Financial Littorals: The Architecture of Profit Margins and Ambiguous Lands
On the 4 April 2006, a municipal council was dissolved for the first time in the democratic history of Spain, making the housing crisis financially and politically apparent. In the Mediterranean town of Marbella politicians had been adapting the boundary between building land and the coastal commons to their own interests. The power to quantify and reclassify buildable space was at the core of an architectural struggle, as urban planning and the provision of housing had been designed upon the ambiguity of the highest tide in history. Since the 1988 Coastal Law, the Spanish shoreline has not been demarcated in its entirety yet: evictions and eminent domain have trapped the littoral commons in Court. Every twist of the shoreline reveals not where tides are active, but rather where landscape margins are entangled with real estate profit margins. This research investigates speculation and the housing crisis by using the materiality of the shoreline to understand dwelling struggles. The calculated construction of ambiguity in the demarcation of the littoral is analysed as a form of control and a form of resistance. Structured in three chapters, the practice-based research departs from the invention of the coastline in Spain to unpack the financialisation of space and the appropriation of the common good within the housing crisis. It investigates how the provision of ‘affordable’ homes as financial instruments relies on the global circulation of natural capital, coastal wetlands and offsetting operations. Through case studies in Europe and the US, it investigates the engineering of the shoreline by insurance companies after ‘natural disasters’ and the circumvention of mortgage debt offshore. Embedded in an analysis of housing from a critical finance perspective, this thesis demonstrates how rather than territorial boundaries being a circulation of capital, it is capital what needs to be read as a constant circulation of zoning laws and ambiguous borderlines, in order to anticipate alternative futures to housing inequality.