Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

Learning from Dadaab: An Architectural History of Forced Migration

What do we see, when we see a refugee camp? States providing asylum are often unwilling to integrate refugees into the economy or social structure, and maintain them in remote camps in undeveloped areas, served by parallel systems or foreign aid. Refugees in camps inhabit edge conditions, surviving between competing entities and interests. The casual images of precarity that ensue form the dominant visual archive.

Yet, a narrative of refugees as superfluous humanity and theorization of camps as extraterritorial may be dispelled by an exercise in close looking at architecture and history. Thinking with the Somali refugees in the camp complex at Dadaab, Kenya, offers purchase on a set of questions: of the relationship between the camp and the city, of shared humanitarian, colonial, and territorial histories, and of architecture as spatial politics. As the largest ever field site administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in operation since 1991, Dadaab offers an anchor point for many histories—of Africa, Islam, migration, urbanism, humanitarianism, development, war, heritage—and also offers a historiographic model: for architectural history in a refugee camp.

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

Barnard College, Columbia University

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi is an architectural historian and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University Mahindra Humanities Center, and joins Barnard College, Columbia University in 2018. Her research stems from two book projects, Architecture of Humanitarianism: The Dadaab Refugee Camps and Emergency Urbanism in History and Vocal Instruments: Minnette De Silva and an Asian Modern Architecture, with articles in The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, The Journal of Architecture, Architectural Theory Review, Grey Room, and the volume Spatial Violence (Routledge, 2016, special issue co-editor). She received a Ph.D. in the History of Art and Archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and practiced architecture in Bangalore and New York.