Throughout human history, the movement of populations–in search of food, shelter, or better economic opportunities–has been the norm rather than the exception. Today, however, the world is witnessing unprecedented levels of displacement. The United Nations reports that 68.5 million people are currently displaced from their homes; this includes nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of eighteen. With conflicts raging on in countries like Syria and Myanmar, and climate change set to lead to increased sea levels and crop failures, the crisis is increasingly being recognised as one of the foundational challenges of the twenty-first century.
While emergency housing has dominated the discourse surrounding displacement in the architecture industry, it is critical for architects and planners to study and respond to the socio-cultural ramifications of population movements. How do we build cities that are adaptive to the holistic needs of fluid populations? How do we ensure that our communities absorb refugees and migrants into their local social fabric?
This World Refugee Day, let’s take a look at 5 shining examples of social infrastructure from around the world–schools, hospitals, and community spaces–that are specifically directed at serving displaced populations.
Designed in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, this social hub aims to create an indoor public space for refugees at a camp in Ritsona, Greece–a communal area to counteract the psychological trauma induced by war, persecution, and forced migration. Maidan Tent’s distinctive form results from an aluminium structure that is covered by a water, wind, and fire-resistant textile.
This project emerged out of the donation of a pavilion exhibited at the 2015 Milan Expo. Non-profit design studio CatalyticAction dismantled the pavilion, transported it to Jarahieh refugee camp in Lebanon–home to 500,000 displaced Syrian children–and adapted it to create a functional and sustainable educational and social facility. The school doesn’t just cater to children; it functions as an adult school during evenings, and as a public cinema and a site for aid distribution on weekends.
Founded in 2010 as an urban community project, this library is located in a public park in Tel Aviv, Israel, where migrant workers congregate on weekends. The structure is designed to have no walls or doors–a conscious decision to ensure free and equitable access to the library’s collection of 3,500 books. “It was important…that those who maintain illegal immigrant status will come without fear,” explained the architects.
In response to rising sea levels in Bangladesh, a condition that is displacing people by the thousands in the country, non-profit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha is moving schools and community centers onto traditional boats. During the day, the boats host classes for children and training sessions for adults; after sunset, families are free to use the boats to continue work or educational activities.
In an effort to address issues of psychological trauma and to ensure healthy development, this school playground provides a safe space for refugee children to play and rest–a space of security in a vulnerable environment. Workshops were organised in an inclusive design process that hinged on ideas from the children themselves.