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ADS0: Babel; architecture and landscapes in the face of catastrophe

Maees Hadi

Maees Hadi graduated from London Metropolitan University in 2016. She later spent two years working in Architecture as well as completing a certificate of higher education in History of Art in Birkbeck University, where art studies presented ways to discuss the importance of representation and identity which was an already developed interest that she had.  

At the RCA, she studied with ADS8 for her first year, where she developed new ways of researching space and architecture within a wider context of data politics, geopolitical legislations of international waters, territory and social unrest. Which inspired her to research topics for her dissertation that looked at destruction beyond the physical destruction of spaces in war torn countries and political violence as a structural force. This research was later developed with ADS0 for her thesis project which developed a methodology of film making that explores a specific social condition of displacement and migration and a migrant subject´s consciousness through the reconstruction of memories of second hand experiences of warfare and political violence. 






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Degree Details

School of Architecture

ADS0: Babel; architecture and landscapes in the face of catastrophe

My project departs from positioning mainstream narratives of warfare and their overwhelming tendency to deprive of individuality those who suffer it, stockpiling its victims into an anonymous mass of others. The research positions warfare as an interconnected system of power and like all systems of power,  warfare depends on abstraction and erasure for the production of their power;  person-hoods are turned into bodies, bodies into proportionalities, proportionalities into casualties, casualties into numbers, numbers into data.  

To further explore this problem, the project works primordially with the perspective and experience of political violence that belongs to second generation migrants, which is my own, and where second hand affliction from such events become central to personal history and identity. War follows them outside of the temporal and spatial dimensions of the site of impact and infiltrates a normality that is lived. This abstraction is created because of the curated representation that form the mainstream narratives on this topic, where a specific identity is attached to individuals that experience war - a representation that doesn’t show human experience but individuals that one cannot relate to - dehumanising them. This is a powerful representation as it is fed into an existing system of circulationism - where a post produced image circulates virtually and is later consumed in a controlled and temporary way through multiple platforms on our phones. This affects identities and realities where the representations become less about depicting the individual and more about positioning individuals in society.  

The project, which developed into a film composed by seven narratives doesn’t discuss war as we visually know it, but stresses the interconnectedness of warfare and focuses rather on representation that communicates the depth of the impact - by reconstructing spaces and atmospheres from my memories and experiences to communicate a human experience, that probably is not unique and could be shared with the other 1 millions second generation Iraqis that live abroad.  

I hope to develop the research further along a design methodology where film and the narrative capacity of space  can support more an understanding of a complex study of representation, war, political violence and identity.  As the project developed into not only the reconstruction of memories but an introspective critique of my own personal history as a woman, migrant subject and a soon to be architect, the project allows for the possibility of other’s imaginaries and ideas to enter the field of knowledge of such themes.

"NCV=0" - Non - combatant casualty cutoff value.

The reconstructions that compose the body of work are of seven memories and experiences that show a normality, they show a familiar European setting, environments that are relatable and “normal”, but they tell stories about displacement, about sanctions and a war that followed and stayed. These reconstructions are of the history and present of a displaced individual, me, Maees Hadi, they do not aim to reconstruct a physical reality, because I don’t believe I can nor am I interested in doing that but they rather try to show a reality that is not tangible but an experience that is subjective. Subjectivity and human experience in topics of war are often dismissed.These second-hand memories and experiences are reconstructed using found footage, still frames, models and dialog each creating a recontextualization of the experience of violence, which is excavated psychologically through the footage I chose. The design decisions for the architecture, materiality, lighting, images have been carefully considered to construct specific spatial atmospheres and spatial qualities.

These four methods created a methodology that allowed for film making that investigates an experience of political violence where one is physically detached. The use of found footage could show the reality of the abstract experience, where war becomes the dialog, the ringtone, the feelings of guilt and challenges the viewer to listen, feel and question and watch again. Model making allowed for a more composed image and used the spatial knowledge that I have as an architect to communicate an experience through atmospheric qualities in what became an imaginary place.

Although worked through in fragments, the films function as a single, unified body of work where personal history is fragmented in time and space. The different film segments move back and forth, interrupting the linearity and connectedness of time to the reality of these experiences. The film presents different memories that time carries and what is most personal becomes most universal.

The construction of the films was inspired by film makers such as Chris Marker, Maya Deren and Tarkovsky and draws on the dream-like narratives and the experiments with time and space. The “slowness” of everyday in Tarkovsky's films became inspirational to create films that allowed for long silent scenes that simply show life. The slowness of the films became also a critique to the fast paced mainstream imagery of war and its shell-shocked aftermath, a temporary effervescent consumption through media that we are saturated with yet find difficulty to connect to and is easily forgotten.
The Extended Family Over Night

Film Still - 01:30 sec, Sweden,Malmö

The Date

Film Still - 00:20 sec, Sweden,Skurup


Film Still - 01:14 sec, Sweden,Skurup


Film Still - 00:02 sec, Iraq, Baghdad

The Extended Family Over Night - Is a film that explores memories of the struggles that my sister went through as my mother adopted my cousins from Iraq to come and live with us in Sweden, as they had become a constant reminder of what had happened to her favourite aunt.

The Date - Is a film that explores detachment where political violence is lived from a distance. As someone that migrated at a very young age leaving behind family member, the political violence followed and became part of the new normality and reality. This type of violence is slow, and silent and feels as a constant reminder of war in the midst of life in a foreign country through phone calls that you yourself don’t pick up, but your mother does.

Apples - Is a film that tries to communicate that sanctions that are always discussed as strategic things in warfare can be traces as trauma in a disconnected environment. In the film there is an “obsession” with apples in a mundane setting that tries to convey feelings of guilt and the relationship one has with their own family history and present.

War(s) - The film combines three personal histories and explores the depth of the experience of war that becomes part of a person’s history and identity. Where the only connection I have, as the maker of the film to these experiences is through family members that became the intermediary for my imagination.
These memories are combined into one narrative about the experience of the Gulf war, the bombardments during the preparations of dinner, sanctions where neighbours had to dismantle their home to buy food, and an uncle that had to beat his friend up to save him from his own pride.
The HairCut
Is a film that tells a story about a woman in Lebanon, who decides to continue her day and go to her hairdresser appointment even after huge bombardments in the same neighbourhood.

The film is made using a testimony found online and is not experienced by me, and therefore is not reconstructed or narrated the same way as the previous films but its told literally. There is no spatial visualisation but the film is only written dialog to trigger the imagination of the viewer and to put them in the same position as the me, maker of the film.

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