MA Studies > Interior design > Interior design alumnus > Pembe Birinci

Pembe Birinci

Buffer Zone and the Walled City of Nicosia

In the process of defining what spatial effects of conflict are, it is very difficult to merely hold on to the generic effects of conflict in the very unique situation of Buffer Zone in the Walled City of Nicosia-Cyprus where screams for intervention in many different aspects.
Nicosia is the capital and the largest city in Cyprus. The city has been in continuous habitation since the beginning of the Bronze Age 2500 years BC.[1] It became the capital of the island around 965, when Cyprus rejoined the Byzantine Empire and since then it has been the centre of diplomacy and business. The historical walled city constructed by the Venetians in place of the old Lusignan walls ringing the city. They started to build it just before the conquest of Cyprus by the Ottomans in 1567 to be able to defend the city. A famous Venetian engineer, Guillio Savorignano drew the plans for the walls. They were to have a circumference of three miles, 11 bastions, each like a castle, and three gates.
After the control of different civilizations/empires, the island gained independence in 1960, whose constitution was based on the co-operation of the island's two main communities, Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In 1963, during the aftermath of a constitutional crisis, skirmishes broke out between Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. Nicosia was divided into Greek and Turkish Cypriot quarters. The dividing line, which cuts through the city, was named Green line because the pen used by the United Nations officer to draw the line on a city map was green. In 1974, after 11 years of intercommunal violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots the island physically divided and since then it is still divided with 3 physical parts as North, South and Buffer Zone where under control of United Nations since 1964.
The Walled City is the most central point of what constitutes a physical example of the division of an island where most of the aspects of the conflict -political, social, and economical and so forth- have become encapsulated into this very small scaled old city. The division created a distance within the perfect form and geometry of the walled city that so naturally able to interact but so unnaturally and extraordinarily excluded from each other and Buffer Zone has became the centre of spatial issues with its existence and absence where spatial effects of conflict became in different dimension with its desolation.

In March 2008, a wall that for decades had stood at the boundary between parts was demolished. The wall had cut across Ledra Street in the heart of Nicosia and was seen as a strong symbol of the island's 37-year division[2]. On 3 April 2008, Ledra Street was reopened and Buffer Zone situation became more visible in between the borders which make me to question about the existence of this place in the heart of the city. The existence of the secondary walls of the Walled city and invisibility of the place behind these walls. Experiencing this situation in a very close distance, I would like to question How to contribute to the peace process? What is the role of designers in post-conflict situation?  What are the spatial possibilities in Buffer Zone and of border situations? How to deal with the physical division and the invisibility behind it? How to transform this fragmented condition into a mode of interaction?

Regarding all these questions I enlarge my research scale with reference projects, interventions and research projects in order to broaden my understanding. 

Architecture of Peace project is one of the inspiring projects by Archis+AMO+C-LAB+Aop... It is an international long-term research and action project in which a large number of stakeholders are involved. The project consist local case studies, interventions, university research studios, debates, publications and exhibitions about post-conflict and conflict cities. The strong idea behind the project is to question about; How do we materialize peace? How do politics, finance and power, social structuring and empowerment need to balance with design processes? And how does this lead to a stable, safe, clean and inviting environment that facilitates peaceful interaction between groups of people?[3] In the process of broadening my understanding about post-conflict and divided cities and the probable or potential contribution of architecture and design, Architecture of Peace contribute my research on divided, conflict and post-conflict cities in the world and create a motivation with their interventions.

Another comprehensive research and intervention project is Conflict in Cities and The Contested State a collaborative project focuses on divided cities as key sites in territorial conflicts over state and national identities, cultures and borders. The research objectives are to analyse how divided cities in Europe and the Middle East have been shaped by ethnic, religious and national conflicts, and conversely, how such cities can absorb, resist and potentially play a role in transforming the territorial conflicts, which pervade and surround them. The project seeks to understand divided cities as arenas of intensified ethno-national conflicts, particularly with respect to the role that architecture and the urban fabric play as a setting and background for everyday activities and events.[4] The coreresearch programme will focus on Belfast and Jerusalem, two very different cities - one firmly embedded in the 'West' and one central to the Middle East - but both at different stages of national conflicts, so-called 'peace processes' and attempts by states to 'manage' conflicts. In the content of the project  there is an additional analysis into other divided cities, such as Nicosia, Berlin, Beirut, to extend the range of contested cities and instances of progress (or lack of progress) toward resolving them.
At the same time there is a remarkable interdisciplinary artistic intervention project called UNCOVEREDfor the international airport of Nicosia which is abandoned since 1974 and located in the Buffer Zone where under protection (!) of United Nations. The airport project was an attempt to widen the art-based interventions to the peace negotiation process. ‘The airport is a riddle nested within paradoxical questions of protection – Protected. Unprotected. Covered. Uncovered. Protected for whom? Protected from whom?’[5] From my point of view, the critical approach of the project creates such a structure to semtinize the contradictions of the existence of United Nations in different levels and raise awareness of this invisibility and of some spatial issues. Data collection on the site-specific principle is off course another remarkable point of the project which has an enormous contribution to gather issue of control, architecture, commons and memories together which are the main tracks of the curators.

After 40 years of political masturbation on the island, the civil society took a step further with all the anxieties but for peaceful and united island.  Buffer Zone emerged with all its realities-existence and absence- for another intervention on Buffer Zone.Occupy Buffer Zone is an ongoing event and a singular intervention of civil society to point out the importance of the public space to share, to live and to struggle together by creating living space with all its components at the centre of the crosspoint at Buffer Zone and highlight the entailment of collective participation for the solidarity.
Along with the further reference projects and studies I will be able to answer my research questions and together with the analysis I will be able to specify the core problem and develop a program for my design project.   
[2] Ledra Street crossing opens in CyprusAssociated Press article published on International Herald Tribune Website, 3 April 2008