Architectural apartheid and urban cleansing: the politics of space and structure in human rights discourse

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Koenig, Erin
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Space, like language, is socially created and thus the construction and deconstruction of urban communities reflects and reinforces ethnic, gender and social inequalities present in society. Yet international human rights discourse has failed to universally acknowledge or enshrine a right to space in any hard law provisions. This paper examines, through a multidisciplinary approach, the urban environment and how its constituent architecture can be politically manipulated to impose identities on citizens, violating other rights currently included in human rights legislation. The examples of Modernist Brasilia and fortified enclaves in South Africa typify how structure can become a tool of political oppression and misrepresentation. Moreover, the deliberate destruction of urban architecture, such as in Sarajevo, has proved to be equally detrimental to the identity of urban inhabitants. In what has recently been termed ‘identicide’, the connection between people and place can be deliberately severed through the destruction of mnemonic objects of great symbolic value. Although addressed in international humanitarian law, protection remains insufficient for preventing architectural and urban cleansing. As the built environment does not yet represent human diversity, equality or the universality of human rights, it is imperative that the human rights paradigm embraces issues of human geography – space and structure – in its discourse of human entitlements.
Second semester University: University of Copenhagen
architecture, geography, group identity, human rights, urban policy