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.
Refugees: The Latest Architecture and News
The Architecture Film Festival London, in its 2021 edition, addresses a variety of topics related to contemporary architecture. In particular, the role of housing—from the history of housing estates to the current global housing crisis—is a prominent theme.
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.
ARCHITECTURE AFTER TERRORISM
Architecture has found a strange and unexpected enemy in ISIS, which has destroyed and looted countless religious buildings, monuments, archaeological sites and works of art from different cultures and religions, most of them considered World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban has signed an agreement with UN-Habitat, the United Nations agency tasked with guiding sustainable development, to design up to 20,000 new homes for refugees in Kenya’s Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement. Currently home to more than 37,000 refugees, the settlement is quickly outgrowing its original capacity of 45,000 – over 17,000 have arrived this year alone, with numbers expected to continue to increase.
“The key thing will be to design and construct shelter where no or little technical supervision is required, and use materials that are locally available and eco-friendly. It’s important that the houses can be easily maintained by inhabitants.”
7 Architectural Solutions for Asylum Seekers Shown by the Finnish Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale
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.
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?
For the first event of our 2017 panel season "Displacements" the AIA-NY Global Dialogues Committee explores how designers are responding to the global refugee crisis through analysis, advocacy, documentation, and design.
We challenge the innovative minds around the globe to design a marketplace with an operational plan for a vulnerable population (adolescents, single mothers, children, people with trauma, etc) in one of the refugee settlements below. The marketplace should be able to run for long-term, i.e. 3-5 years, and benefit as many people as possible. The overall budget limit for both construction and operation of the entire marketplace is $100,000.
In light of the current surge of refugees in the international arena, refugee livelihoods in transitional settlements have become a crucial topic in contemporary geopolitical relations.
Swedish mega-retailer IKEA is taking action to combat the destitute living conditions faced by Syrian refugees.
Forensic Architecture Digitally Reconstruct Secret Syrian Torture Prison from the Memories of Survivors
Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at the University of London, in collaboration with Amnesty International, has created a 3D model of Saydnaya, a Syrian torture prison, using architectural and acoustic modeling. The project, which was commissioned in 2016, reconstructs the architecture of the secret detention center from the memory of several survivors, who are now refugees in Turkey.
Since the beginnings of the Syrian crisis in 2011, tens of thousands of Syrians have been taken into a secret network of prisons and detention centers run by the Assad government for a variety of alleged crimes opposing the regime. After passing through a series of interrogations and centers, many prisoners are taken to Saydnaya, a notoriously brutal “final destination,” where torture is used not to obtain information, but rather only to terrorize and often kill detainees.
Located about 25 kilometers north of Damascus, Saydnaya stands in a German-designed building dating from the 1970s. In recent years, no meaningful visits from independent journalists or monitoring groups have been permitted, so no recent photographs or other accounts exist of its interior space, except for the memories of Saydnaya survivors.
Throughout Syria’s four-year war, many of the country’s ancient monuments and artifacts have been demolished by ISIS and Syrian bombs targeted at Islamic militants. In August, ISIS destroyed Palmyra, one of the most important cultural centers in the world.
Yet a group of Syrian refugee artists in Jordan, with the support of the United Nations and Internal Relief and Development, have been salvaging some memories of their country’s destroyed artifacts. Since November 2014, these artists have been constructing miniature models of Syria’s ancient architecture through a project called Syria History and Civilization, according to a reporty by Buzzfeed News.
"Within humanitarian responses, programmatically, children often become invisible." (Marc Sommers)
The Syrian crisis has forced thousands of families to leave their homes in search of safe places to continue with their lives. Many families have moved to Lebanon, where the UN has raised a series of informal settlements. While effective in providing shelter, they don't provide specific solutions for children, many of whom have had their studies interrupted and don't have public spaces equipped to play sports and interact with other kids.
In response to this situation, the architects of CatalyticAction have designed and built a playground in one of the schools developed by The Kayany Foundation and American University of Beirut's Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service, involving children throughout the entire process and allowing the structure to be easily disassembled, transported and either reassembled or repurposed.
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.
An IKEA prototype for a modular “Refugee Housing Unit” has been selected as one of three finalists for the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design’s (Icsid) World Design Impact Prize 2014. The pilot project was lauded for providing a “temporary shelter in which facilitates ‘a feeling of normality’ for families living in refugee camps.” The project will be measured against a “BioLite HomeStove” and “ABC Syringe” before an overall prize winner is announced. You can learn more about the unit here and preview the competing innovations here.
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.
To mark the occasion of World Refugee Day on June 20th, the IKEA Foundation announced an important new collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Refugee Housing Unit to design a new type of shelter which will replace the outdated tents currently in use in refugee camps worldwide.
As you'd expect from IKEA, the result is a flat-packed, modular design (ideal for cheaply transporting to refugee camps) that can be assembled in 4 hours. Though it is expected to cost about twice as much, it will last much longer than the tents, which must be replaced roughly every six months - a particularly important improvement, as the average family stays in a refugee camp for 12 years.
The design also carries a number of other advantages, such as increased space and privacy, better temperature control and enough solar energy to power a light in the evening. The design is currently being tested in Ethiopia before being deployed worldwide, however, this is not the end of IKEA's collaboration with UNHCR. These shelters are just the first part of a long-term collaboration which will hopefully provide healthcare and education - and ultimately a better quality of life for the world's refugees.
More coverage of architecture's involvement in refugee aid, after the break.
June 20th. World Refugee Day.
When we think of emergency architecture, what usually comes to mind are villages razed by flooding, by a hurricane or tornado. Families who have lost everything. From catastrophe emerges a new home for a new life, a new future to rebuild from the debris. But there are many other emergencies of an equally - if not more - dramatic nature.
Political and armed conflicts displace tens of millions of people every year. In the 2012 census collected by ANCUR, it was estimated that “43.3 million people in the world were displaced by force due to conflict and persecution. Children constitute 46% of this population.” These are not people who are starting from 0 with a new home, but rather who have run to save their own lives, taking with them only what they can carry - the things that will furnish houses that aren’t houses, because their inhabitants aren’t citizens.
But a refugee camp is also a city.