Almost seven kilometers from the green of Uhuru Park in central Nairobi, lies the informal settlement of Kibera. It is an area whose urban character consists of corrugated iron roofs, mud walls, and a complicated network of utility poles. Kibera, at this point in time, is a well-known place. Much has been written and researched on this “city within a city,” from its infrastructural issues to its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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It’s a ubiquitous architectural form. An architectural typology that spans centuries and borders, a staple across cultures. The tent. In its simplest form – it’s a shelter, with material draped over a frame of poles. It’s an architectural language that is intrinsically linked to nomadic living. Yurts, for instance, functions as an easily portable dwelling for the Kazakh and Kyrgyz peoples. At the same time, tents have proved a popular stylistic precedent for architects, the lightweight structures of German architect Frei Paul Otto being a case in point. The tent is a complicated architectural language – one that straddles the line between temporary and permanent, and one that also functions as a symbol of wealth and a symbol of scarcity.
Shigeru Ban Architects and Philippe Monteil Design Refugee Shelters in Kenya with the Support of UN-Habitat
Since 2017, UN-Habitat, together with Shigeru Ban Architects, Philippe Monteil and the NGO Voluntary Architects' Network, developed several shelter typologies for a pilot neighborhood in Kalobeyei Settlement in Kenya. The Turkana Houses are meant to house South Sudanese and other refugees living in Northern Kenya who could not return to their original villages due to endless civil wars and conflicts. Unlike typical refugee shelters, these structures were meant to provide a home for long periods of displacement and the four typologies developed are informed by the extensive experience of Shigeru Ban Architects with disaster relief projects and the local building techniques of local people.
The International Union of Architects (UIA), in partnership with UN-HABITAT, have announced the Regional Finalists of first stage of the UIA 2030 Award. The biennial award, which is in its inaugural edition, honors the work of architects contributing to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and New Urban Agenda through built projects that demonstrate design quality and alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There’s a well-known catchphrase – “Cape to Cairo” – that has spawned numerous books and piqued the imagination of countless travellers of the African continent. The phrase’s origins are of imperial nature, birthed out of an 1874 proposal by English journalist Edwin Arnold that sought to discover the origins of the Congo River. This project was later taken up by imperialist Cecil Rhodes, who envisioned a continuous railway of British-ruled territories that stretched from the North to the South of the continent.
The built environment we all inhabit is part and parcel of global, interconnected processes and systems. When we appraise the historically significant architecture of our cities, the structural integrity and aesthetics of a building merits equal consideration with factors such as the labour conditions of its builders to the existing power structures of its time. Examples of Italian Modernism in Eritrea, for instance, might be worthy of aesthetic praise – but intertwined with the legacy of these buildings hailed as Modernist icons is the sobering fact that they were built to further an imperial project. In the complex fields of architectural conservation, preservation and cultural heritage, democratisation should always remain a key priority.
COP26, The United Nations Climate Change Conference, is scheduled to be held in Scotland soon, in the last week of October 2021. Against the backdrop of this conference is a heightened global awareness of climate change, as discussions take place on how a sustainable, more equal future can be achieved. The present and future state of architecture is a key component of this conversation, as criticism is levelled at architecture firms that “greenwash” and questions are raised on if the term “sustainability” is increasingly merely being used as today’s buzzword.
A quick glance today at the cities of the African continent reveals a rich diversity of urban settlements, ranging in type from rural enclaves to sprawling metropolises. That quick glance also reveals a larger picture of cities that are continuously adapting and evolving as we enter the decade of the 2020s – yet this evolution in many places is taking place at the expense of those who are less fortunate. This is not happening in a vacuum, as the reason why a lot of African cities look as they do today is a result of a segregated organization during colonial rule.
When we think of migration, we think of movement. We think of the movement of people simply looking for greener pastures – a better life for themselves. But we also think of war, of conflict, of an unstable situation in a specific place forcing the hand of a location’s residents to seek safety elsewhere. Historically and into present day, war has been the reason for the increased presence of refugees. Instability in places such as Syria, Iraq, or the Central African Republic have caused millions to flee their homes. Lurking amongst this migration due to conflict, however, is the migration of people at mercy of the changing environmental conditions of the Earth – climate migration.
With more than 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, according to the UNHCR, and nearly 25.9 million refugees, the time has come to reconsider the traditional emergency camp approach. Although the concept is temporary by definition, in real life the lifespan of these refugee camps exceeds the planned and the expected.