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A typological research into transactional and partially autonomous territories

MIT Graduate Thesis
SMArchS Architecture and Urbanism  2016


Thesis Advisor: Alexander D’Hooghe, MAUD, PhD
Associate Professor of Architecture and Urbanism

Thesis Reader: Brent D. Ryan, PhD
Associate Professor of Urban Design and Public Policy

Thesis Reader: Hashim Sarkis, PhD
Dean, School of Architecture and Planning

Thesis Reader: Els Verbakel, PhD
Head of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at Bezalel
Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem

A typological research into transactional and partially autonomous territories


Continental Islands [1](CIs) are a geomorphologic formation of land disconnected from the mainland while sharing the same continental shelf. This characteristic of connectivity and remoteness blurs the CIs relation and identity with the geopolitical territory of the ‘mainland’. The geographical constraints & geopolitical ambiguity set the CIs in an important infrastructural role in national strategy and global economy. Consequently, the CI attracts competition over political and economic resources, resulting in extensive military infrastructure and spatial re-organization. Although various urbanization theories study the effects of global economy and politics on urban form, little has been done to propose a possible design strategies for the Deleuzian concept of CI’s. This thesis will explore the CI as a typology of operational, transactional and militarized spaces and propose an urban morphology that will address the essence of its spatial form.

The CIs I explore located on both banks of the Strait of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean: Ceuta, a Spanish territory in Africa surrounded by Morocco; and Gibraltar, a British autonomy in Europe surrounded by Spain. Both territories are separated geopolitically and geo-morphologically from their hinterlands, while acting as frontiers for a greater geopolitical power – the EU. As a result of the remoteness and strategic location both exclaves have extensive military presence and economic incentives: Ceuta is duty free since 1868 and Gibraltar has a favorable tax regime. Whereas both CIs have a glorious past as imperial posts, today they are marginal in the national context and represent the geopolitical relationship between the EU and its edges. In this research I will examine the unique urban form of both Ceuta and Gibraltar as derived from their militarized history and major economic streams including transport of goods, capital, labor and their operational function as places of transport, storage and geopolitical currency.

The thesis will present a design strategy to synthesize the dynamic nature of the CIs with its intense defensive infrastructure and will utilize three spatial concepts: field (camp), void (public space) and module (barrack). The design strategy will be examined with a new scenario that will suggest a future where the global geopolitical forces change the intensity of operation. Moreover the design proposal will concentrate on the case of Ceuta, a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the EU and a unique social complexity. In this proposal I take into account local inhabitants, transient populations, legal and illegal economic infrastructures, geographic constraints and existing spatial forms. With this new proposed morphology I hope to present the CI conditions in the urban design scale and test the highly sensitive spatial form as a tool for partial autonomy.

[1] Deleuze, G. (2004). Desert islands and other texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e.

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