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.
Ranging from seven to seventeen years, most of these settlements surpass their expiry dates. Actually, on average, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kenya, "many displaced persons spend more than 16 years living as refugees in temporary shelter."
As part of UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda, Bjarke Ingels Group has proposed a vision for the world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community, designed to accommodate 10,000 people. “Oceanix City” is a response to the prediction that by 2050, 90% of the world’s largest cities will be exposed to rising seas, resulting in mass displacement, and the destruction of homes and infrastructure. The scheme is anchored in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, enacting circular flows of food, energy, water, and waste.
In support of World Toilet Day on November 19, SPARK Architects launched their prototype for a 3D printed toilet module titled, "Big Arse Toilet" alongside a slogan stating that "Sparks gives a sh*t." Though the pun-filled humor is definitely attention-grabbing, the project tackles serious issues of hygiene and sanitation as part of the UN initiative to eliminate open defecation by 2025. With the perpetuating cycle of malnutrition, disease, and poverty, poor sanitation is the leading cause in nearly a third of the deaths in low- and middle-income regions in several countries such as India.
Easily transportable, the toilet module converts human waste into biogas into electricity using a micro combined heat and power (CHP) unit. Essentially producing "free" energy, SPARK's proposal combats the issue of open defecation and uses the abundant natural waste in remote communities in Indian villages where there is low accessibility to electricity.
The more architecture students that I converse with, the more I hear this common dissent amongst them: “I don’t want to become an architect.” Despite participating in long studio hours for a five-year professional degree, somehow very few peers actually want to become the kind of architects that create buildings.
Aside from the conventional alternatives of interior or graphic design, there is a rising trend in the popularity of firms that use architectural skills for beyond the scope of designing luxury condominiums for wealthy clients. For prospective architects (and current ones), below are examples of firms that may not be what one initially imagines to do with their degree, but a taste of the potential of what they can.
In an effort to spark public discussion and new ideas on how sustainable design can manifest as decent, affordable housing, Yale University has collaborated with UN Environment and UN-Habitat to unveil a “tiny house” fully powered by renewable energy. At 22-square-meters, the eco-house is designed to “test the potential for minimizing the use of natural resources such as water.”
The prototype was unveiled during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, constructed from locally-sourced, bio-based renewable materials. While the first prototype is designed for the climate and context of New York, future iterations can be adapted for site-specific conditions around the globe. Design and fabrication of the module was carried out by Gray Organschi Architecture, working in direct partnership with the Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture.
Sketch for Syria, a project initiated by by Marco Ballarin and Jacopo Galli at IUAV, Venice, has brought together 150 architects from 26 nations in a large-scale effort to "imagine, trace and share possible scenarios" for Syria, following the recent devastation of the lives of its citizens and a significant amount of its architectural heritage.
In response to the United Nations' (UN-ESCWA) drafting of an agenda on July 14th, 2016 to consider ways of reconstructing the country, this drawing project has attracted contributions from the likes of Álvaro Siza, Philippe Rahm, Peter Wilson, and Francisco Aires Mateus.
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.”
The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (commonly referred to as UNESCO) has named 17 projects in 7 countries by revolutionary Modernist architect Le Corbusier to their list of World Heritage Sites. Given to places of special cultural or physical significance, the designation will help to protect and preserve the buildings for future generations. Citing Le Corbusier’s inventive architectural language, UNESCO praised the collection of projects for “[reflecting] the solutions that the Modern Movement sought to apply during the 20th century to the challenges of inventing new architectural techniques to respond to the needs of society.”
“The inscription on the World Heritage List of 17 buildings of sites by Le Corbusier represents a strong encouragement to continue all along Le Corbusier's built work to maintain this living heritage and to hand it down to future generations,” said Fondation Le Corbusier President Antoine Picon in a statement. “It also contributes to the understanding of that complex and fragile legacy and helps its dissemination to the widest audience.”
Continue after the break for the full list of projects and images.
Can architects have a truly active role in pressing social problems? Malkit Shoshan, the curator of the Dutch Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale, thinks so. Her career is evidence of this: advocating for the incorporation of a fourth 'D' in the criteria of the UN (Defence, Diplomacy and Development) in its peacekeeping missions around the world, Shoshan has sat at the same table as military engineers and policy makers to analyze the urban impact peacekeepers have left around the world.
For the Dutch Pavilion, Shoshan has focused on the case of the joint mission of the Netherlands and the UN in Gao (Mali). In 2012, Gao was declared capital of the Independent State of Azawad, a nation not recognized by the international authorities, following Mali's Tuareg rebellion. "Although [these peacekeeping missions] occupy large plots of land in hundreds of different cities around the world, it is rarely discussed or addressed by our profession," says Soshan in the following interview.
We spoke with the curator of the Dutch pavilion after her recent visit to Mali to discuss the principles of the Netherlands in the next Venice Biennale; the impact of military drones in public spaces and why, according Shoshan, there is a close relationship between architecture, public policy and ideology. "[With design,] we can make resources available to communities that are exhausted by militarized conflicts, long periods of drought, famine and disease," she says.
Italy and UNESCO have signed an agreement to create a special Italian task force to protect art, cultural sites, and ancient artifacts that are located in areas of war or conflict around the world. They will also form a center in Turin to train cultural heritage experts. The agreement arose from a proposal presented by Italy last October that was backed by 53 countries and the UN Security Council.
Malkit Shoshan, shortlisted earlier this year for the Harvard GSD Wheelwright Prize, has been selected by Het Nieuwe Instituut to curate the Dutch Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale. Founder of the Amsterdam-based architectural think tank FAST (Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory), Shoshan has been fellow of the Institute for the past two years having previously authored the award-winning book Atlas of Conflict: Israel-Palestine (2010). Her current work, entitled Drones and Honeycombs, is a study of the architecture and landscape of war and peace and examines "public space as war zone." It is this research, under the title 'Blue', which will be presented as a new series of narratives for architecture in conflict areas.
'Next year sees the opening of Habitat III, the environmental congress held every twenty years by the United Nations. For this event, a manifesto is being prepared about the design of cities. It aims to replace the guidance given by Le Corbusier and others nearly a century ago, in document they called "The Charter of Athens." The new Charter of Athens addresses issues emerging in the 21st Century about environmental crises, the uses of technology and big data, and the challenge of social inclusion. The lecture serves as an introduction to this modest proposal.'
In designing and building multiple successful public buildings in central Africa and around the world, MASS Design Group has employed and guided thousands of local craftsmen, curating the building process to inspire dignity. Now, they wish to help the African people obtain the skills necessary to guide the process themselves. At the United Nations Solutions Summit this Sunday Christian Benimana, a program director for the non-profit design studio, will present plans for what they are calling the “Bauhaus of Africa”: three “African Design Centers” to be built over the next 10 years in strategic locations throughout the continent. The design centers will house an education program tasked with training a new generation of African architects - a workforce certain to be indispensable as Africa enters a period of unprecedented urban growth.
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.
Light is all around us, and it increasingly affects our daily lives. For example, we have started to carry personal light sources around with our smartphones, and in our homes many electrical machines now utilize light to display information and simply to appear more attractive. In a larger context, architecture and cities have also developed a new dimension with the advent of electrical lighting for work and entertainment.
Inspired by the central role of light for our culture and technology, the United Nations has proclaimed 2015 as the “International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies” (IYL2015). With IYL2015 the UN wants to raise the awareness of the importance of light and optical technologies in our lives, our future and the development of society.
Read on after the break for more enlightenment around IYL2015.
Our latest movie in our Films & Architecture series is another ’60s classic, this time by the master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. In North by Northwest we see a New York in the heyday of its architectural glory, with one scene taking place at a newly constructed United Nations building. In fact, the last scene takes place in a “house” that, under Hitchcock’s instructions, was meant to seem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (in reality, the house was just another set design). The film shows a variety of urban spaces, and puts special emphasis on the contrast between the densities of urban and rural realms.