Children of Stockholm:
resisting the strong hand
"Often it can be a “crisis” that really forces a city to look at itself and say “OK, what do we stand for.”
The 2006 film Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón was set in a future scenario where an infertile world population headed toward extinction. Anxiety at this condition had fuelled anarchy and war which, with in the context of increasing environmental catastrophe, created a massive population of immigrants that fled to Britain where one of the last surviving viable governments remains. In response, Britain evolves into a police state, using the strong hand of the military, containment in refugee camps and legislation of ever suffocating laws, to compensate for the vulnerability sensed by those in power and their desire to maintain control in increasingly unstable conditions.
The film has a poignancy given the “future” was not too far away (2027) and that the dilemmas of society it shows (immigration, environment) are already creating radical behaviours in the governments of Western democracies. Philosopher and film critic Slavoj Žižek suggests that the film portrays the ideological despair of late capitalism, fuelled by the infertility not of the human race but, in the present context, the lack of meaningful historical experience present in the West. Žižek noted that the success of the film was the way in which these profound dilemmas are kept in the background of the film, ever present but never the subject. By keeping these issues in the background, he suggests that they exert greater impact for viewers of the film.
Scandinavia and Sweden in particular provide an interesting context in which to consider these dilemmas. While Scandinavian countries are in many ways world leaders when it comes to social policy and human rights, they also have particular and surprising struggles with immigration compared to some “new world” countries – particularly in the gap between national policy and individual councils, when the presence of immigrants threatens the “normal” patterns which sustain a local culture. Thus we start to find the sensitive nerve in the problem, where the well organised, socially stable Swedish capital meets the chaos and ambiguity brought by a large immigrant population. Questions are raised about how the Swedes address changes (or threats?) to their identity and culture.
In the Children of Men, Britain provided the perfect context, with its history of order and class structure, to pursue the horror for us of a society in disorder. Similarly, Sweden provides an ideal context to pursue questions from a different angle, as the country hosts many paradoxes which raise questions about identity and culture, about the tribe and immigration, about building and also destroying societies.
We must remember that Sweden is both the home of the Nobel Prize while being the 9th largest arms exporter in the world (2nd largest on a per capita basis).
We therefore ask the group to consider the balance between vulnerability and resilience in a place like Stockholm when it is placed under the stress of a rapidly increasing immigrant population. We know how stressful the small pockets of immigrants now resident in the “million project” housing can be for this egalitarian society. What happens when 100,000 immigrants flood the city?
The studio work commenced with a vigorous investigation into the myriad of issues surrounding Stockholm's urban structure, housing provision, refugee policy and conditions and the current suburbs with high numbers of immigrants. These explorations generated an enormous amount of material that formed a “knowledge wall” – likened to a “crime scene analysis” by other guest tutors.
The group "Children of Stockholm": Gerard Reinmuth, Ivar Suneson, Anna Ström, Christoph Duckart, Katla Marindottir, Sara Brolund de Carvalho & Emma Fitzpatrick.
Text by Gerard Reinmuth.
About the workshop leader:Gerard Reinmuth – is one of the founding Directors of TERROIR and the Professor of Practice at the University of Technology, Sydney. Gerard has established a reputation for his insightful design commentary through regular contributions to Australian periodicals (Architecture Review Australia, Architecture Australia, Monument), newspapers and public forums. His role as a public advocate of architectural excellence has been recognized in his selection in numerous juries, exhibitions and guest teaching roles internationally.