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.
Refugee Camp: The Latest Architecture and News
Tents: An Architectural Language
Beyond Refugee Housing: 5 Examples of Social Infrastructure for Displaced People
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.
The First "Maidan Tent" is Built to Aid Refugees in Greece
In an effort to aid the plight of refugees around the world fleeing war and persecution, two young architects in 2016 embarked on a project designed to improve the mental health of refugees in camps. Led by Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone and Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner, and supported by the UN International Organization for Migration, “Maidan Tent” allows refugees to benefit from indoor public space – a communal area to counteract the psychological trauma induced by war, persecution, and forced migration.
Two years on, the first tent has been installed at the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece, currently hosting more than 800 refugees. The camp which now hosts the inaugural Maidan Tent was also the subject site where the design team made eight visits to throughout the past two years.
Archstorming Announces Winners of Mosul Postwar Camp Competition
Archstorming has announced the winners of their Open Ideas Competition: Mosul Postwar Camp. In the competition for architects and architecture students, the challenge was to design a social reintegration solution with essential humanitarian aid for people who return home to Mosul after the Iraq war against ISIS. The competition results proved there are many ways to revitalize the lives of displaced people through the spaces they inhabit.
Maidan Tent - Architectural Aid for Europe's Refugee Crisis
Over the past two years alone, more than a million people have fled the Syrian conflict to take refuge in Europe, strenuously testing the continent’s ability to respond to a large-scale humanitarian crisis. With the Syrian Refugee Crisis still unresolved, and temporary refugee camps now firmly established on the frontiers of Europe, architects and designers are devoting energy to improving the living conditions of those in camps fleeing war and persecution.
One emerging example of humanitarian architecture is Maidan Tent, a proposed social hub to be erected at a refugee camp in Ritsona, Greece. Led by two young architects, Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone and Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner, and with the support of the UN International Organization for Migration, Maidan Tent will allow refugees to benefit from indoor public space – a communal area to counteract the psychological trauma induced by war, persecution, and forced migration.
With the Jarahieh Refugee School, CatalyticAction Demonstrates the True Potential Of Temporary Structures
The 2015 Milan Expo required the input of more than 145 countries and 50 international organizations resulting in over 70 temporary pavilions; a combined effort totaling more than €13 billion. Norman Foster’s rippling pavilion for the United Arab Emirates ended up at €60 million. The massive slab of concrete, laid out over the previously green agricultural land to act as the Expo’s foundation cost a whopping €224 million. Even Vietnam’s “low cost” pavilion came in at $2.09 million.
Compare that with, for example, IKEA’s proposal for a temporary refugee shelter that can house 5, costing just $1000, and one can see the absurdity of spending gargantuan sums on buildings that will perhaps be sold to be used later as a clubhouse, or to a museum as another temporary cultural center. Where is the architectural action behind an architectural event that boasts “Energy for Life” or “Better City, Better Life” - the slogan of the Shanghai 2010 Expo - yet spends extraordinary amounts of resources on structures that provide little sustainable development to parts of the world that are actually in dire need of it?
CatalyticAction's Playground Puts Children at the Center of Relief Efforts for Syria
The international response to the Syrian War has often struggled to deal with the sheer scale of the disaster; huge numbers of refugees find it difficult even to source the barest essentials for life in the enormous refugee camps that have sprung up in Jordan, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Alongside the overwhelming need for basics, longer term care for displaced Syrian citizens is also proving difficult, but CatalyticAction, a not-for-profit design studio who are in their own words "a group of young graduates who believe that small changes can realize a big impact," believe that this long-term provision is equally important, especially for children.
Providing a sense of normal life for children in the refugee camps is absolutely essential to helping them, and their families, to recover and cope with life as refugees, which this why CatalyticAction have begun crowdfunding the construction of a playground - designed with the help of refugee children - in the Lebanese town of Bar Elias. The playground would allow children to learn through play, provide a sense of normality and, importantly, should create a space that they feel safe in.
Beyond the Tent: Why Refugee Camps Need Architects (Now More than Ever)
In 2013 alone some 1 million people have poured out of Syria to escape a civil conflict that has been raging for over two years. The total number of Syrian refugees is well over 2 million, an unprecedented number and a disturbing reality that has put the host countries under immense infrastructural strain.
Host countries at least have a protocol they can follow, however. UN Handbooks are consulted and used to inform an appropriate approach to camp planning issues. Land is negotiated for and a grid layout is set. The method, while general, is meticulous – adequate for an issue with an expiration date.
Or at least it would be if the issue were, in fact, temporary.