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Johannesburg: 26.2041° S, 28.0473° E London: 51.5072° N, 0.1276°

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In Arabic, the term Hijra refers to ’emigrating’, ‘passing’ or ‘coming’, a word with both Latin and Arabic roots. Historically, it describes the Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina, escaping persecution. Included in its etymology are the words for ‘departure’, ‘exodus’ and ‘journey’. Interestingly, in Urdu, the term has also come to mean ‘fluidity of identity’ or a ‘third’ identity, of gender and culture in particular. In this definition, the body is understood to be a literal site of transition, a vessel through which culture and identity journey, a place in which both are housed. In the modern period, human migration within or between sovereign states, either through controlled (legal immigration) or uncontrolled means (refugees, economic migrants, for example). Involuntary migration includes forced displacement (deportation, slavery, human trafficking) and flight (war refugees, victims of ethnic cleansing, for example).

Traditionally, the role of architecture has been to confine or control space, shaping historical experience and social relations in static form. As a result, the history of people for whom movement, not static, is the predominant experience does not find easy or direct translation into form.

Unit 12 is interested in finding forms of material and spatial representation for this most contemporary human experience. We believe there is enormous architectural potential in working with the migratory, the diasporic, the mythical, the performative and the narrative to create new spatial possibilities for these themes. The Unit works with digital allegories, performance, linguistics, sound and other embodied archives.

The aim is to challenge students to tell their own ‘stories’, to find their own appropriate tools of representation, to speculate with ambition and aplomb on the appropriate form, structure, material and programme for a uniquely African architectural vocabulary.

Led by Sumayya Vally and Shumi Bose as part of ADS11 Hijra, an MA Architecture course at Royal College of Art.

Ministries (2019)


The void contains in itself all the potential of the space, all the relations not written or experienced. Void is the place of tension of something that will be, a space in power, but also the only place where the recollection of reality, the composition of the parts, the fragments of life, can happen.’ - Simone Pizzagalli From the Greek διασπορά (‘scattering’, ‘dispersion’) the term ‘diaspora’ refers to a scattered population whose origins lie within a smaller, usually fixed, geographic locale. Diaspora has come to refer in particular to the historic dispersions of an involuntary nature, such as the Jewish Diaspora; the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople; the African trans-Atlantic slave trade; the Irish after the Great Famine and, more recently, the dispersion of Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds in the aftermath of the Gulf Wars. Scholars have historically distinguished between different types of diaspora, based on different causes: imperialism, trade, labour or wars, for example. Social cohesion within diasporic communities and the strength of ties to their original or ancestral lands also varies, with some communities maintaining strong political ties with their homelands and others dreaming endlessly of return. Within architecture, however, scant attention has been paid to the spatial, urban and architectural implications of migration. Refugee camps, deportation centres and prisons appear to be the only spaces or architectural programmes that deal in any way with this most contemporary of issues, yet the epistemological potential locked into the history and experience of diasporic communities around the world has far-reaching consequences for all built environment disciplines, at multiple scales and levels, and from multiple perspectives. Unit 12 will visit the island of Réunion, a region of France separated from the ‘mainland’ by 6,000km and the outermost region of the EU, in order to uncover new potential spatial languages of movement, migration and diaspora to augment the architectural vocabulary of our times. The Major Design Project of the year will be the Ministry of Home Affairs. Projects may look at landscapes, seascapes, edge conditions, boundaries between land and sea, between past and present and between 'home' and 'away'. The aim is to challenge each student to find their own appropriate architectural tools of representation, form, structure, materiality, programme, with which to propose a new architecture that, in Derrida's words, 'bears some resemblance to that which might be found in it.'

Ports (2018)

Studio Work

Tonia Murray 'The Liberation Carnival'

Ruby Mungosh 'The Ministry of Acculturation, Seduction and Sedition'

Heidi Lu 'The Ministry Of 'Créolisation'

Chris Rojas 'Linnaeus And The Garden Of Early Delights'

Nhlakhanipho Mashinini 'The Music Bureau'

Steffen Fischer 'Metro'

Adowa Agyei 'The Waiting Room'

Terrence Mxolisi Mkhwanazi 'The Ministry Of Unofficial Languages'

Kerry Trebble 'The Ministry Of Naturalisation'

Roanne Moodley 'The Twin Transcripts'

Frederick Kannemeyer 'The Ministry Of The Fourth World'

Kshir Bdhesi 'Terra Nullius'

Gugulethu Mthembu 'Ministry Of Women and Children'

Oratile Mothoagae 'The False Archive'

Bonolo Masango

Supervisors: Prof Lesley Lokko and Sumayya Vally

Shasha Movies (@shashamovies) presents Hijra, a special film programme created for @ads11.hijra and screening in-person for all students across the School of Architecture.

Here, the idea of ‘gathering’ and ‘carrying’ inherent within hijra الهجرة will be explored. Spaces where politics, presence and futures are discussed and declared. And through which relations are built, tested and performed. ‘Hijra’ celebrates a different kind of spatial politics—the imaginative politics inherent to all groups of people migrating to survive and thrive, escaping conditions of inequality and vulnerability to a warming climate.This is a special programme created by @shashamovies for ‘Hijra’, taught by Sumayya Vally and Shumi Bose.