Project Heracles: A Eurafrican bridge - Architecture - Domus
Project Heracles: A Eurafrican bridge
 

Project Heracles: A Eurafrican bridge

In an epistolary exchange, two European philosophers discuss an imaginary but possible infrastructure—a bridge linking Gibraltar and Ceuta that would eliminate the huge political, economic and geographical gap between Africa and Europe.

 

Architecture / Dieter Lesage Lieven De Cauter

Dear Dieter,
How did we come up with this idea of a bridge to Africa? It must have started with my obsession with the walls of Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves on Moroccan soil, where—in a painfully literal way—barbed wire and concrete close off Europe from Africa. This iron curtain was built with support from the European Community. It is our wall.
At Melilla, a stretch of twelve kilometers would be outfitted with seventy cameras, light masts, sensors, and lookout posts. The other part of the wall—at Ceuta—would be eight kilometers long. It has been labeled a new Berlin Wall, a new iron curtain, a wall of shame. The wall is not very efficient and its effects have been disastrous—inspiring often-fatal attempts to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. At least one thousand people drown this way each year.
In the old world order, the Berlin Wall embodied the separation between East and West; this wall embodies the new world order and the separation between North and South. Not only does the fence represent the point where Europe and Africa are separated, but it is also the calibration point from which all "barbed-wire logics" originate, including all detention centers for illegal migrants and asylum seekers, like the camp at Steenokkerzeel near the Brussels National Airport. Above all, it symbolizes the future of our world in the form of what I have called "the capsular civilization." Europe's only "self-defense" against the tide of "barbarians" will be the development of a just world system. Unless this happens, we will all become citizens of a capsular civilization, prisoners of a private and guarded inner world that systematically closes off an onrushing "outside world."
That is why the bridge to Africa is so important. It represents the conceptual counterpart to this wall, which is all too real, serving as a cultural monument of the imagination opposed to a real monument of cultural barbarism. I have no illusions about the eventual realization of this bridge. A bridge from Europe to Africa, spanning the Strait of Gibraltar, should be technically feasible. Of course it could also be a tunnel, but a bridge is a monument. Maybe there should also be a square in the middle of the bridge, a square called Eurafrica Square. The bridge could be a city in itself. And I'd like some hanging gardens too. Let's design some bridges ourselves.
This bridge could save many lives. But above all, it would demonstrate the absurdity of our world system. The world will have to change before this bridge can be built. The discussions surrounding this bridge will be fierce, that much is clear. And that's why it is such a beautiful artistic-political project.

Regards,
Lieven

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Dear Lieven,
There is no doubt that the construction adorning one side of the euro banknote is the European myth par excellence. In a strict juridical sense, our proposition is not to build a bridge between Spain and Morocco. Our project is about a physical connection between the European and the African continents at the Strait of Gibraltar. For your information, at its narrowest this strait is thirteen kilometers and at its widest a little over twenty kilometers. This means we would want to connect Gibraltar to Ceuta. So we find ourselves in an aberrant sovereignistic entanglement of barbed wire. Ceuta, on the African continent, is indeed Spanish territory. And Gibraltar, on the European continent, belongs to the least continental of all the European member states; it is, until further notice, a British Crown Colony. If we want to act as rhetorical realists, we would sell our idea as a bridge connecting two European countries: Spain and Great Britain.
The resistance to a physical bridge between Europe and Africa, in whichever form this bridge would take—it could indeed be a tunnel, but it could just as well be a cable track across the Strait of Gibraltar—resides deeply in the European consciousness. It could be that our criticism of the bridge as a European myth in a Europe proclaiming itself to be open—it is no accident that the flipside of the euro bill is adorned with windows—will quietly be smothered. Evidence will show that openness to criticism is also a myth. But, before it comes to that, let us dare to try to interest the European reader in our project. But does the European reader want to read about a bridge between Europe and Africa? Does the fear of the hordes that will engulf Europe by way of this bridge, which would even be financed by Europe, not overcome the European reader? There is more than one person who, whenever I talk about this crazy idea, asks if it will at least be a drawbridge—evidently the only imaginable bridge suited to Fortress Europe. I reply that indeed it will be a drawbridge, but one that can be drawn by the Africans. The reader does not need our bridge; I take that for granted.
A sympathetic reader might say, "Interesting idea, but practically totally unrealistic, a work of Heracles, as it were." All right then, let's talk about a real European myth. Let's talk about the works of Heracles. After all, the location we have chosen for our grandiose project is, upon closer inspection, a mythical location—maybe the pre-eminent mythical place.
What's more—and this will surely interest our colleagues the architects—our location is known by a mythical name that refers directly to an architectural form, maybe even—I hardly dare to say it—the pre-eminent architectural form. In Greek mythology, the Strait of Gibraltar is known as the Pillars of Heracles.
The origin of this name can be found in the myths of the labors of Heracles, though there are various explanations. According to one much-quoted version, the Garden of the Hesperides was situated near the Strait of Gibraltar. Heracles was ordered by King Eurystheus to steal the golden apples from that garden. Only Atlas could do this, but he was busy bearing the firmament. So there was little else for Heracles to do but to substitute for Atlas. As Heracles is supposed to have performed this mythical temporary job near Gibraltar, the mountains on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar are called the Pillars of Heracles. In this version the pillars are already a supporting structure; if they can carry the heavens, then they can surely handle a bridge of about fifteen kilometers.
I would opt for the Pillars of Heracles as symbol for the supporting structures of a bridge that is yet to be built. But how would we circulate this "other-globalist" logo? It would certainly cost much more than two philosophers could afford. But as I drifted like a lost Odysseus across the web, I suddenly understood that the Pillars of Heracles are already the most widespread logo in the world. As unlikely as it may seem, billions of people see graphic representations of them every day. They are omnipresent. You know those moments when you call out: ¥€$!
This is one of them. A yes-moment that can be expressed using the symbols of the most important currencies in the world: the yen, the euro, and the dollar. The double horizontal or vertical line through a character, which these symbols share, is nothing less than a graphic simplification of the Pillars of Heracles. It is common knowledge that the yen and the euro took this double stripe from the dollar. Less common is the knowledge that in this manner, the Pillars of Heracles, after a long transatlantic journey, have come home again with the introduction of the euro. The dollar borrowed the double stripe from the so-called pillar coinage, which the Spaniards introduced in the new world.

Nocturnal greetings,
Dieter

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Dear Dieter,
The bridge cannot be. The wall is there. The bridge will never be. That is the reality. As long as Africa is sinking like the Titanic, nobody will dare to build a bridge. We would have to prove that Europe will not sink as well if it takes in all of Africa's drowning people. When it is decided that the bridge will be built—say by 2020—there will have to be a gigantic action, at European initiative and on a worldwide scale, to make Africa habitable and to prepare Europe for the new reality of the Eurafrican continent, and perhaps also for more immigrants—for a real globalization. That is the untenable thing about our world.
People will say that this bridge, even its plan alone, is a suicidal project for Europe. In other words, as long as we survive, we simply do not care if Africa goes under. They can build space shields, but not a bridge to Africa. Bush II ushers in the militarization phase of globalization through his gigantic rise in military expenditures, which has, as a probable outcome, the further Africanization of big parts of American society. For now, bridges belong only on banknotes. This is a reason to continue with this project: because I know that according to a UN prognosis, by 2050 there will be 9.1 billion people on this planet, most of them born in the wrong places. So massive migrations will be a part of the twenty-first century. Entire populations will relocate. I can't say that I find this to be a reassuring or attractive idea. The continuing demographic explosion would sooner fit into a catastrophic scenario of ecological, social, and humanitarian disasters. This is what makes our bridge so explosive. It is a concrete utopia.
Regards,
Lieven

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Dear Lieven,
You say the world will have to change before we can realize our bridge. I say the world will change once we have realized our bridge. You say we have to first prove that Africa is not drowning. I say, that if Africa is drowning, we should certainly and urgently build this bridge. Yet, we are obviously saying the same thing. When I say the world will change drastically because of our bridge, and if you suspect the world doesn't want to change, then the world would indeed have to change in order for our bridge to become wanted. The antiglobalists, for starters, are optimistic about the possibilities for change. "Another world is possible," they say. Capitalism is, after all, on the brink of running into contradictions it will not be able to resolve.
The reactions to our idea of a bridge between Europe and Africa would expose all the contradictions of our capitalistic system. Capitalism should be insulted by the idea that this bridge cannot be realized. Capitalism should strain every nerve to prove that it is perfectly capable of making it happen—a piece of cake. That may be why we should start, not with an architectural competition, but with the foundation of a Heracles Fund. We're not going to start the thirteenth labor of Heracles with a discussion about whether or not this bridge should be realized. No, we'll have to be smarter than that; we will have to popularize our bridge through the donations of those we suspect to be its biggest adversaries today. We'll take a trip to Seattle, visit Bill Gates, and politely but firmly request that he deposit the first ten million in our measly collection box. Mindful of Wallerstein, we will take Gates at his word and thank him with an ice cream cake.
We have a concept, we have a logo, and we have a name. Haven't we overlooked something? We quickly agreed that the bridge is a European myth. We stressed the word myth. But what if we stress the fact that it is a European myth? Suppose this also means that the bridge is a European type of architecture? Isn't it again indicative of Eurocentrism to think of the physical connection between Europe and Africa in terms of a European typology? This doesn't have to be such a problem, provided we foresee that the bridge may be used in a different way from what the architects and engineers had in mind. Maybe its users will put all kinds of stalls on it until it becomes a space through which it is impossible to pass. Maybe, rather than a square in the middle of the bridge, as you suggested, the whole bridge could become a square, more a place of encounter than a zone of transit. Obviously, I'm thinking of Rem Koolhaas's Harvard Project on the City, which documents the unfinished cloverleaf on the Agege Motor Road in Lagos—now the most important market square of this megalopolis. I wouldn't mind if something similar to the Oshodi market in Lagos were to happen to our bridge, if only this, in turn, is not a case of African stereotyping.
Are we creating unnecessary problems in advance by calling this bridge the Heracles Bridge? Isn't it Eurocentrism at its extreme to name a bridge between Europe and Africa after a European mythical figure? Shouldn't we name the bridge after a European and an African figure? But after my hilarious wanderings upon the digital ocean, I would regret having to drop the name Heracles Bridge. Since I've heard so many improbably inspiring stories on my internet odyssey, I will embark once more, in spite of the late hour, in search of a suitable African business partner for our Heracles. You will hardly believe it but yet again the ocean has brought salvation. Oh yes, it has been another beautiful night, with beautiful black stars. At first I wondered if there existed an African mythological version of Heracles. With the search terms "black Hercules" I was first led to a number of sites of a soft and homoerotic inclination, where the muscles of this or that black bodybuilder received detailed, constructive criticism.
On this trek, I didn't manage to find an African mythological variant of Heracles, yet I was not unhappy. I discovered something much more interesting. The fact is, Heracles was himself an African. The Greek myths, especially the myths about Heracles, are of Egyptian origin. This is, in any case, the provocative proposition of a certain Samuel David Ewing, which connects to the very interesting, iconoclastic research of Cornell University professor Martin Bernal, who wrote a book called Black Athena, which this Cornell University professor started a worldwide debate about the Afro-Asiatic origin of classical civilization. The origin of philosophy, according to Bernal, lies in Egypt. But it doesn't stop there. The Egyptian civilization, which influenced the Greek to such a large extent, was in itself of Ethiopian origin. The Egypt that fascinated the Greeks was a black Egypt. And so we come to Ewing's proposition. Heracles was black.
This Greek mythological figure now enjoys the dubious honor of being allowed to lend his name to the C-130, a military aircraft that is often deployed on humanitarian missions to drop food in areas with which we'd rather have nothing to do. In even more dubious circumstances, the Hercules planes have been used by the Belgian government to repatriate illegal aliens. On the December 27, 1993, the Belgian army flew to Somalia with a group of asylum seekers whose admission procedure had ended with the obligation to leave the country's territory. That is why Heracles is, for now, the symbol of either a paternalistic or a repressive Western attitude toward Africa and toward the impoverished world in general. Heracles is in urgent need of rehabilitation. Our project is a form of mythological rehabilitation. We will not tolerate Heracles to be taken as the name of an airlift. Heracles will be a real bridge, not just a bridge in the depths of our thoughts. After all my wanderings, it is now clear that the tour-de-force we started with our project for a bridge between Europe and Africa couldn't have a better name than the 'Heracles Project'. Now that I know that Heracles is an African, I am sure we are on the right track. Black is, as you know, the color of hope. And so I sign off…

With black greetings,
Dieter

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Originally published under the title Re: The Myth of the Bridge (an e-mail correspondence) in Hunch 5 (2002 pp. 54—68). This correspondence was translated from the Dutch by Danny Bosten. Since this essay's 2002 publication, a Strait of Gibraltar crossing, similar to the one discussed by De Cauter and Lesage, has been proposed in various forms and investigated by engineers and governmental committees alike. The Spanish and Moroccan governments began a joint investigation of the feasibility of linking the two continents and explored means of cooperation between the European Union and twelve Mediterranean partner countries and the development of regional economic integration. Several engineers and transport agencies have proposed both elevated and underground designs for a hypothetical bridge or tunnel to span the Strait of Gibraltar and connect Europe to Africa. Designs for a Gibraltar Bridge are characterized by various alignments and differing structural configurations.

Project Heracles: Call for ideas
 

Project Heracles: Call for ideas

Bridge? Tunnel? Cablecar? Dam? Metropolis? Market? Power plant? Museum? Icon? Prison? Park? Airport? Send us a postcard with your ideas for a connection between Africa and Europe across the Strait of Gibraltar.

 

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From-the-archive

Project Heracles #1

Lieven De Cauter and Dieter Lesage comment on selected contributions to Project Heracles.

 

Architecture / Lieven De Cauter and Dieter Lesage

Project Heracles: where the EURO meets the AFRO
 

Project Heracles: where the EURO meets the AFRO

Bjarke Ingels/BIG contributes designs for new EU and African currencies for an exhibition of proposals for a Eurafrican Bridge at London's The Gopher Hole.

 

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Project Heracles #2
 

Project Heracles #2

Geoff Manaugh initiates a series of guest-curated proposals for Project Heracles, selecting the most intriguing projects among the hundreds received.

 

Architecture / Geoff Manaugh

Project Heracles #3
 

Project Heracles #3

Continuing the series of guest-curated selections from Project Heracles, Saskia Sassen comments on her favorites among the hundreds that Domus received.

 

Architecture / Saskia Sassen

Project Heracles #13
 

Project Heracles #13

Fears, desires, tics, perversions, ideological tendencies and fetishes are found by the Triestine researcher in the folds of the proposals submitted for the competition.

 

Architecture / Giovanni Corbellini