Ahmed Timol was an anti-apartheid activist whose death became a political issue in 2018 and culminated in a court case that eventually proved that Ahmed Timol did not commit suicide. He was murdered. The notorious John Vorster Square at the time of Apartheid was the police headquarters that also housed the Special Branch. The Special Branch committed heinous human right violation on anti-apartheid activists in the very building that imaged the South African Police Service as the protector of human rights. The Special Branch were, in many ways, above the law. The intriguing thing for me is how buildings like John Vorster Square was actually designed to ensure that human right violations can be administered. Can you imagine the architects who designed the building keeping the end on mind. The end in mind was torture within the confines of a building that went on unsuspected. A stroke of genius design meant for destruction of body, mind and soul to solicit false confessions is still a career option.
Buildings that are designed for human right abuses, violations and for the destruction of body, mind and soul are actually works of sadistic art cloaked in shrouds of fairness and justice. It is crowned with the diadem almost like a halo effect of the omniscient presence of the protection of human rights whilst it is not in true depth. This facade impresses the world only because, we cannot discern appearance from reality. It was my reading of Yusuf Patel’s research article that got me thinking deeply on how the relationship between torture and detention centres are directly proportional. It translates that if the agency for example, the FBI or the CIA want maximum mental and physical discomfort for the detainees, the actual building to achieve that must provide the maximum discomfort and have the potential to instil great fear. If this is not achieved then the building becomes an extension of a safe environment where the avenues to justice are accessible and easily available. It is the design that would allow for human right violation to be practiced within such confines that would go unnoticed, unobserved and undocumented. Just as how a school is designed to embellish learning, detention facilities are designed to maximise human right violation.
A cell in Guantanamo Bay. The design is likened to a cage for animals. The conditions support leverage of psychosis! And we say we are human!
Human right violation is key to the establishment of detention facilities that are aimed to continue an apartheid system or to leverage oppression to maintain a status quo of subversive domination. Yusuf Patel, an architect and a graduate of University of Johannesburg cites in his research piece, Complicit Architecture: The Role of Architecture in Torture and Death in Detention during the Apartheid Era, that the role of architects were instrumental in designing buildings that were complicit in achieving the sinister objectives of an oppressive regime namely, Apartheid. He illustrates through the detention of Ahmed Timol how complicit architecture when deconstructed actually proves that Ahmed Timol was murdered and how, John Vorster Square in its design could cover up all horror of torture. The reality of John Vorster Square having a tenth floor which is not accessible by lift but only a staircase illustrates secrecy and malicious intent. Furthermore, with the tenth floor so close to the adjacent M1 South Freeway noise is muffled thereby making the victim more hopeless because his/her cries would never be heard. In the face of things John Vorster Square has a presence of awe as it images a stately police force but, the deception is unnoticed from the outside.
Complicit Architecture – the appearance vs reality.
The theme of appearance and reality is the cornerstone of complicit architecture in my opinion only because the masses must be convinced that the best interests of humanity are secured. This security is embellished by the public opening ceremonies of these buildings that overlay the hidden motives and agendas. One can only imagine the impact the opening ceremony of John Vorster Square on the minds of the South Africans at the time and how today, despite the democracy the veils of secrecy and complicity to evading the truth still prevails. Therefore, in the complicit architecture the worldview and mindset of those who must operate within the structures must be indoctrinated so that there is compliance to an agency’s vision and mission of leveraging hit-squads, detention without trial, torture and crimes against humanity.
Deception is key to creating the perfect facade. Yusuf Patel quotes the following to define what agency is:
Agency can be defined as a state of acting or exerting power, or the capacity and condition of which a person or thing is exerted; through which an end is achieved.(Krupansky:2017)
This definition when stretched to limits gives the feeling of anthropomorphism to the buildings. In essence anthropomorphism is the attribution of human behaviours, emotions and characteristics to inanimate objects and deifying it to a large extent. Guantanamo Bay and John Vorster Square for example gives off the persona of a demonic, draconian overlord who controls the place. The ‘place’ is the medium for the agency to exude its dominance and overarching influence. Schools in many ways too exude a kind of anthropomorphism too. The difference however, is that the school should develop children to be benefactors of humanity and who are able foster the values of predator capitalism, communism or democracy. The objective of education is achieved through the architecture of schools which for instance would classify the type of chairs, tables, toilet plans, playgrounds, libraries and actual brick as examples to make the ‘place’ conducive to a holistic, healthy learning and teaching environment. Detention facilities on the other hand, are designed to the minutest detail to ensure that everything for the inmate is uncomfortable, dreary, painful, oppressive and distasteful in appliance and in reality. The point made therefore is that for as long as detention facilities are built with the deliberate intention to torture, kill, assassinate, murder, oppress and negatively alter personalities of human beings, there will never be a reason for restorative justice. Architecture then becomes an agency too that becomes the tool in hands of in power.
Architecture, by its nature, is both a temporal and spatial feature. Architecture does not define the way things work and how people perform but has the ability to be reinterpreted, which in turn suggests ways in which things or people can work.(Doucet & Cupers 2009:6)
Apartheid South Africa’s iconic architecture that was complicit to human right violation was Robben Island. It was the home of many political prisoners from colonial times and is remembered through the 27 years of the late Mr Mandela’s incarceration. In fact it was the first detention facilities for Muslims who resisted oppression in Indonesia. What the architecture reveals is the oppressive mindset of the agency that wanted to keep political prisoners isolated from society so much so that external human contact was impossible. The island presents itself as a beautiful holiday retreat but, it was never thought of in that light from inception. Therefore, it is evidently clear that human right violation is a well thought out process from physical location on the world map to sleeping arrangements. In another part of the world, Hitler was perfecting his crimes against humanity and it became known as the holocaust but, in various parts of the world too, crimes against humanity continued unabated in prisons and detention camps designed for destruction of the human spirit and soul.
Robben Island never taken as a holiday destination. Human right violation is a well thought out process from physical location on the world map to eating & sleeping arragments.
When you study photographs of how Robben Island lent itself to dehumanise people it is clear that architecture is complicit with a good degree of sadistic motives. The real picture taken of political prisoners doing labour in strict formation is testimony to the fact that behind the architectural plans is the meta-plans of planned psychosis that must take place. A broken and psychotic man/woman is unlikely to rise from the ashes again to resist oppression with the same vigour and virtue. It will be tainted by a degree of vengeance however, Mr Mandela was one of a kind that chose peace.
Inside Robben Island. Political prisoners working. Planned psychosis.
Hitler’s agency was communism and the holocaust speaks its rage and horror which was carried out in Auschwitz. The violation of human rights was the cornerstone in the design elements that had to be considered to achieve the objective of extermination of Jews. Consider this real top view plan of Auschwitz and learn for yourself how architecture is complicit in the planned extermination of a people.
Auschwitz became one of the camps used for the mass extermination of Jews. In summer 1941, Heinrich Himmler gave orders to Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höß to build a centre at Auschwitz for the mass murder of Jews. In September 1941, the lethal effects of Zyklon B – a substance normally used for pest control – were first tested and verified there. Later, four large gas chambers were built at Birkenau, capable of killing up to six thousand people each day. The gas chambers were disguised as showers, meant to persuade the victims that these were disinfection measures which they had to undergo before they were sent to work in the camp.https://www.holocaust.cz/en/history/concentration-camps-and-ghettos/auschwitz/
Extermination of people is never by accident but by design of fear. Fear is designed into buildings too which deepens the essence draconian power control such that the courts of justice fall short in its glorious objective. Currently we have Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani PhD. holder having 144 Honorary Degrees and Certificates in Neurology, from different Institutes of the World imprisoned with men in the USA who has never been given a fair trial in the courts of justice that have beautiful architectural features. This irony screams out how the agency of power over justice prefers human right violation over the protection of human rights. Again the appearance and reality is brought to the fore. This time, it appears to me that more amazing, outlandish, awe inspiring buildings will house courts of justice but, the end result is still injustice served on a golden platter of half-truths, lies, deceit, trumped up phobias and orchestrated atrocities. In doing so society at large is more confused and suffer a new holocaust where you die every day through the poisonous gas of propaganda, fake news and the protection of human right through the agency of war.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s disappearance from 2003 to 2008 is still a mystery today. She was never charged with any terrorism offenses in US courts and her association or link to al-Qaeda has never been established in a court of law.
The violation of human rights is now complicit in courts of justice and that is the irony of the millennia. Yusuf Patel introduced me to how architecture was complicit in achieving the ends of Apartheid’s vision of instilling fear through its detention facilities and; the current detention of Dr.Aafia Siddiqui intoxicates me like a holocaust victim because courts of justice today, are only fancy impressions of justice that cannot live up to its glorious mandate. Like how the innocent Jews were lured into showers only to find themselves gassed to death, courts of justice too lure victims into a snare of injustice which opens the door of complicit architecture of rape, murder, torture, crime, punishment and utter human right violation.
For the discerning reader: Please read the full article by Yusuf Patel attached below.
Krupansky, J. 2017. Intelligent Entities: Principals, Agents, and Assistants
Doucet, I & Cupers, K. 2009. Agency in Architecture: Rethinking Criticality in Theory and Practice. 1-6