The Project

This project is a homage to all Iraqis still with us and those whose lives were lost over decades of wars and destruction in the country. The maps, projects, case studies and data collected for this research share common roots: they have surfaced out of strenuous conditions, such as trauma, violence, and forced displacement. The project sheds light onto people’s creative responses to these extreme conditions in search for refuge.

This work is the culmination of a decade’s worth of research into the uncertainty, dynamism, incompleteness and messiness of sudden changes to the built environment inflicted by war, conflict, displacement or any other major crisis. These sudden changes not only alter the built environment but also demand that those affected respond by adapting and modifying their way of life, creating new spatial practices that hinge on the concept of refuge. This research gives voice and visual presence to the spatial practices of refuge produced by Iraqis in times of war, conflict and displacement.


The word rupturing is emphasized in the title of the book as a verb with intent and action that is of the moment and continuously unfolding, both at the same time. Rupture, in this research, is identified by dialectical expressions: first, it is the spatial, psychological and social trauma and destruction brought by war and conflict and inflicted on people and their built environment; and second, it is the placemaking and spatial practices of refuge created by people in response to the same conditions of trauma of war and conflict. This dialectic nature of the concept of rupture, makes it, simultaneously, the cause and the response, the unfamiliar and the familiar. It is the trauma caused by spatial violence (unfamiliar) and the creative spatial responses to that same violence (familiar).

Rupture, as a conceptual framing in this research, seeks to examine and afford design possibilities to spatial practices of refuge that emerge directly as a response to trauma and violence fuelled resistance and plasticity.


Not only that which is centred around the domestic space, domesticity, in this research, is identified as a set of relations that are conceptual and material and reveal different scales of intimacies at local and global levels. It is considered a methodological tool for braiding knowledge and revealing degrees of intimacies of war and violence from the home space, into the city and through to the border. Domesticity emerges as a set of relations between the act of rupturing home and the search for a sense of refuge. Three degrees of ruptures are captured through the voices of the interviewees. The first is the material and memory object/body/space relationships which include the trauma of the debris and shrapnel scale of rupture alongside objects of comfort such as prayer beads. The second is the act of violating homes and domesticity through raids and searches, and the third is the complete obliteration and erasure of home and identities, the domicide/geocide scale.


Refuge denotes a process and a product. A process of mobility, interaction and negotiation and a product of intimacy, materiality and space unfolding in time. Pursuing refuge is an act of resistance (resistance to losing agency or perishing), which is inherently political and therefore this research considers the spatial practice emerging from this process to be political too.

The spatial practice examined in this project is situated between the blurred space of imagination and the lived experience of trauma expressed through episodic memory of events and situations. This in-betweenness is manifested through the object and place of refuge as well as the act and mobility of refuge.

Refuge as a noun and a verb is widely associated with refugee-hood (denoting the noun) or refugee-ness (indicating the verb). Accepting the plurality of its spaces and states of being and becoming allows refuge to, simultaneously, represent and transcend fixed places of refuge such as women’s refuges for domestic abuse, and spatial and social acts of resistance charting routes of escape from traumatic places. It is therefore a noun and a verb in the making. The dynamism of the concept of refuge implies the act of fleeing as much as sheltering, and embodies a performativity of mobility and refuge across time and space.

Special thanks to:

The fifteen Iraqis who participated in the project, from south to north: Nawrast, Abrar, Jaafar, Sanar, Dhirgham, Ula, Zeinab, Farah, Basma, Shahab, Amera, Raad, Ali, Rozhen and Rawaa.  Thank you so much for sharing your memories and lived experience and for your generosity.

A big thank you to my research assistants, Dr Laura Hopes who provided teaching cover, Jordan Beh who assisted with the production of the maps, and Merrydith Russell who helped with the exhibition curation. Without their support none of this would have been possible.

Finally, a big thank you to my funders and publisher who believed in the project. Bloomsbury Visual Arts, the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, and the London School of Economics Middle East Centre.

Dr Sana Murrani is an Associate Professor in Spatial Practice at the University of Plymouth. She studied architecture at Baghdad University School of Architecture at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Sana completed her PhD in the UK. Sana’s main research falls within the fields of architecture, human geography and urban studies in particular, the imaginative negotiations of spatial practices and social justice. She is the founder of the Displacement Studies Research Network and co-founder of the Justice and Imagination in Global Displacement research collective.

Twitter: @sanamurrani