11 June 2024

The Working Man’s Grand Tour

University of New Mexico and 
The Bartlett School of Architecture

Respondent: Jessica Kelly, London Metropolitan University

Butlin’s in Benidorm, film photo by Sarah Aziz, 2019

This dissertation studies and draws holiday camp impresario Billy Butlin’s designs between 1931 and 1968 to reveal their enduring impacts on class, culture, and race. Initially with British military support, Butlin designed unremarkable buildings with remarkable interiors simulating foreign environments that became themed Imperial playgrounds and helped establish ethnonationalism in England. With modest budgets and no architectural training, he blended exoticized images and technologies of ‘elsewhere’ with an Anglocentric aesthetic, creating enclosed commercial worlds that trained the holiday-goer in white sociality and empire, and demonstrated that culture is no longer rooted in place.
Butlin’s paramountcy over leisure and design is irrefutable, yet no existing studies explore how his buildings fomented myths around global intercultural relations. Through archival research, site visits, and drawing, this thesis illustrates the spatial mechanisms of simulation and politicized tourism by tracing the genealogies and contexts of his camps’ architectural apparatuses. It highlights how architecture plays into the politics of nostalgia, flattening cultures and distorting diasporic identities to accentuate alterity and national pride. These subjects are of the utmost importance as Trumpism, Xiism, Zionism, Modiism, Putinism, and Brextism usher in new waves of ethnic succession, geopolitical tensions, and violence under the guise of reviving lost golden ages.


Landscapes of Migration.
The ‘men for coal’ agreement, mining settlements, and ecology among the Italian workers of Limburg, Belgium

ETH Zurich LUS

Respondent: Maxwell Smith-Holmes, Princeton

Italian miners on the construction site of the Centro Cattolico Italiano in Waterschei, Circa 1961. Source: KADOC

In May 1962 a new church and civic centre, named Centro Cattolico Italiano (Italian Catholic Centre) was inaugurated at the edge of the mining town of Waterschei, in the Belgian region of Limburg. With the ‘Men for Coal agreement’ (1946), the Italian government supported the mass migration of its workers in exchange for Belgian coal.
However, following the coal crisis of 1959, the planning and construction of such civic and religious centres manifested a shift in the disciplining practices of Belgian state, Italian state, and church. To assert their control over the region’s so-called ‘foreign miners, authorities begun to rely on a system of local social organizations that managed social and urban development projects. However, the construction of these religious centres, also relied extensively on the voluntary actions of the miners themselves. In this contribution, I shift the attention to the perspective offered by oral histories and inhabitants’ personal archives to create an understanding of the quest expressed by the group of Belgian-Italian miners who volunteered in the construction of the Centro Cattolico. I argue that, as a reaction to the supervision structures imposed by the complicity of religious and state authorities, their shared practical knowledge and collaboration should be considered as equally important in the shaping of these mining landscapes.

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