The Dead Zone & The Architecture of Transgression
PhD Thesis & Photography Project
TU Delft 2018 

 


 

 


To read the Thesis please click here


For a  short overview article in Field Journal please click here 


For the connections between the "Dead Zones" and Michael Foucault's concept of the heterotopia in the book Heterotopia and the City please click here 


 

The thesis “The ‘Dead Zone’ and the Architecture of Transgression” investigates the imagery

of ‘emptiness’, ‘voids’, ‘no-man’s Land’ (etcetera) in architectural and other discourses,

drawing on imagery from antiquity until today. The study begins with the particular case of a

now obliterated Palestinian village at the edge of Tel Aviv. The prologue of the thesis gives,

in the form of a short story, an exposition of the subject. It introduces the main argument, that

this space is a product of the discourse, and that between the two lies an unbridgeable gap. I

argue against the short-sightedness of planning practices and present the importance of site research for the subject at hand.

In the first part of the thesis, I argue that the ‘dead zone’ imagery fails to convey the reality

of the spaces it refers to, and that this imagery is based on a hegemonic perspective that has

been enforced on places for colonial, economic, and cultural reasons. The term ‘dead zone’

(and an array of synonyms such as ‘wasteland’, ‘post-industrial void’ or ‘liminal space’ that

all define an urban area which is considered as waste, empty, derelict, etc.) stands for a

particular urban space that colours the post-industrial and post-modern urban conditions. The

thesis outlines the common qualities of the spaces these terms refer to and the vagueness that

exists in all of these definitions, to the extent that suspicion arises that these spaces might

be unreal. I show the pervasiveness of the ‘dead zone’ imagery in the contemporary urban

discourse. Even though the ‘dead zone’ is almost exclusively associated with post-industrial

and postmodern conditions, I argue that the concept, as well as the existence of an ‘other’

space can be traced back as far as antiquity, to the Greek chora. The chora encompasses

some of the characteristics of the contemporary ‘dead zone’: it is simultaneously an imagined

space and a real one, a seeming wasteland and the bedrock of new social and religious

practices, that lie outside rationality and patriarchal control. A space that defies definition,

a nomadic place and a place of the nomads.

Based on three historical cases, in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, I argue that the

the imagery of the ‘dead zone’, of a space that is empty and/or dangerous, is based on colonial

perceptions and ideology aiming to naturalise or justify colonisation. The thesis clarifies how

this imagery was transferred to the motherlands and used in making ‘otherness’ - otherness of

spaces and people who are marked as a surplus, in other words, as waste, within the capitalist

system.

In the case of Tel Aviv, I discuss how 19th century Christian and 20th century Zionist

perceptions of Palestine as wilderness or desert played a role in establishing Israel and Tel

Aviv, and how this perception still plays a role in the current obliteration of Palestinian traces

in the city. In the case of London, I show how the city poor were equated to the colonised

people of the East and South, and how the spaces they resided in were compared to ‘dark’

lands. The last example depicts how the urban and economic transformation of Paris in the

19th century produced a ‘dead zone’ and how the zone’s imagery still lingers in today’s Paris

almost a hundred years after the ‘zone’ itself was erased.

In part A of the research, I thus try to excavate the buried histories of places that the

hegemony has marked as ‘dead zones’. In part B of the thesis, I look at contemporary spaces

that have been marked with this imagery and try to refute it. To do so, it is necessary to

develop alternative methods to investigate these spaces and to shift the perspective from the

hegemonic gaze to a more engaged one that incorporates the marginalised communities that

inhabit these zones.

The second part of the thesis, therefore, elaborates on the need for alternative research

methods. Arguing that the misconception of the labelling of certain urban areas as a ‘dead

zone’, is due to insufficient or misguided site-research methodologies, I describe the

normative ways that are used in planning and architecture practice for site research, and I

propose alternative methods for more engaged site research. Engaged research is based upon

the idea that knowledge cannot be without experience, the experience of being.

As photography has had a great influence on the discourse, and even on the

production of the ‘dead zone’, I discuss the limits of this medium and ways it can be used

less casually and in more adequate ways. A second research method that this work explores

is walking. I examine various walking strategies and the data and insights into spaces that can

result from them. Lastly, I outline the methods of writing that I used to write this thesis. I

argue that the subject matter of this thesis and my engagement with it cannot be contained in

formal academic writing alone. Therefore, some parts of the writing are explicitly

experimental and subjective.

Following this methodological exploration, this part of the thesis also includes an

extensive field study. This site research presents other perspectives on the ‘dead zones’ by

means of these engaged methods. I have immersed in the everyday life in these ‘zones’

through interactions with the communities who inhabit it, through various modes of walking,

and through engaged photography. Lastly, as I argue that the findings of this research could

not have been represented by merely descriptive text, I chose more experimental and

experiential ways of writing. Such representation not only brings about accurate

knowledge but also reveals the void in the knowledge that was caused by the lack of direct

experience.

Building upon the knowledge from the historical cases and the field studies, the third part of

the thesis discusses how these spaces are marked as ‘dead’ not because they are such, but

because of transgressive activities or communities that reside in/produce them. The ‘Dead

Zone’ as imagery and a place is a site of expulsion: things, human and non-human, real as

well as imagined, have been expelled from it. In antiquity, the chora was the place to which

femininity, desire and new social practices were expelled. In colonial times, the zone was the

empty spaces that were about to be colonised. Colonial imagery depicted space as empty –

erasing out of existence the people, communities, and nations that were there, and then

through various practices expelled the people out of these places. In post-colonial times and

places, the imagery of the ‘dark land’, abyss and void was used to exclude certain people

from the city.

In conclusion, I argue that these spaces are places of dissensus. The zones of dissensus offer

different visions of inclusive, yet agonistic public space. These spaces and the activities that

take place in them, or rather, shape them, offer a looking glass into the professions of

architecture, urban planning and design. Dissensus spaces and practices might hint at

transgressive practices that architects, planners and designers might adopt if and when they

become interested in subverting the power structures they inhabit and sustain.

The epilogue of the thesis presents two urban interventions, as examples of such a

transgressive art and architecture practice. These two works are presented in two manners of

writing: the first descriptive and the second as a narrative which, as can be seen, opens up a

space where the personal and the public, the factual and the imagined, the past and the

present co-exist.




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