BioJennifer Ferng is Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Sydney. She received her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds professional degrees in design from Princeton and Rice University. Her articles on mandatory detention in the Pacific region have appeared in Architectural Theory Review, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, and the online catalogue for the exhibition “Insecurities: Tracing Shelter and Displacement” displayed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Most recently, she gave an invited paper at the Southeast Asia Architecture Research Collaborative symposium at the National University of Singapore on private detention centres in Lombok, Indonesia.
As part of the SSRC InterAsia fellowship, she will be affiliated as a visiting scholar with the Harvard Asia Center at Harvard University.
Against these migratory flows surrounding the Australian policy of mandatory detention, this project poses a fundamental research question: how can we understand offshore detention centers against the context of humanitarian ethics and the architect’s mandate of building humane shelter, which has now been compromised by border politics? In answering this question, the history of architecture and the built environment can shed light on contemporary political situations in Oceania and southeast Asia, specifically the Pacific Solution and Operation Sovereign Borders. The global detention industrial complex, with its prefabricated buildings, conflicts with the architect’s duties of creating accessible shelter. Such an Inter-Asian history of “states of exception” can demonstrate how offshore processing sites are problematic for humanitarian ethics and offer trenchant commentary about the interventions of Western countries like Australia in the economic and political regimes of poorer countries like Papua New Guinea, Nauru, and Cambodia. Voluntary repatriation schemes made to Afghan refugees and others since 2002 express but one example of Australia’s “right to exclude,” which remains paramount in its socially-constructed conception of governance that holds disturbing consequences for international asylum seekers. Operating as “spaces without law,” offshore processing centers, once considered temporary measures, have become permanent fixtures, overwhelming local communities in Cambodia and Indonesia trying to meet the demands of the Australian government.