Through the past few months, the importance of community interaction and mental well-being has been felt by all. Yet, the need for a support system and constant reassurance has been a recurrent issue for much longer for forcibly displaced populations. Adding to the current health fears these communities, estimated at nearly 70.8 million ( 25.9 refugees only) around the world, struggle with traumas, mental health issues and have much difficulty in adapting to temporary or permanent foreign settings.
Community-based protection activities, such as support groups set in cultural centers and safe spaces are therefore a foundation for effective mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS). Properly designed communal spaces where displaced individuals can interact and engage in joint activities (ex. spaces for children and youth, community-based schools…) are key to promoting meaningful engagement while respecting their dignity and autonomy, as well as providing them with adequate information, that can greatly reduce psychological distress.
Architects and designers are active figures in the implementation of well-devised, comfortable spaces that would suggest security and promote communal inclusion, improve well-being, and even be organized for specific training and activities (towards employment).
Community centers for displaced populations are therefore a much-needed essential structure that can be easily set up through various accessible and affordable means.
A center can be an Existing building that has been re-used in a way to fit the required function. This intervention should ensure minimum renovation costs and simple re-adaptation of existing spaces. Noting that a community center could simply be an open space or room with the possibility to accommodate small groups.
Dawar El Ezba Cultural Center / Ahmed Hossam Saafan
Year 2019 - "The building also aims at changing the deteriorated architectural malpractice and showcasing the possibility of using existent resources to imply a more aesthetic and functional value. Architecturally, the building aims at giving an interactive platform for the people of Ezbet Khairallah , ranging from Children, Youth to Adults. By community-conscious design strategies that aims to enhance their quality of life. Internally, the building aims at creating a seamless environment that suggests solidarity allowing a platform to be given to each participant to endorse and celebrate diversity. "
Another affordable way to erect a community meeting point is by setting up Temporary Simple structures such as pavilions, large tents, open halls and so on. These buildings offer many positive outcomes. Not only do they encourage the use of available local and natural material (clay-bricks, hay, bamboo structure...), they also tend to engage displaced and refugee themselves to participate in the easy construction process, thus generating further communal engagement and promoting growth.
These structures are often simple installations that are not technically challenging. They propose traditional means of construction and adapt to the surrounding environments.
Architects can also work on function-specific constructions, to enable community based or individual activities aimed at development or remediation. In recent years, gardening, sowing, computer programming or even physical education have been suggested as additional tools to refugees adapting to a new country.
From Landscape to Roofscape / Laura Katharina Strähle & Ellen Rouwendal
Year 2016 - "Simplicity, low-tech design solutions, and an understandable design process are the most significant aspects to communicate and realize the project successfully with the local inhabitants, local workers, and international students."
Shelter for Migrants and Travelers / Atelier RITA
Year 2016 - "The emergency to engage in essential architecture. The first question is: How to offer dignity and functional qualities to a vulnerable population, with different cultures? The project is thought of as a little town, a common notion of « habiter » regardless of geographic origin. Between public space and the most intimate space, everyone easily accommodates with life in the community."
Promise at Dawn, Center of Emergency Accommodation / AIR + Moon Architecture
Year 2016 - "The technical conception included the temporary status of the construction but the project was nevertheless designed as if it was permanent. This design of permanency was important as the architect wanted the building to be fully inserted in the city and the neighborhood, not showing its temporary status, as they didn’t want the inhabitants to feel different from the other citizens of the surroundings."
"They insist on the importance of giving an image of sustainability to the building dedicated to people in need of stability and to give it the same level of attention that permanent housing. This goes in the treatment of the facade, made out of wood with a variation of colors in relation with the surrounding trees, on the creation of common rooms with natural lighting that were not in the original command of the client, on the generous size of the windows."
InsideOut School / Andrea Tabocchini & Francesca Vittorini
Year 2017 - "The result is a work that blurs the boundary between inside and outside, offering an alternative to standard introverted classrooms and proposing an affordable and easily replicable design that values the local know-how and pushes its limits."
100 Classrooms for Refugee Children / Emergency Architecture & Human Rights
Year 2017 - "Due to the limited choice of building methods and materials and the harsh environment characterized by hot summers and cold winters, the beehive style is a viable solution for school construction. This kind of building technique does not require high-tensile-strength reinforcements and can be built quickly with unskilled labor, performing better than tents, cement blocks, and corrugated metal sheets in terms of thermal insulation. In comparison with a cement block structure of similar dimensions, the costs for construction were halved."
"During the construction, EAHR trained local workers on super-adobe construction methods which can also increase livelihoods and strengthen the resilience of the local community. This method hopefully allows these skills to be re-adopted to build more sustainable, low-cost, and energy-efficient buildings within the surrounding informal settlements and during Syria’s future reconstruction."
Naidi Community Hall / CAUKIN Studio
Year 2018 - "With the collaborative influence of the community, it quickly became clear that the building must provide a space to sing, create local handmade crafts and perform their famous ‘Meke’ - a traditional Fijian dance. CAUKIN Studio believes that having a safe, functioning, and beautiful space to express oneself creatively is vital to personal and community growth."
Agriculture Technology Centre, Cambodia / Squire & Partners + SAWA
Year 2018 - "Built by local contractors, farmers and 16-25-year-olds over a four-month period - assisted by volunteers from the UK - the development provides education in agricultural technologies to support children and adults in the local community, and facilitates opportunities for enterprise."
The Women’s House of Ouled Merzoug / Building Beyond Borders Hasselt University
Year 2019 - "The end result of this participatory process is a Women's House: a meeting, working and learning place in the centre of the village. A place where women can share their crafts with the community and visitors. In this project, the limits of the sustainable buildings were challenged by maximizing the use of local and regenerative materials and the confrontation between traditional and contemporary building techniques."
Integrated Community Center in Hindu-paraRohingya Refugee Camp / Rizvi Hassan
Year 2019 - "Community members of Hindupara and members from adjacent hosting community have got the scope to come forward to create the center together from which they can be benefited in terms of psycho-social support, training, case management, and knowledge sharing."
"The largest refugee camp has been formed in a very short time with an immense amount of work and intensive use of local resources. Rapid use of non-treated bamboo, tarpaulin, and straw has made the camp grow like an organic entity in the emergency period."
* The quoted texts are excerpts from the archived descriptions of each project, previously sent by the architects.
Find more reference projects in this My ArchDaily folder created by the Author.