Global trade and exchange have been a powerful force in shaping human societies throughout history. These include the Spice Route, Silk Road, Salt Route. They have shifted and made plastic, static geographies and have connected and bound otherwise hostile and incompatible agents around shared commercial interests. The power of these exchanges and their capacity to shift, distort, merge, fracture, invent and destroy societies is of concern. These global exchanges create new languages, practices, and spatialities in order to bring about rather unique rituals of exchange - sometimes symbiotic, sometimes exploitative. These exchanges of goods, services, cultures, labour and bodies are transscalar - operating at the scale of global corridors, networks and time zones, to more intimate neighbourhoods and homes.  They have come to define our modern existence in extraordinary ways. We are made more powerful, but also more vulnerable through these exchanges.

 

African cities are severely reliant and defined by these trading networks - be they large, sanctioned, small, illegal, ephemeral or permanent. Goods and services are being exchanged in the most extraordinary ways and are defining our urban future in radical ways that exceed our imagination. We believe that a careful and critical gaze into these exchanges can yield untold truths and insights towards a more speculative, tangible and inventive urbanity.

 

Trade Roots within the framework of the Unit investigates the origins, practices and spatial consequences of more contemporary and emergent Trade Roots affecting our cities. It does so by looking deeply and critically at the underlying orders that motivate these exchanges - be it out of necessity, power, or opportunity - and the social, economic and spatial consequences that result. We are particularly interested in the exchanges at the intersection of great friction, chaos and rupture. Those that are sanctioned, clandestine, opaque and shadowy in nature. It is these almost un-welcomed, claimed and crude practices, that are pushing the conceptual envelope of our existence and demonstrate new relational languages of prosperity and interdependence.

 

We see architecture playing a dual role, both as a discipline to observe and one to speculate on radical new possibilities. It is through the reconfiguring of traditional architectural devices, that we aim to draw out the extraordinary and build a compelling spatial lexicon spawned from emergent trading practices. We lean on and advance representational conventions of cartography, ethnography, plans, sections, axonometric, collage and animation in varied combinations to conjure the possibilities of what emergent trading practices can yield in making a more audacious, progressive and impactful architecture and languages.

 

Trade Roots is a three-year investigation that will examine three specific conditions of trade routes in each of its three years, namely, Home, Port and Conduit. This year, we will be investigating ideas of Home as it relates to trade. We will examine polemically through drawings and writings what it means to establish, occupy and define a home along circuits of emergent trade.  practices. 

© Unit 14 2020