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Sarajevo : Snafu

Part 2 Project 2009
Joe Harris
Birmingham City University, UK
In a crisis, normality and humanity are retained through invention. In a city enveloped by violence, where cigarettes are the currency and information is power, who would expect the humble Birch tree to be the key to survival and normal life? Welcome to Sarajevo : Situation Normal All Fouled Up.
This project tackles the question of the architect in a war-torn city, and learns lessons from this situation that can be applied to peace times. Gratuitous shape making is not welcome or feasible here, waste is an enemy – a new system of values has appeared. Paper money is worthless but paper is priceless, through the making of paper, information and propaganda can be spread across the city, cigarettes can be made and ideas drawn.

The birch is the perfect tree to supply the war-torn city. It has been used inventively for millennia. The sap can be drunk, and made into a tasty beer; the bark is flexible and leather-like and can be used to make all kinds of objects and even set broken bones. The birch is a hardwood – it’s flesh is perfect for papermaking, and when it’s ash is mixed with baking soda it forms lye – an alkaline solution ideal for purifying the paper pulp.

Sarajevo : Snafu is a project made up of a series of small buildings; each relating to invention, survival and the preservation of normality in the war-torn city. A Birch tree processing plant, fracture clinic, paper + cigarette factories (mint), coffee shop (bank) and a chain of small cinema projection units. These elements are linked across the city by Sarajevo’s sewer system. Each can be transformed if under attack and can be sacrificed for the good of the others or packed up and moved. They are lightweight, parasitic structures made from found objects and pieces of salvaged buildings.

Joe Harris

Joe’s atmospheric project is a very refreshing one, not a large “designer ego” project or one inspired by “starchitects” but an understated series of interventions made from ready-made and found objects which are focused on improving people’s lives in the setting of his project, war-torn Sarajevo in 1992.

Despite the supposed limitations of a project such as this in terms of scope, scale, form, and materiality, Joe has designed a series of “beautifully” crafted interventions which are, in their own way, contextual, functional, spatial, and even sustainable. The sense of tectonics, daily life, and destruction over time are particularly impressive.

The project was extensively researched and was accompanied by a multitude of ‘test -pieces’ such as a book with its centre cut out to hide and distribute cigarettes (the new currency) from. A remote controlled pop up film projector, a water harvester doubling up as a counter weight, a detailed fly-through animation, and Joe’s own version of Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” entitled “Invincible Cities” were also on display to fully set the scene.

The project is first and foremost, socially aware rather than self promoting, perhaps the perfect project for both Sarajevo in 1992 and the UK in 2009.

Mr Kevin W Singh
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