra Akcan, associate professor of architecture, and Iftikhar Dadi, associate professor of the history of art, selected migration and discrimination as joint topics that would provide multiple points of entry for students to bring their individual interests to group discussions. The seminar includes students from Africana studies, anthropology, architecture, CRP, comparative literature, and history of art, among other fields.

"Ahead of departure, we focused on three cities: Istanbul, Lahore, and Berlin," says Dadi. "Apart from their historical and conceptual similarities, this three-way comparison was intended not to pathologize any region of the world today as being either uniquely gifted or singularly unfortunate, but rather to understand issues of migration as historically and socially recurring episodes in a global context."

In addition to weekly on-campus meetings dedicated to these concerns, Akcan and Dadi organized a one-day workshop during the trip at the Technical University of Berlin's Center for Metropolitan Studies. The workshop's program consisted of a screening of Heimat in der Fremde (2016) followed by a discussion with the film’s producer, as well as three panel sessions that included speakers who addressed issues related to spatial, cultural, and political conditions in past and present Turkey and Pakistan.

The trip's larger itinerary included visits to a number of well-known public institutions and sites such as Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, Peter Eisenman's (B.Arch. '55) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Berlin's Museum Island that includes the Altes Museum by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and David Chipperfield's rebuilt Neues Museum. Two full days were dedicated to visiting residential buildings in neighborhoods such as Kreuzberg, also the subject of Akcan's forthcoming book titled Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Kreuzberg, that offered a firsthand view into the seminar's central topics of inquiry.

"One of the most rewarding things for me in taking this trip with students from multiple disciplines was to observe how concepts of space entered the vocabulary of students from departments outside of architecture, and how architecture students increased their interest in issues of social and global justice," says Akcan. "Pop-up discussions that began during tours often extended for hours afterward. This happened while lying on the lawn in front of the Reichstag dome where we discussed transparency and hypocrisy in governance; or as we stopped suddenly at an arbitrary street corner in Kreuzberg to question the discrimination of former guest workers and refugees, racism, and post-secularism, for example."

Students in the seminar include Hallie Black (B.Arch. '19), Elie Boutros (B.Arch. '20), Mwanzaa Brown (M.Arch. '18), Kaitlin Emmanuel '24, Charisse Tsien Mei Foo (B.Arch. '17), Lara Fresko '21, Aslihan Gunhan (Ph.D. HAUD '22), Labib Hossain (Ph.D. HAUD '24), Samuel Lagasse '23, Afifa Ltifi '23, Michael Moynihan (Ph.D. HAUD '23), Hafsa Muhammad (M.Arch. '19), Jorge Munoz (M.Arch.II '18), Vinh Pham '22, Erin Routon '20, Duncan Steele (B.Arch. '20), Kelsey Utne '22, and Olumayowa Willoughby '22. Professor of architecture Werner Goehner's studio, Berlin — City Between Immigration and Gentrification, traveled with the Mellon students to Berlin and often joined the seminar as they toured sites of common interest including modernist social housing projects, sites that made up the International Architecture Exhibition in Berlin in the 1980s, and urban areas that have seen recent settlement and displacement of immigrant communities.

"Each day, we encountered examples that we’d discussed prior to our arrival," noted Moynihan. "After a number of lively group discussions, the limitations of the classroom became apparent. This was probably most obvious in the two days we spent visiting public housing. The first day covered a long history of housing typologies such as prewar garden cities, Weimar period housing of Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner, postwar examples of buildings by Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, and the Karl-Marx Allee. After touring the Kreuzberg neighborhood the next day, we were able to compare more recent immigrant housing in a way that would have been impossible in a typical seminar."

This fall marks the fourth Mellon Expanded Practice Seminar — previous sessions include Forest Cartographies: Mapping Amazonian Urbanities and the Politics of Nature; Cuba as Project: Urban, Political, and Environmental Transformations of the Island; and Flux Navigations: Bio-Politics and Urban Aesthetics in the Contemporary Southeast Asian City.

The Mellon Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities series launched in 2013 as a partnership between the Andrew D. Mellon Foundation; Cornell AAP; Cornell Libraries; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell. The Mellon Foundation's contribution supports a dual series of Expanded Practice Seminars and Urban Representation Labs — the next Urban Representation Lab, titled Building Feelings/Feeling Buildings: Mapping Urban Memory in an Ahistorical Age, will be offered in spring 2018 and will be taught by Ella Maria Diaz, assistant professor of English and Latina/o Studies.

By Edith Fikes