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How will migration influence architecture and the city?

Photo: By Ambrogio Lorenzetti - WAFg-CSkcQJsMw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

Ákos Moravánszky

Stadtluft macht frei (City air makes you free) – this old German saying originates in the Medieval rule of law that assured liberty to urban citizens, and made cities exempt of the feudal system of serfdom. Cities became magnets for people escaping from oppressive regimes, misery, war and environmental disasters, seeking a better life or more chance to enfold the talents they possess. Therefore, big cities developed as they accommodated migrants who brought their own energy, knowledge, skills to build and shape the metropolis. Without the steady influx of immigrants, urban growth would be inconceivable. 


This development benefited urban culture as long as migrants were able to participate in the real and symbolic economy of the city. Today, with the growing concentration of the capital in the hands of a few, the chances for this participation are becoming slim. Migrants are increasingly ostracized, condemned to live in segregated ghettos or banlieues, a condition that feeds resentment and social unrest. The inhabitants of the center, who themselves live under the pressure of increasing rents, look at these immigrant suburbs as dangerous hotbeds of drug trafficking and gang criminality, a threat to urban culture. If this development continues, it will threaten the sociocultural coherence of the city, and will also contribute to its physical decay, already visible in numerous cities: affluent business districts versus eroding immigrant neighborhoods. Therefore, the task is to accommodate those who contribute to urban wealth in the city, regardless of their roots, of their immigrant or non-immigrant status, by providing a range of housing alternatives, according to the financial possibilities of the inhabitants –affordable living space, kindergartens, schools, playgrounds, and meeting places. This would be an incentive for the citizens for upward mobility. To achieve such goals is a challenge for politicians, economists, urban policymakers, planners and architects – but the future of our cities depends on the responses to this challenge.

Ákos Moravánszky (born 26. November 1950 in Székesfehérvár, Hungary), is a Swiss-Hungarian architect, theorist, historian and Adjunct Professor Emeritus of Architectural Theory at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at ETH Zurich. Moravánszky is regarded as one of the world’s leading architecture historian of Central European architecture. He is especially well known for his writing on twentieth-century architecture in Central Europe, and for his role in the development of a theory of materiality in architecture.

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