The 2016 Venice Biennale may have officially closed in November, but many of its constituent parts continue to have a life beyond the confines of Venice. From Border to Home, the exhibit hosted by the Finnish Pavilion, showcased the results of an international architecture competition between October and November of 2015 that called for residential solutions for asylum seekers that offer both short-term shelter for refugees and long-term impact on the surrounding community. Three winners and four honorable mentions were featured in the exhibition, accompanied by a blog that offered sustained dialogue on the topic from architects around the world. On March 21st, Finland's contribution to the Biennale will finally be concluded with a review of the Biennale's themes and a seminar on the pavilion, hosted in Helsinki. Read on to find out more about the winners and four mentions from the competition that were featured in Finland's From Border to Home pavilion.
Society Lab (Italy)
Society Lab: Cecilia Danieli, Omri Revesz, Mariana Riobom
Working to prevent the sense of alienation from local culture that often occurs in refugee settlements, the team behind Society Lab has proposed a system that unites architecture and technology to find housing for asylum seekers. They have pointed to 28,000 vacant houses in Helsinki as a residential web that is already built and already completely incorporated into the city.
Rather than using state funds for new construction projects, Society Lab suggests financing one year of rent for refugee families in one of these vacant homes. The accompanying app acknowledges the ubiquity of the smartphone, and offers users a chance to seek out and secure housing before entering the country, allowing a smoother transition in a situation that should certainly avoid inflicting any unnecessary trauma. Living for one year in these homes around Helsinki, asylum seekers have the opportunity to meet neighbors and become acquainted with the local language and culture.
Enter the Void (Germany)
a team: Duy An Tran, Lukas Beer, Ksenija Zdesar, Otto Beer
Similarly to Society Lab, Enter the Void works with existing urban resources to carve out the potential for new housing and communities within our cities. The project operates with the knowledge that migration moves towards urban centers, and those urban centers possess the built remnants of business. The "void" here is made up of Germany's vacant office buildings, which are already physically integrated into functioning cities.
Enter the Void enlists the help of governments to clear the office buildings and provide furniture essentials for critical high-traffic asylum seeking time periods. The team has made use of the buildings' verticality to create a program divided by sections of floors, with public spaces such as education centers on the lower floors, and private housing and bathing areas on the upper floors. Over time, the emergency units are transformed into more permanent apartments that still facilitate interaction with the surrounding community as the lower floor public use space offers. Finally, the final product is completed with a green roof for interaction and sharing.
We House Refugees (Finland)
Lindberg/Erdman: Milja Lindberg
Assisted by Christopher Erdman
The team behind We House Refugees responded to the issues of stigmatization and isolation that occur when refugee housing is built under a separate typology from the local architecture. The goal of this proposal is long-term solution that actively works against prejudice by embedding itself into the existing city and community.
The "Donor Apartments" that make up this project appear from the outside like any standard apartment in a desirable urban area, except local tenants are offered a 25% rent reduction. On the inside, each unit has an "embedded refugee room" with its own front door that can be used as the tenant sees fit until times of crisis, in which they may be asked by the government to make the room available for refugees. The co-living situation is temporary, but the infrastructure of openness and relationships it creates are not.
IMBY – In My Back Yard (Spain / France)
D.A.T. PANGEA + QUATORZE: Romain Minod, Ricardo Mayor Luque, Hani Jaber Ávila, Daniel Millor Vela, Héctor Muñoz Mendoza, Claire Savina, Ruben Salvador Torres, Ignacio Taus Jiménez
The team of architects behind IMBY has tackled some of the interpersonal challenges of seeking asylum by proposing a three way collaboration among Finnish homeowners, asylum seekers, and entrepreneurs. Homeowners volunteer their backyards and entrepreneurs their expertise to build "tiny homes" for refugees within the existing developed landscape.
IMBY sidesteps the real estate market by asking volunteer entrepreneurs to create a method for wooden home fabrication, and then train asylum seekers in the construction of their own homes. For their work, trainees also receive a diploma and can later seek out additional construction jobs. The network of relationships and local hosts provides a method for integration into Finnish society that ideally creates a sustainable model for the architecture of refugee housing that is fully aware of the economic and social issues of its own reality.
Harri Ahokas, Tomi Laine, Akseli Leinonen, Pia Rautiainen, Nikolai Rautio, Matias Saresvuo
Assisted by Pekka Huima
Helsinkikasbah envisions Finland’s political and economic timeline for the next 25 years. In the story the team has created, a decade of overcrowding in refugee camps eventually results in the end of state support funding. But the lack of official infrastructure does not stop the influx of people, and the responsibility falls on locals to build and supply settlements. In this informal urban system, a barter economy forms and flourishes, until a change in political thought brings back subsidies, this time for construction of new dense urban neighborhoods.
The result of organic urbanism and later subsidies creates a distinctive and lively culture in the area the team has called Helsinkikasbah, kasbah being the Arabic word for a walled tower city in which leadership lives. The team’s visuals of the proposed urban villages show a layered and dense environment which abounds in elements of Near Eastern architecture, imagining the area as multicultural point of pride and even an eventual tourist destination.
Start with a Roof
Start with a Roof aims to create more space for asylum seekers by building only what is necessary, when it is necessary. For his proposal, Satoshi Ohtaki suggests that when there is a surge of refugees into the country, all that is immediately needed are basic shelters. In times where need is high, robust triangular structures are built. They are livable, but made of prefabricated insulated plywood panels of a standard size that can be quickly assembled on site.
Once the influx of asylum seekers slows down, these triangular structures can become the roofs of more spacious permanent homes, by lifting them on top of new units and covering them with more durable materials. Start with a Roof combines the idea of camp settlements and permanency, removing the personal and public stressors that come with transitioning out of segregated housing and into local neighborhoods.
From Border to School (Finland)
alt Architects: Ville-Pekka Ikola, Tuomas Niemelä, Antti Karsikas, Kalle Vahtera
Assisted by TEHAS
Is there a way to address local urban issues and the refugee crisis simultaneously? From Border to School has posited yes with a solution that responds to Finland’s physically failing public schools and the need for integration of asylum seekers into Finnish daily life. When refugees are relegated for years to camps set up to provide temporary housing, it is difficult to feel a part of the local society. Alt Architects, the firm behind the proposal, has a background in designing public buildings, so schools were a natural starting point for the integration solution.
The project proposes to target decaying schools as sites for publicly funded renovation and refugee housing. The decision to use schools as the site of this program speaks to the importance of education in integration into Finnish society, both from the obvious nature of a school’s task, and their prime location in central areas.