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Makeshift shelters, tents and containers

The studio investigates the phenomenon of "illegalised" circulations within the European Union by mapping the interplay between migrant people and the physical, political, and cultural environment they move into. While bordering practices are often analysed as geographically localised, linear, and physical manifestations of power – a wall separating two territories, a series of checkpoints funnelling and filtering circulations – the Studio proposes to investigate borders within the European Union as relational and dispersed assemblages that bring together distant geographies at multiple scales, international and nation-state politics, widespread racism, and colonial refluxes.

In this sense, the environmental perspective that ties urban and non-urban spaces becomes the site for intersectional, transboundary interventions to recognise and test alliances between different forms of activism, political affinities, and cultural continuities. The studio will work through collective and distributed modes of knowledge production, building platforms for politically and materially situated collaborations, and opening spaces where emancipatory politics can emerge.

Investigating urbanism without planning, humanitarian violence, solidarity in the making and unmaking of inhospitable landscapes, the studio aims to put into question notions of citizenship, identity, and belonging as they are formed both globally and locally.

The studio will address the following questions: How do migrants’ trajectories affect the conceptualisation of both urban and non-urban spaces? How do we analyse the weaponisation of borderscapes with the tools and methodologies of Architecture and City Design? How do we make sense (and make sensible) the multi and inter-scalar character of migratory phenomena as their effects cut across economic, political and cultural spheres? How do we investigate the diffused and purposely dispersed infrastructure of care providing support to people in transit?


This year, the studio moves to the French port town of Calais and the wider Channel area. Its geographical proximity to the British mainland has transformed the coastal region into a significant transport hub for the Calais-Dover ferry crossings and the Eurotunnel terminal. Logistical operations that facilitate the daily movement of goods and people across the Channel, cheaply and quickly. At the same time, Calais is a highly militarised and policed site for immigration control. Since the Le Touquet treaty in 2003, juxtaposed border controls enforced at the crossing points in Calais have transformed the town into a chokepoint.

“Illegalised” migrants are prevented from crossing into Britain and are forced to spend months living precariously in Calais. Denied safe accommodation, many live in autonomous squats and migrant camps vulnerable to police violence and eviction.

Trucks queue up as part of the Police operation “Stack” in Dover

Numerous treaties between Britain and France have financed an externalised territorial border, with billions of government funding injected into building security walls, militarised fences, surveillance systems, and training French border police to control and deter “unwanted” immigration. However, these so-called preventative strategies have done little to stop the autonomy of migration, instead, it has transformed the act of moving into a deadly encounter.

Since 1999, there have been nearly 500 deaths at the UK-FR border, and yearly, communities have gathered to commemorate and resist the senseless violence. Calais has become a significant site of border struggle; humanitarian aid and solidarity counter-border groups have an important presence in the area, instituting networks of support that offer material structures for survival in the face of hostility. The focus of the Border Environments studio on Calais grapples with fundamental questions of City Design. The transformation of towns into border zones, the weaponisation of logistical infrastructure, and the denial of free movement and safety. The studio will encourage students to question who has the right to the city? And, in turn, who has the right to migrate and who has the right to stay?


The Studio aims to implement a collaborative methodology where students benefit from direct engagement with legal experts, activists, NGOs, scholars, and other key figures active “on the ground”.

Therefore, Border Environments aims to “immerse” its operations in the “field” through collaborative modes of knowledge production and methods of radical mapping to establish non-extractive, mutually beneficial collaborations mindful of the precarious legal and political conditions forced upon migrant circulations. The students will engage with multiple media – film, music, model making, etc. – to investigate the production of inhospitable geographies, the design of infrastructures of care, and their shifting assemblage within a regime of visibility and invisibility.


A crowd of people stand around a rectangle of candles

Term I – Monuments for Passage: Collective Memory as Collective Care

In the first term, the studio will focus on the yearly CommemorAction that will be held on the 6th of February in more than 40 sites of border struggles worldwide. The CommemorAction is more than a day for remembering those who disappeared during their journey, it is as a practice and language of mourning and protest that resists the project of annihilation by remembering the missing, and by contesting the forces that made them disappear.

Students will work individually to develop a “memorial” project to commemorate the hundreds of people who have lost their lives in transit at the France-UK border. They will be expected to develop their own memorialisng strategy mindful of the aesthetic regime in place, existing solidarity networks and multicultural sensibilities. The final design for the collective memorial will be presented to a jury made up of architects, organisers, and activists working in Calais and people with migration experience.

  • What is the role of memory and memorialisation in the context of migration?
  • How do you design for death & grief?
  • How does the memorial counter the erasure of migrant deaths?
  • How do we use architecture to critically reflect on the politics of Fortress Europe?
  • What does it mean to design a counter-monument?

What is the role of participatory design methodologies in Architecture and City Design?

Term 2 – Collaborations

During Term 2, students will participate in a Group Project Investigation in collaboration with one of the many NGOs active in monitoring and reporting discrimination and violence across the Channel. This will provide students with the opportunity to learn and apply a wide array of digital and non-digital investigative techniques, under the direct supervision of experts, and to have first-hand experience NGOs at the forefront of migratory issues.

The output will take the form of an interactive investigation that will be shared on the online platforms of our partners. A core element of this unit is to explore the use of opensource digital tools to conduct investigations into borderspaces: students should develop an in-depth understanding of the border situation, context and issue, as well as understand the necessary ethical structures for conducting the research.

Term 3 – Propositional Objects / Speculative Futures – Independent Research Project

During Term 3, students will draw, produce, code, make, craft, compile, edit, etc. their propositional objects. They will explore the tools of speculative design as a way of thinking about possible futures, together with those communities and groups that, performing and reproducing such spaces, provoke the political imaginations of the present.


Border Environments is led by Riccardo Badano and Helen Brewer.