Recombinant Tourism

"It sometimes seems as if all the world is on the move. It is predicted that by 2010 there will be at least 1 billion legal international arrivals each year (compared with 25 million in 1950); there are 4 million air passengers each day; at any one time 360 000 passengers are in flight above the U.S.A., equivalent to a substantial city in the sky; and there were 552 million cars in 1998 with a projected 730 million in 2020, equivalent to one for every 8.6 people across the world. Today world citizens move 23 billion kilometers a year; by 2050 it is predicted that that figure will have increased fourfold. And almost all mobilities entail movement between places and there is something about places that are complicit within that movement. Places draw or repel particular residents and visitors." - John Urry


British sociologitst John Urry describes in facts and numbers how mobile we all have become. All? Of course not as all figures are average. 14 % of the world's population unites 73% of the global income. The remaining 27% are shared amongst 86 % equaling almost 7 billion people. Obviously, some are mobile and some are not. Some people visit and some get visited; if they want it or not. 846 million international tourist arrivals were counted in 2006, representing a 6.5% growth per year from 1950 to 2006. The forecast for international tourist arrivals worldwide by 2020 is 1.6 billion people. International Tourism Receipts totaled U$ 733 billion, or 2 U$ billion a day, in 2006. Tourism represents around 35% of the world's exports of services and over 70% in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); tourism is an economic superpower.

How come that although physical movement from one corner of the world to the other is easy for some, a cultural exchange between visitor and visited remains difficult in most of the cases? Why are the borders between Have's and Have Not's occasionally transplanted to far away remote island sites or other touristic hot spots? How come that Europeans or North Americans can go to economically sanctioned Cuba in order to spend a week or two in an all inclusive resort without ever leaving the enclave’s boundaries or what is the difference between Varadero and Guantanamo? What is the difference between the new iron curtain in Ceuta and the wall of an island resort in Haiti (as security devices seem almost identical)? What are the determining factors that draw or repel particular residents and visitors to certain places? What type of territory is created through the international exchange and what local map is drawn by the global movement? What type of urban landscape does this culture produce?

Dutch writer Martijn de Waal speaks about the concept of Ersatz Urbanism: "The design of cities that look like cities, but on close inspection lack important parts of urban culture. Often these designs focus on one or two specific functions of a city and cater to one or two specific groups using or living in the city, but deliberately leave out the public spaces for interaction or confrontation between groups. Their borders are often hard borders rather than soft ones, which isolate rather than connect the design with the city at large. Its identity is not a continuous historic process of negotiating between groups, but top-down supplied by the designers, often through thematization. Public spaces are often mimicked – like the piazzas in shopping malls – but are not true public spaces. Their use is often highly formalized and regulated."


Belgian art historian and philosopher Lieven de Cauter also speaks about capsular spaces in a capsular society as the most important asset to our current urban landscape : "Thinking the city in the twenty-first century requires thinking the periphery; a periphery which has become omnipresent, without a centre. It has been replaced by the logic of dualization, between on the one hand the archipelago of secured, well connected capsules and on the other hand the ubiquitous periphery, the landscape of endless townships of marginalized communities, a planet of slums. As opposed to this planet of slums, there is a universe of entertainment, of media, cyber games and theme parks : the simulation that comes before reality, hyper-reality. The reality of poverty, war and chaos is not represented; it does not appear in the images on our screens as it is unimaginable. It is infra-reality. The extremes are linked: the more infra-reality rises, the more retreat into hyper-reality."

We are interested in creating a new and different type of reality that combines hyper and infra reality to a unique and "all inclusive" (and thus) sustainable sum for areas that are strongly impacted by global tourism. In order to structure such a proposal, we refer to the idea of a "Recombinant Urbanism" as expressed by British urban planner David Grahame Shane.
He suggests learning from the past by understanding successful as well as dysfunctional urban typologies. Ideally, he argues that those could be (re)assembled to form a new (and truly successful) way of urban design.


The essence of our proposal is to use tourism as a motor for local capacity building and an integral economic sustainable development. Parts of the financial revenues coming out of the global business have to be (re)invested into the infrastructure of local communities. Local staff can be incorporated in the operating layout of the tourism industry; education facilities are sponsored or financed through taxes that benefit a host country's development. We intend to trigger a dual development of high to low end facilities for international tourism with the objective of an integral sustainable development that improves the living conditions of a local population without compromising the capacity neither of future generations nor of people in other regions.

We envision a dynamic multidimensional process in which - in terms of organization, formation, production, and finances -
the population takes on completely the responsibility of its own economic, cultural, social, political, and environmental development. As a key working method, we propose to link different entities for the benefit of an interdisciplinary and cultural exchange, to stimulate corporate social responsibility and to create social capital.


Touristic enclaves often offer the greatest kind of splendor and luxury on a relatively small terrain in order to attract its visitors and to be competitive against other local and international hotels and resorts.

Outside the borders of those terrains (developments), the flip side of the coin typically reveals a dramatically different economical and living condition by those that are native to the touristic spectacle or by those that serve it and who came from far away in order to make a living from the money that the tourist can bring to a region. In this clash of cultures between tourist and economic migrant (mostly equivalent to persona grata and non grata), Spanish architect Inaki Abalos also speaks about a "Blue Migration" where those who can afford come to seek the blue sea and the blue sky in order to retire or just have a short but good time in a natural environment that their land of origin does not provide. On the other end follow the ones that seek a living from the blue migrant's money resulting in a fatal dichotomy of spatial fragmentation and social segregation in one single place. Let's pretend for a moment that our age of mobility could generate an all inclusive urbanism instead of just tourism.

In order to discuss the potentials and threats of this idea, we chose four case study sites (CSS) in Central America. Our intention is to distinguish the things that work from the things that do not and to take the best of the four case study areas to start generating a toolbox for sustainable tourism that allows for economic growth as a sustainable economic development without ignoring or destroying local culture that has been there before the blue migrant arrived. In our proposed methodology of Recombinant Tourism, we aim at an (all) inclusive type of urbanism that allows for an exchange between the different life worlds in one single region, thus creating a hyperimage that is characterized and defined by its soft instead of hard borders.

The four case study sites have been selected according to a set of factors including social exclusion or inclusion, spatial segregation, saturation or tourism growth as well as the ability to support a local lifestyle through tourism (instead of the former being destroyed or caricatured through the latter). We developed a possible future scenario for each of the 4 CSS's by assuming a certain programmatic or structural intervention that feeds back into a larger arsenal of the (global) toolbox container.

With all of the proposals, a focus was set on a dual development in order to have a place facilitate an increased arrival of international visitors as well as to build new capacities for the local inhabitants. This simultaneous approach has enabled us to define architectural and urban typologies that mandate a proper fit of actor to action, form to function and of part to system. Creating an international spectacle of Bilbao's Guggenheim scale that could lead to a place - for example - in Panama being catapulted on the world map of tourism was as important to us as to understand the local individual and to generate – for example - information and communication technologies for a micro financed agro business to be set up somewhere in the highlands of Guatemala.

Our aim was to create a new reality for the selected sites with a logic of "1+1=3"; where two individual factors are joined to create a sum that is more than simply adding the two individual components together. Ideally, such logic could be applied allover Central America or the world at large, depending on the individual singular terms. We intend to present 4 prototypes that are valuable as a single place as well as a collective route. The extension of this route would practically be infinite.


A Foundation (Oliver Schütte and Marije van Lidth de Jeude with Ronald Fonseca, Ana Eugenia Fernandez, Maricruz Alvarez Brenes and Juan Carlos Mora)

Location: Central America

Status: Completed

Year: 2007