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How will migration influence architecture and the city?

Photo: Compilation of ground plans of buildings by Valerio Olgiati.

Markus Breitschmid

The question given is: “How will migration influence architecture and the city?” 


I am answering the question as an architect – a maker of buildings – and not as a sociologist.


As an architect, I say: “Migration does not influence buildings – at least not in any direct way.”



Migration does not influence buildings because it is not an architectonically form-generative idea. We cannot imagine a form in the architectonic realm, if someone stipulates that the idea for a building is migration. It is as useless architectonically as when someone would state they want to build an economic building or they say that they want to build ecologically. All these ideas are not form-generative and thus useless for designing a building. As such, migration is not an idea for a building, and therefore, it does not influence buildings. 



Migration – more generally said the mobility of people – is one of the defining attributes of the non-referential world we live in today, a world in which everything occurs everywhere at all times. That everything occurs everywhere at all times also means that buildings exist only for themselves. A building today is no longer a part of a whole. Rather, each building is a whole: a oneness. Nietzsche called the buildings of such a city “profound solitudes.” A century later, architecture theory accepted that “architecture by nature is fundamentally useless,” setting it apart from individual buildings. This is the indirect influence of migration/mobility that we embrace for a non-referential architecture: a building exists only for itself.   





Each building requires an idea. That idea has to be two things: form-generative and sense-making. Buildings are not defined by budget, program, location, or site, even though they need to respond to all of those requirements. The social task of the shapes and spaces of each building is to a) cause repercussions in the people who use these buildings; b) make these people creative; and c) thus extend their possibilities – for a migrant or anyone else, as we are all migrants in our non-referential world.

Markus Breitschmid is an architecture theoretician and an author on architecture. He is a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech). Breitschmid has collaborated with architect Valerio Olgiati since 2005, including for the book “Non-Referential Architecture." 

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