Manuel Herz is an urban researcher and architect based in Basel with built public and private projects in Europe and Asia. He has taught at Harvard University and was head of research at the ETH Studio Basel – Institute of the Contemporary City. Currently he is a visiting professor at the ETH Zürich. Manuel has published and researched extensively in the field of refugee camps. His most recent book “From Camp to City – Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara” was published with Lars Müller Publishers, Zürich, in 2012.

Prefiguring the State – The refugee camps of the Western Sahara
Thursday, April 4th, 3pm
Campus in Camps Al Feneiq Center, Deheishe Refugee Camp
by Manuel Herz

The Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco in 1975 is one of the world’s last remaining colonies. The fleeing population – the Sahrawis – established refugee camps across the border in Algeria, and have lived there ever since. How is life organized in the refugee camps located in one of the remotest and inhospitable areas of our planet? How do the refugees live, how do they move through the camps, in what spaces do they work or learn, and how do they go about activities of leisure and recreation? Placing the urbanistic and architectural dimension of the camp into the center allows us to investigate precisely how space becomes a medium through which the underlying conflict is expressed, and how – far from being innocent – every architectural detail is imbued with political and strategic significance. Instead of seeing the camp as a space of misery, a space of waiting, or a spatial manifestation of the state of exception, the case study of the Western Sahara allows us to observe camps that are understood as engines of social emancipation and as a political project. It allows the refugees to prefigure the state they have been trying to liberate, nevertheless also clearly exposing the dilemmas of a nation in exile. Going beyond their relevance to the specific condition in the Western Sahara, these camps open up the possibility of an alternative model of how camps can be organized, how they can be described and analyzed.

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