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Migrant atmospheres

Migrant atmospheres

This special issue of Ambiances explores the transfers and creation of atmospheres and materialities caused by migratory movements, and how urban and architectural spaces develop, emerge or are transformed when specific migrant spatial practices intersect with specific hosting environments in the globalised contemporary city.

Studies of urban, spatial and architectural phenomena relating to migration most often consider migrants at the moment of their arrival, at a stage of crisis and urgency. Interest in the dynamics of their longer-term settling and its effect on the atmospheres and materialities of public space, landscape and architecture is less frequent. Likewise, there is considerable scholarship – reflecting the concerns of governing authorities – on issues of cosmopolitanism, living together, (hyper)diversity, and social interaction between local inhabitants and newcomers; but very few studies focus on atmospheres and materialised form as expressions of hybridisation and creolisation, or on the idea that hospitality also occurs through the forms, materialities and atmospheres of spaces. How do built spaces and atmospheres provide affordances to different groups of people with practices and desires based on their different cultural backgrounds?

The editors of this issue are particularly interested in how settling longer-term in a foreign country triggers negotiations, arrangements, compromises, tactics, “bricolage”, appropriations, collective reinterpretations, through which migrant groups participate in transforming local atmospheres and reshaping material configurations and typologies. Though long-term settling is often associated (for example in France) with a discourse of integration, it is clear to us that contemporary migrants are involved, rather than in one-way displacements between a country of departure and a country of arrival, in multi-directional spatial strategies and relations between two, and often more than two, countries. Their trajectories might include prior displacement within their own land, returning to their home territory, long stays in several consecutive countries, or links with their national diaspora in other countries, which make them actors in the complex circulation of cultures. They also form fluctuating and heterogeneous communities on grounds, often combined in subtle ways, of nationality, ethnicity, cast, social status, political allegiance, religion, and geographical origins. Thus they challenge the simple notion of cultures of origin. It is precisely the manifold material and spatial expressions of this web of belongings in urban and architectural space that interest us.

Migrant groups bring spatial models, values and material objects, and adapt them to new contexts. How do these material transfers, be it in collective or domestic space, help to re-create atmospheres that are missed from “over there” and affect atmospheres prevalent in the hosting environment? Inversely, how does the desire to maintain atmospheres from “over there” affect material forms? Also, how do migrants actively create new atmospheres and spatial situations that do not exist “over there” but only “here”, expecting the broader public to perceive these as “foreign”. In other words, how do atmospheres and materiality play a significant role in determining what and who defines “here” and “there”, as well as the “there that is here”, just as much from the point of view of one specific migrant community as from that of other migrant communities and the inhabitants of the new environment.

The editors will be particularly interested in proposals drawing on the approaches and methods of material cultures studies, and on those applying material cultures studies to observe details of gesture and choreography, daily or occasional spatial rituals, and sensorial thresholds. An important aspect will therefore be the links between material culture (such as architectural types, use of materials and craft, material objects, etc.) and immaterial phenomena (sound, smell, temperature, gestures, etc.) in migrants’ contributions to urban space and architecture in host contexts, over the course of time. The editors invite proposals on any country, and on all directions and phenomena of transfer (north/south, south/north, poor/rich, rich/poor, rich/rich or poor/poor, leaving/returning home, etc.), drawing attention to the concrete details (physical, immaterial, administrative) of the process of the transfer. They address their call not only to researchers in the human sciences but also to architects and town planners who have touched on these questions in their designs or experimental work.


1. Homeliness / Feeling at home at home

This section focusses on domestic space and its edges. How are feelings of displacement or rootlessness alleviated in everyday life by attempts to recreate home in a new place? How might supposedly culturally neutral social housing be adapted to restitute aspects of culturally differentiated domestic life? How might the spatial givens of the new environment affect the ordering of family life (cooking, division by gender or generation, lighting, hygiene)? How might sacralised space and religious practice find a place at home? How do local standards, rules, market offers in, for example, furniture or furnishings impact atmospheres? How might a migrant family reconfigure the relation between outside and inside according to its native habits (window ledge, landing, curtains, plants)? How are kitchens and bathrooms handled to cater for the needs of intimate practices such as cooking with exotic smells or caring for the skin or the hair?

  • (For example: In the small attic rooms of Filipino maids in Paris, a ventilator occupies a prime space as a reminder of home and its climate, and at the same time evacuates cooking smells that could be perceived as a disturbance.)

2. Publicity / Territory / Controversies / Frictions

Relations between communities and the authorities (local, state, civil society) in public and collective space trigger issues of visibility and requests for recognition. How do urban planning, public policies, and regulations discriminate against or in favour of migrant-initiated atmospheres in the city? How do they lead to transformations in atmospheres associated with the home culture of specific groups? How might community-based activities such as picnics, festivals, or sports mark the temporalities of urban atmosphere? How might they lead to territorial power struggles, even of undramatic kinds, or how do they mingle with or enhance existing atmospheres? How might atmospheres be harnessed as a political way to impact public space (through sound, colour, smell for example)? At the level of a neighbourhood or district, how does gentrification transform atmospheres associated with certain ethnic groups? How are these sometimes inflected and branded for the benefit of a larger public, the space itself becoming an object of consumption on the marketplace of exoticism? How might migrant groups gain agency through endeavouring to control atmospheres, and in what ways does this proceed through material configurations of space?

  • (For example: The picnics of Filipino maids in temporarily unused public space in Hong Kong is a well-studied case in point. In the Barbès neighbourhood of Paris a new public project for an urban walk conceived by participative methods shifts customary occupation of public space by male West African and North African sub-groups and hardly hides intentions of “cleaning space”.)

3. New programmes / Briefs and hybrid typologies

Migrant communities establish activities and rituals that require particular architectural types, which mutate as they are reinvented on foreign ground. This section might include reports of architectural processes conducted with migrant communities, be it at the time of the commission, the brief, the design or the construction; or studies of self-building initiatives in their interaction with local regulations and building practices, leading to alternative narratives of the genesis of architectural projects. It will pay particular attention to spaces where communities socialise (bars, schools, theatre or dance groups, sports clubs, hairdressers) sometimes reproducing a type in a string of variations. How might archetypes be adapted and deformed, which themselves may already have undergone changes and been modernised in the contemporary urban context of the home country, while remaining an expression of heritage? How might space be mutualised for polyvalent use between different cultural groups, associations and societies? What new programmes emerge in this hybridisation of uses, spaces and values? How might bodily movements and positions (in entering, sitting, greeting, being close) need to adapt to new spaces?

  • (For example: A café-type created several decades ago by Turkish immigrants in Köln unfolds a diversity of tactics to screen its interior from the public gaze while maintaining a degree of transparency; an Art Deco public swimming pool in Brussels, transformed into a mosque, is maintained as architectural heritage thanks to the careful adaptation of its design features by Muslim users in dialogue with a Belgian architect.)

4. Places of celebration / Religious and spiritual transfers

In domestic space, public space or specific buildings, festive events often linked to religion or spiritual celebrations reinforce community links for the time of the ritual. In this section religion will be seized as a specific prism through which to look at spatial and material transfers. How are the atmospheres of festivities accommodated in a new material, climatic, legal setting? How do religious rituals adapt? How do they negotiate varying degrees of tolerance of their visible manifestation in the context of secular states? How might a space be provisionally sanctified? How do different cultural expressions of one same religion interact or co-exist in one same space? How do ideal archetypes of sacred spaces find hybrid forms on new ground, or how are existing buildings adapted to restitute some of their precepts? How might migrant atmospheres reinvent spatial aspects of liturgical practice in the host country? How do public authorities deal with the need for new building programmes for the religious practices of new groups? How are the thresholds of these spaces for religious practice materialised or allowed to permeate secular space?

  • (For example: Hindus in Hamm-Uentrop adapt their very large religious procession and associated events to the spatial offer of the industrial area of a small town.)

5. Health and bodily comfort / Sensual hospitality

Studies for this topic will not necessarily be based on one particular site, but will consider the link between atmospheres and bodily comfort as a cultural condition. Here, questions of migration may encounter broader environmental questions. How does climate, humidity, or temperature participate in long-term evolutions of the sensibilities of different immigrant groups? How do material cultures contribute to this? How might culturally distinct understandings of tolerable degrees of comfort rub with normative definitions of comfort, hygiene, safety or with standards of energy consumption? What tactics in spatial behaviour or architectural and technical devices are set up to modify climatic atmosphere or the conditions of tactile or acoustic interactions with surfaces? How might feelings of excessive, or on the contrary insufficient, bodily proximity and contact lead to new spatial arrangements or behaviour in public or private space? How might these issues redefine classic room programmes?

  • (For example: Japanese expats in Paris, cannot easily reestablish Japanese-style onsen or sento - thermal or public baths - because these are incompatible with local laws on water temperature and the hardness of Parisian water).

Indicative bibliography

Baumann, Martin; Luchesi, Brigitte; Wilke, Annette; Schalk, Peter (Hg.) (2003): Tempel und Tamilen in zweiter Heimat. Hindus aus Sri Lanka im deutschsprachigen und skandinavischen Raum. Würzburg: Ergon (Religion in der Gesellschaft, Bd. 15).

Bossé, Anne, Wilson Ariane (2021), “Les diasporas en projets : spatialités et matérialités ». In Actes du colloque Villes Territoires Paysages 3, Editions Léav, EnsaPV, p. 82-95.

Guggenheim Michael, Södeström Ola (2010), Re-shaping Cities. How Global Mobility Transforms Architecture and Urban Form, Routledge

Hall, Suzanne M. (2015): Super-divers street. A “Trans-Ethnography” across migrant localities. In: Ethnic and racial studies: ERS 2015 (38/5), S. 22–37

Law Lisa (2001), “Home Cooking: Filipino Women and Geographies of the Senses in Hong Kong”, Ecumene, p. 264-283

Luchesi, Brigitte (2009): “Mobile Tempel. Zur religiösen Festkultur hindu-tamilischer Gemeinschaften in Deutschland”. In: Karl-Heinz Kohl, Volker Gottowik, Holger Jebens und Editha Platte (Hg.): Zwischen Aneignung und Verfremdung. Ethnologische Gratwanderungen : Festschrift für Karl-Heinz Kohl. Frankfurt, New York: Campus Verlag, S. 353–374.

Möhring, Maren (2012): Fremdes Essen. Die Geschichte der ausländischen Gastronomie in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Vollst. zugl.: Köln, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 2010. München: Oldenbourg.

Saleem, Shahed (2021): Three British Mosques. Special Project exhibition of the Victoria and Albert Museum at the Pavilion of Applied Arts, Biennale di architettura di Venezia.

Şimşek Çağlar, Ayşe (2002): “A Table in Two Hands”. In: Deniz Kandiyoti und Ayşe Saktanber (Hg.): Fragments of culture. The everyday of modern Turkey. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, S. 249–307.

Stavo-Debauge Joan, Deleixhe Martin et Carlier Louise (2018): « HospitalitéS. L’urgence politique et l’appauvrissement des concepts », SociologieS [En ligne]. URL: ; DOI:

Special issue editors

Anne Bossé, Maître de conférence à l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes.

Anna Marijke Weber, wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, RWTH Aachen University.

Ariane Wilson, Maître de conférence à l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Strasbourg.


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Reception date: 31 January 2022 > EXTENDED TO APRIL 1, 2022

Initial feedback to authors: 14 February 2022 > 8 April 2022

Publication: November 2022

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