Sol y Sombra : designing for migration
the frontier, the journey, the arrival: investigating the shadows
research led by Alejandro Haiek and Xenia Adjoubei
with the support of Umea University, Sweden, and The Global Free Unit
in partnership with Universidad de la Costa and Santo Tomas University, Colombia

This research project develops approaches to be deployed for the support and development of civil society and for democratisation in contexts of economic and political change. The focus of our current investigation is the Venezuelan migration crisis in Colombia. We are analysing complex contexts of political upheaval, loss of the value of human life, loss of political and economic agency and geographical displacement which affects Venezuelans and Colombian returnees.
This first phase of research will generate proposals for systems, networks and infrastructure, which embody the juxtaposition of collective will to privileged power, inclusivity to opaqueness, shadow to formal conditions.

Our aim is to design systems which can aid the crisis on many scales, from the geopolitical to the cultural, and down to small-scale architectural interventions. We base our proposals on local specificity of resources, materials, skills, ecosystems, territories of human inclusion or exclusion, taking into account the re-use of defunct infrastructures and the invention of new ones, while making use of emerging technologies and co-design principles. We research and investigate the layers of shadow policy, oblique geopolitical decisions and corrupt agendas, which form a parallel context to our spatial proposals.

This resource describes phase 01 of our research, carried out with an international team of researchers and supporters.
4.8 million Venezuelans have been forced to leave their country (figures from Feb 2020) and 4.3 million rely on frontier economies, which amounts to 30% of the country's population, yet the crisis is greatly under researched and underfunded. We analysed the complex context of economic migration, political upheaval, devaluation of human life and loss of agency for over 2 million geographically displaced Venezuelan refugees and Colombian returnees in Colombia, and millions of economic migrants living in the border regions between the two countries. Our research aims to shed light on shadow value systems, shadow labour and life economies, which have not been presented in relation to each other before, and data which we have mapped spatially and in relation to the natural environment.
model of shadow networks mapped onto extruded frontier and journey topographies
shadow contexts
we search for potentialities, alternative networks, opportunities to elevate voices, parallel financial and legal frameworks of support. Using these, we aim to generate independent supportive structures for citizens of embattled cities and displaced communities, to built institutions and support networks for the preservation of civil and cultural values.

the frontier, the journey, the arrival city
Our methodology was to map the shadow phenomena we identified onto three conditions, which we consider fundamental: the frontier; in this case of Venezuela and Colombia; the 'journey' from Venezuela to other countries in Latin America; and the 'arrival city'; the daily life of a migrant in Barranquilla, as example.

1. the frontier
The Frontier Analysis looks at a number of situations encountered on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, which are essential to evaluate the needs and aspirations of refugees. Informal crossings, shadow economies and alternative currencies play an important role in the investigation, as well as support networks and NGO intervention.
inhabiting the frontier

The frontier we have explored is the largest 'living' border on the planet. People, currencies, animals, resources flow through it almost freely, have always done so, and will continue to do so, thanks to its geographical and environmental conditions. Variable levels of topography and continuity of the landscape, bodies of water, like rivers, infrastructures elements such as bridges or roads unite the territories of the two countries.
These sections abstract reality, the contrast of colours create visual accents. Just like separating the nations is an abstraction, which accentuates our sense of difference.

These crossing points shown here show that, no matter how much you want to separate two territories, we then need to find a way to unite them again, either formally or informally. It is also important to begin to see the frontier as a point of cultural, economic, and social exchange, among other things; instead of seeing the frontier as a forbidden passage. Through this, we will find ways to inhabit the frontier.
Over several generations we have been able to transform our problems into opportunities, and that is the power of architecture. The best works are collective, not individual … We are part of society and have social responsibility; the environmental, economic, justice issues we are facing - are our problems, and we must understand how to connect them with our knowledge, as architects
Jorge Pérez Jaramillo, Invited Expert Sol y Sombra research, Senior Consultant to the World Bank on Architecture and Urban Planning, Resident at Bellagio Center, Rockefeller 2019, Dean of Architecture at Santo Tomas University, Medellin 2018-19. Visiting Fellow King's College, Cambridge, UK, 2017. Director of the Administrative Department of Planning DAP Medellin, 2012-15, Deputy Director of Metropolitan Area Planning of the Aburrá Valley 2004-08.
2. the journey
The Journey Analysis looks at three different routes and modes of transportation, from walking to public transport. We show how each journey passes through specific geographical and environmental circumstances, economic shocks, physical and emotional hardships. Each journey runs through Colombia, in the hope to reach a destination there or continue to South or Central America.

We have mapped typical journeys on precise section drawings which show distances, heights and the natural environment; such as topography, weather ecosystems. This reveals interrelations, which were not previously apparent, and opportunities for the improvement of refugees' / migrants' wellbeing.
journey 1 Maracaibo - Barranquilla
"Before the pandemic, I knew a man who had a large Caprice and he came to pick me up from my house at 5am (I live near the Sambil shopping centre). There were 5 places for 5 people to travel via Maicao to La Raya. That ticket cost about $20- $30. Last year I did not have a passport, so I went that way to Colombia, I would normally enter calmly walking. In fact the guards, the Colombian military, welcome you, very friendly. From there you could get another bus to Maicao.

Via La Raya to Maicao, when you pass La Raya there is a UNHCR post. Large tents, I think with a capacity of 800 - 1000, they provide shelter and food.
When You arrive in Maicao, you change your dollars to Colombian pesos, then you take a bus to Barranquilla that cost 90 000 pesos before the pandemic, (about $30).

You pass through Riohacha, Santa Marta, on the journey you see Tayrona National Park, it is very beautiful, it has beaches, rivers and mountains...
... there are some very beautiful beaches on the right hand side, mountains on the left and the river, you see the entire Colombian coast unfold before you and then you arrive in Santa Marta.
From Santa Marta you go to Barranquilla."
journey 2 Maracaibo - Barranquilla
She goes through a variety of ecosystems: arid desert, mountain rainforest, Caribbean coastal zones, rivers and streams, manglar forest and estuaries...
Things carried: water, clothes, computer for working, books, food (bread), fear charging through her mind.
Transportation: by a secure van from Maracaibo to Paraguachon, and a different secure van from Paraguachon to Maicao. Journey cost US$60 in July, 2018.
The other way is to travel by car with particular license plates, which will never be stopped on the roadway by police or military.
The most calm and clear day to travel is Sunday. Recommended by drivers. You cross the bridge walking.
At the frontier there are a lot of informal merchants in the middle of the road, people trading Bolivares for Pesos or Dollars. Both Venezuelan and Colombian immigration offices were by the road.
There is not to much military, and they are calm.
At Maicao, the US$60 route from Maracaibo ends, so you have to go your own way. She takes a bus from Maicao to Barranquilla.
phenomenological section of journey from Barquisimeto to Barranquilla
interview with A
Q. What do Venezuelans bring to the journey
If they can, they carry a pair of sport shoes, some cloths (not much), food (like: Arepa, bread, Junk food). I talked to some people who mentioned they had brought only what they needed to do a trade like street vendor or street performing.
I particularly carried a lot of papers (degrees, grades, diplomas) and clothing for cold and hot wether, but my travel conditions where clearly more controlled.

It is heavier to carry Bolivar cash than objects of value. For instance making handbags out of Bolivars is worth more than the Bolivars used as cash.

Q. What did you need to buy / sell to make the journey possible?
I have seen on SM: hair, cloths, tools, nud-packs, food. I traded a bike for a phone and then traded for money. I was given my ticket as a gift. I invested approximately a year in getting my passport renewed.

For Venezuelans it can cost US$ 400-1000 to have a passport made on the black market.

Q. What are the main economic activities along the journey?
From the people I have talked to, I gathered they had stopped over in different towns and cities along the journey, and there they worked as street sellers, some as street singers, some selling food in the street. I noticed on SM some people where making crafts with paper money (bolivares).

Posting things for sale online before traveling: Then when they find someone to buy it in a particular city they travel to that city and make the sale so they can have cash right away. The further in Colombia they go, the more money they can sell it for.

Q. What is the difference for someone with ID and someone without ID?
If you have an ID you can cross using the border migration office which allows you to start the process of getting a residency, afterwards and with those papers you can have access to formal jobs. If you don´t ... you have to cross illegally and getting access to residency papers is harder without an stamped passport and therefore jobs.

Q. Do Venezuelans carry Dollars or Bolivars for the journey?
I read about people exchange money at the border. Carrying bolivares is impractical, it have to be packs and packs of bills for a few dollars. They price is sometimes set by the type of bills you exchange (a $100 note is easier to carry and conceal that 100 $1 notes) so some people charge for that. It is very frequent to get robbed when you are heading out.
"This was the last thing my father gave me before I left, a large pack of bolivars to buy a chocolate I never had time to buy"

artist: Ana Mosquera Duran
Money, 2019, mixed media, Venezuelan Bolivares

mapping of the journey of a caminante from Barquisimeto to Barranquilla. SECTION at 1:1,000,000 at A0
As we walked we cried, laughed and contemplated the breathtaking landscape. Sometimes stopping to drink tinto with people who wanted to help us, sometimes to share a loaf of bread or a smile with a shepherd.
Ms M. Caminante, Guacara - Medellin
mapping migrants' journeys, caminante walking from Maracaibo to Barranquilla. SECTION 1:1,000,000 on A0
M's account, a walker / caminante
There were days which I felt my bones will break from the cold, that my skin would burst open from the heat, and that my body would not take any more hunger, but I had to keep walking, no matter how lonely or scared I was
"It was not easy to take the decision to leave.It was not easy to walk to Medellin either. I started to walk on the 7th of June of 2018 from my hometown Guacara, a small city near Valencia in Venezuela.
I will never forget the scorching asphalt burning its way through my shoes soles, nor will I forget the truck driver who eventually picked me up from the highway and drove me to San Carlos, where I spent my first night away from home. I left San Carlos on the 8th of June at 5 am, as I walked by the side of the highway I encountered many people, some of whom I already knew. We started walking together, forming a group, we felt that at least together we could hold strength and faith.

Most days we walked an average of 16 hours a day, from 5 am to 11 pm, only stopping occasionally to rest from the merciless heat of the central plains. Nights were short and went fast, as we took turns to sleep and watch. After a while I lost track of time, I did not know what day it was, it seem as if all that existed was this highway.

On this journey many people approached us, some gave us water or blessings, others just encouraged us to keep on. But, many drove by and laughed, shouting that we would never make it, that we would probably die. There were moments of weakness in which I thought of going back, I was constantly filled with anger and pain. Why was I the one who had to leave, because a few people in power had stolen everything from us; I was so resentful that I had been pushed to leave my life behind.

It took over two weeks to walk to the border city of San Antonio, we got there at around 4 pm. When we arrived we headed to the town square, where many more travelers were gathered. We embraced each other in joy, on single group hug, we had made it this far because we were together and held faith in eachother, we shared a unique bond made of hope. I kneeled down and kissed the pavement, as if to make sure I was really there; one of our companions fainted but we held her in our arms and hug her, until she recovered. We slept in the square that night, taking turns to watch over each other, very much aware that we were only half way there, we still had to cross over.

We crossed the border through the bridge, as we had border IDs, a special ID residents at the border use to travel back and forward. At the bridge we were stopped by a Colombian officer who asked us where were we going. We told her we were there to do some shopping, but before we wanted a take to shower and clean up. Perhaps, she did not really believed us, but she was kind, and led us to a house nearby where we were able to bathe for the first time in many days.

The owner of the house was Mrs R, a plump and merry woman on her 60s who seemed to fill everything with joy, she just had this way of making us feel home. Her house was modest, but its warmth was immense.
She invited us to stay, so we could rest from our journey, she could see that we were worn out and knew what was ahead of us. I phantomly moved around the living room, looking for a place to sit, there were 10 of us of there, 2 of whom were children. An hour later, Mrs R. She served them of course the Colombian way, with beans, rice and a cup of coffee. She served each one of us with the same care I had once served my own children, I broke into tears but Mrs R assured me that after I rested I would regain my strength, that the next day would be a new day.

The following morning we left for Pamplona, a small city enclaved at 8,500 ft in the Colombian Andes. We knew this will be the hardest part of the walk, that it would be cold and we were hardly prepared for this merciless weather. As we walked we cried, laughed and contemplated the breathtaking landscape. Sometimes stopping to drink tinto (coffee) with people who wanted to help us, sometimes to share a loaf of bread or a smile with a shepherd.

We kept walking because we had to keep walking, so we could help the people we had left behind, so we could hope for a future. Among us there was no social condition or selfishness, we were all for one as we walked. When finally made it to Pamplona we could not believe it, we jumped with joy despite that our legs were barely responding. Near town a truck stopped and gave us lift to a farm nearby, where a man called Yoander allowed us to stay and take a shower.

That night we were cold, so cold that I thought we were going to die, that my body would not resist this, so we held hands and pray. A group member, called Casadiego, smiled at each one of us, and said that we needed to remember that we would not be on this journey if we were not fit to finish it, we would make it, and if one of us felt there would be nine of us to lift them.

We were so exhausted as we started to walk towards Berlin, a dense mist covered everything, so thick that we could barely see each other. We started singing to keep our spirits up, we hugged and jugged to keep warm, we were lucky to have been pick up by a truck halfway to Berlin. We all made it to our destinations after Berlin, I arrived in Medellin where I have been living since but I want to move to Buenos Aires, and I think I will walk there. "
2. the arrival city
Barranquilla is an historic port which recently experienced an economic boom. Economic buoyancy, border proximity, proximity to Caminantes routes and cultural similarities make it an attractive destination for Venezuelan and returnee Colombian migrants.

The Arrival City Analysis shows examples of the daily routines and quality of life of a range of migrants, from the most vulnerable to more stable income groups, who are living in informal settlements on the periphery of bustling and fast developing Barranquilla, who's communities have welcomed an extra 7% of the cities population over the past five years. We show living conditions, labour economies and political and ecological frameworks into which migrants are able to integrate to varying degrees, starting to build a new cultural and economic context in the city.
Barranquilla has been an arrival city for hundreds of years, welcoming newcomers from Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean and now many fleeing from the political and economic collapse of their home country, Venezuela.
Barranquilla is a beautiful city, with a rich architectural heritage, unique ecology and rich natural beauty. It lies on the Caribbean coast at the estuary of the Magdalena River which crosses the whole of Colombia, which made it an important water high-way (and perhaps will still in the future). Barranquilla was once the most important city-port in Colombia, a gateway to South America on the Caribbean Sea.

It follows in the footsteps of many port cities, which lost their key status due to innovations, technical shifts and the rise of air-freight. However, once a port, always a port. Barranquilla's multi-ethnicity is strongly felt in traditions and cuisine, its cultural heritage is inextricably linked to the sea, and the names of people and places remind us that it is a place where migrants move from rags to riches to occupy all echelons of society. Barranquilla is arrival city par-excellance.
Barranquilla arrival city
We concentrate our analysis on three districts (barrios) which have some of the highest populations on Venezuelan migrants and Colombian returnees.
All three barrios fall between the natural and jurisdictional limits of Barranquilla city.

1. La Playa
a neighbourhood on the Caribbean coast and adjacent to the Cienaga Mallorquin, which is a mangrove wetland and a rich ecological resource currently attracting much political and economic interest for redevelopment.

2. Las Flores
a neighbourhood occupying a piece of land between river and sea between the Magdalena River and the Cienaga Mallorquin.

3. El Ferry
a neighbourhood on the south periphery of Barranquilla, which used to host a ferry, now turned high-tech bridge, which towers above the neighbourhood and is a symbol of Barranquilla's success as economic and logistical centre for the region..
La Playa: Complex Resilience

We have analysed interrelations between contexts which form complex systems. We take great care to analyse the environmental context: ecology, pollution, rising sea levels, drought, access to natural resources and water, access to waste as a building material, the adverse and positive effects which informal settlements are having on the environment.
The site neighbours the unique and protected Mallorquin swampland. Apart from being a natural resource and an ecological treasure, the Ciénaga de Mallorquin is attracting political and economic interest. How will the interrelation between the natural environment, local politics, economic opportunity and hazardous informal settlements interrelate in the future? To understand this, a cartography of the inter-dependence of contexts is necessary.

These drawings map interrelations between the natural context and informal living conditions in order to reveal potential pressure points for change.
life in La Playa
Las Flores : aspiration and opportunity

Migration is a constant condition which alters in character and intensity. The Venezuelan migration currently being supported by Colombia and neighbouring countries will bring change and opportunity to the arrival and host communities; including cultural diversity, economic growth, innovation and the generation of new cultural identities. The approach to migration in government policy, through generosity and neighbourly support, reflects a unique openness and future-oriented thinking. Displacement can be seen as opportunity and should be considered in the contexts of the extended present of the next twenty years.

We are dealing with serious problems, however, such as increasing xenophobia, cut-throat competition for jobs, which lead to dangerous, unregulated labour economies.
What opportunities can we reveal in understanding the contexts of this migration?
What is the right way to support integration and celebration of diversity?
What opportunities will it offer up in the future, for Venezuela, Colombia and the rest of South America?
life in Las Flores
El Ferry: daily problems become apparent

  • Barranquilla has 1.2 million population and 7% Venezuelan and Colombian returnee migrants (73,000 official figures, 84,000 local NGO estimates, figs. Feb 2020)
  • Majority living in informal or mixed formal/informal settlements through 18 neighbourhoods, from 4000 inhabitants in Villa Caracas (largest informal settlement of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia) to smaller high-density settlements: El Ferry and Las Flores.
  • Inadequate living conditions for new arrivals (no access to running water, gas, limited electricity) due to huge influx post 2018.
  • Competitive economic environment and lack of social integration make social and economic mobility slow. It takes roughly 1.5 - 2 years for a new arrivals to progress from the lowest accommodation class (a dirt-floor room in a communal shack per family) to a shared house with utilities.
  • Social services (education and healthcare) very limited or unavailable, due to oversubscription and widespread discrimination.
  • Migrant and host commutes not contributing to economy efficiently as incomes are from informal economies
  • Youth at high risk of crime and nigh-time economies such as sex work, due to lack of access to education and opportunities
  • Irregularity of legal status, inability to formalise education / qualifications, leading to low or no access to formal labour markets
  • Lack of information on rights, formalisation of legal status, fear and mistrust of authorities leading to limits to integration
life in El Ferry
what's next? why this research is important

A lack of data about Venezuelan migrant and host communities, partly due to the temporal nature of the migration and the scale of the problem, means that government integration and international aid programmes are not as efficient as they could be. To target the crisis in a more systematic and sustainable way, we need more accurate data about individuals' backgrounds, levels of education, previous work experience, age, gender, physical ability etc. which should be mapped according to location and community.
Without an accurate profile, it is difficult to design services distribution programmes, target dangerous informal economies and ensure access to formal labour and education, which is so urgent. Youth are at especially high risk of crime and nigh-time economies such as sex work, due to lack of access to education and opportunities. Irregularity of legal status and inability to formalise education / qualifications, lead to low or no access to formal labour markets. Lack of information on rights means mistrust of authorities and formalisation programmes. In relation to the current pandemic, polarity of access to online resources leads to disproportionately low digital literacy and access to information which can result in widespread fear and irrational decisions.
Xenophobia towards Venezuelan migrants and Colombian returnees is increasing and is exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Violence and social tensions will only rise as Colombia enters a post-pandemic recession.

This research is urgent and will allow us to understand this crisis in some of its complexity by mapping it spatially and in relation to potentialities and clean natural resources, both on a small and a large scale. The next step is to start to propose, design and build infrastructures (digital and physical) to support migrant and host communities, alleviate social tensions and facilitate formalisation, across the frontier regions, journeys and arrival cities.


project leaders
research leader
Architect. Studio Leader at The London School of Architecture and School of Architecture and Design, University of Brighton, UK. Fulbright Visiting Scholar 2020-2021 at the Pratt Institute, New York City. Co-founder of AdjoubeiScott-Whitby Studio, co-founder, the Global Free Unit, leader of Nikola-Lenivets Classroom, rural innovation think tank in Russia. Former Studio and Module Leader at Moscow School of Architecture, Moscow. Researcher on Wellbeing in Displaced Communities Equip project at the University of Brighton.

Area of expertise: architecture projects in culture, public realm and education. Research and curatorial projects on: Art as Labour: physical labour and craft in a post-work future; Degrowth: povera architecture; The New Rural: designing a contemporary village.
research leader
Architect. Studio Leader at Umeå School of Architecture, Sweden. Invited professor at the Master of International Cooperation Sustainable Emergency Architecture Erasmus program at Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Spain and Grenoble University, France. Invited artist at Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan and Liga space for Architecture supported by Graham Foundation. Artist in residence at Monash University in Australia and Auckland University in New Zealand, participant at Mextrópoli 2018 Festival Internacional de Arquitectura y Ciudad, Mexico. Architecture Fellow at the Civitella Foundation, Italy.

Area of expertise: Civic infrastructures and social reengineering. Receiving honours in Architectural Design, Master of Sciences, at the Central University of Venezuela, his research examines the relations between public landscapes, post-industrial ecologies and Network Governance, resulting in projects for social innovation that integrate science, culture and local intelligences.
This research is realised with the support of Umea University, Sweden & The Global Free Unit
In partnership with Universidad de la Costa and Santo Tomas University, Colombia

We would love to hear from you if you would like to join our project as a partner or researcher, or if you are interested in a full report!
invited tutors
Universidad de la Costa, Barranquilla.
Maria Verónica Machado
Universidad Santo Tomas, Medellín
Jenny Paola Sierra Noreña
Universidad Santo Tomas, Medellín
Camilo Garces
assistant, UK / Poland
Julia Wladysiak
Christine Aglot
Maria Monica Cabarcas Granados
Anna Cavicchi
Louise Coomber
Jakob Fagerström
Tobias Löfgren
Marta Lía Martínez Contreras
Pooja Mishra
Sergio Armando Mojica Rodríguez
US / Venezuela
Ana Mosquera Duran
Jonier Arliud Osorio Campo
Meira Alejandra Sandoval Alemán
Ricardo Jose Santafe Galvis
Esteban Andre Sierra Rodriguez
Nellie Stenvall
US / Czech Republic
Kasimir Suter Winter
Verónica Villa Carpentier
Mauricio Andrés Zuñiga Peña
guest experts
Co-Founder n'undo, UNESCO Shelter Chair
Alejandro del Castillo
Visual artist, Professor Universidad de los Andes, Bogota
Santiago Forero
Director KGR Proyectos, Former District Mayor of Barranquilla, Former Vice Minister of Culture, Colombia
Katya Margarita González Rosales
Architect. Director of PEI Universidad Javeriana, Bogota
Carlos Alberto Hernández Correa
Designer, Lecturer Universidad de los Andes, Bogota
Christiaan Job Nieman
Architect, Activist, Head of Global Free Unit, Director at Publica
Robert Mull
Architect, Former Director Instituto de Urbanismo, Central University of Venezuela
Maria Isabel Peña
Senior Consultant to the World Bank, Former Dean Santo Tomas University, Former Head of Planning Dept. Medellin
Jorge Perez Jaramillo
Head of Danish Refugee Council, Northern Colombia
Irene Cabrera Roda
Architect, Founder Enlace Arquitectura / Foundation, Venezuela
Elisa Silva
Lead Consultant British Council Active Citizens Programme
Dan Smith
thank you
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