Architecture as Activism: Visualising the Chagossian Return

Coral Frontiers is an architecture proposal to support the resettlement of the international exiled Chagossian community – and has been part of the Chagossian's real-life campaign to return to their home. Here, Architecture graduate, Rosa Rogina, tells us more about the project: 

"Through a series of live experiments with the material and social fabric of the city – including organisation of public forums, unsolicited architectural interventions and community-led design – the Architecture and Activism Design Studio at the Royal College of Art explores ways in which architects can intervene in the field of politics and critically engage with the contemporary urban conditions. But what happens when a student commits to a site that is far away from London?

The island of Diego Garcia, one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth, doesn't come tripping off the tongue of even the most geographically sophisticated. Yet, there were times, when the United Kingdom have considered this 27 km² of coral and sand in the middle of the Indian Ocean one of the most valuable pieces of real estate. Since 1966, the Island has operated as the biggest US military base outside of the US; a little-known launch pad for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To make place for American Military Forces, one whole nation had to be, to quote the US Government, brutally "swept and sanitised". They lost one of their fundamental human rights – the right of abode in their homeland. Still today, 40 years after their forced displacement, the majority of the 5000 Chagossians in exile are actively campaigning for their right to return. 

Nearly half of the surviving population now lives in Crawley, United Kingdom. Coral Frontiers: Towards a Post-Military Landscape is an architectural proposal envisaging a speculative scenario in which, due to pressure by the international community and human rights institutions, the Chagossian return to their homeland is one of the conditions for the US lease of the island to be extended. The project uses series of interviews, workshops and public debates to bring together Chagossian community representatives, social and environmental experts to collectively frame a spatial proposal that could be further used as a political tool in the Chagossians’ Return 2015 Campaign

As the island reflects how climate change and environmental protection arguments are contributing to shape its territorial and political condition, Diego Garcia is recognised as a prism, through which a set of contemporary conditions of power and culture can be examined in great resolution. A speculative architectural intervention out there is attempt to foster debate here and now about the the (mis-)use of the discursive apparatus of ‘rights’ – be their human or environmental rights – as a support to global power structures."