Posts tagged with "Refugee Housing":

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How to consider architecture and “humanitarian space”

Over the past decade or so, architecture has seen a wave of interest in humanitarian design. Once a marginal subfield, humanitarian architecture has come into the mainstream of the discipline through exhibitions, institutions, and practices: the 2016 Venice Biennale curated by Alejandro Aravena; MoMA’s Small Scale Big Change, Uneven Growth (2016–2017) and Insecurities (2010–2011) shows; Cooper Hewitt’s series Design for the Other 90%; organizations like Architecture for Humanity (AfH) and Architecture Sans Frontières (Architecture Without Borders); prominent architects like Aravena, Frances Kéré, and Shigeru Ban, and younger practices like MASS Design Group and Rural Urban Framework. While this turn toward a newfound sense of altruistic purpose was perhaps a needed corrective, arriving just as the myth of the “starchitect” was imploding with the 2008 financial crash, the apparent benevolence of humanitarian architecture belies a far more complicated set of ethical dilemmas. Despite the suggestion by Cameron Sinclair, the founding director of Architecture for Humanity, that he had “six billion clients” compared with the very few who could afford a certain Pritzker Prize winner, architecture in the name of a universal humanity obscures the fact that the powers that made a group like AfH’s work possible represent particular alignments of interests and actors. These actors—international NGOs, national governments offering development aid, private foundations and philanthropies, corporate social responsibility programs, and supranational entities like the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization, and the World Bank—are certainly not the “humanity” invoked by Sinclair, but rather comprise a heterogeneous complex of international organizations, infrastructure, laws, technologies, industries, and weaponry. Humanitarian architecture participates in a series of entanglements that take cover under the name of humanity, and the humanitarian project is enlisted, often knowingly, in the interests of national or international security and economic globalization. Rather than pursuing a righteous moral position self-evidently aligned with “the good,” architectural practices that work in the context of disaster relief operations or refugee crises could make evident the complexity of their ethical commitments. One way for architects to do so is to consider the spatiality of aid operations. Rony Brauman, the former president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), introduced a key term into the lexicon of aid work, the concept of “humanitarian space,” an operational environment in which humanitarian organizations are free to deliver aid without the interference of political forces. Crucial to Brauman’s definition is the political independence and neutrality, at least in theory, of the institutions, technologies, and actors that participate in relief efforts. The concept of humanitarian space thus implies the separation of a moral imperative from the narrow interests of politics, one oriented toward the preservation of human life and the lessening of suffering. While Brauman understands humanitarian space as a neutral sphere, architects are perhaps better prepared to recognize the politics at work in the repertoire of spatial and architectural forms through which this abstract space becomes instantiated, localized, and concretized in specific cities following a disaster or conflict. Unlike the abstract “space” of humanitarian space, these particular physical spaces suggest the outlines of the political and economic interests at work in humanitarian contexts. The buildings, walls, checkpoints, and infrastructures that organize these spaces give weight, form, and durability to Brauman’s concept of humanitarian space. The spatial devices of humanitarian aid, such as tent camps, peacekeeping bases, water and sanitation systems, as well as more complicated derivatives like export processing zones, are repeated in similar physical forms at sites across the globe, but in each context nonetheless produce a different configuration of the surrounding space. Architects are perhaps uncommonly attuned to the ways in which these spatial-architectural forms act as a kind of short-circuit between the universalizing claims of the humanitarian project and the particularities of the sites that are the staging grounds of humanitarian operations. Sites of humanitarian operations are organized by a repertoire of architectural techniques of separation and incorporation, dividing the spaces of relief operations from civic life while simultaneously negotiating adjacencies and channels of circulation between the city and humanitarian spaces. Walls separate the normal order of a city from a tent camp, slum, export processing zone, or embassy complex, while the gates and checkpoints of these places regulate the movement of people and supplies across their boundaries. The temporary shelters provided by humanitarian organizations offer relief from homelessness and space for daily routines, but also indefinitely defer the resettlement of displaced populations. In simultaneously separating and incorporating, humanitarian spatial devices participate in what the anthropologist Didier Fassin paradoxically terms “humanitarian government.” A humanitarian government, in Fassin’s conception, works not only across national borders, but also on the very boundaries between state and non-state formations and between universal moral imperatives and particular political conflicts. The result is a form of international humanitarian order that is sustained through the coordinated activities of NGOs with national and local governments, supranational organizations like the UN, military operations, and multinational corporations. The recent resurgence of nativist politics in the U.S. and Europe represents a significant challenge to the future of this humanitarian order, or at least proves that the spatial devices it employs in the name of humanity can easily be turned toward violently nationalist ends. But this has always been the case: The spatial form of the refugee camp, of course, has its origins in military operations, as do the bases of peacekeeping missions. Many manufacturers of relief aid supplies are offshoots of defense contractors. The most sophisticated spatial practices for managing displaced populations can be found in ethno-nationalist states. The threat of the withdrawal of America and European states from the liberal international order, including its humanitarian mandate, is likely only to exacerbate humanitarian crises, as seen in the past several years in Europe’s response to migration from Syria and North Africa, and most recently on the U.S.-Mexico border. Faced with the violence of the nation-state, architectural practice in humanitarian contexts could rethink the spaces of refugee camps and settlements as representing the possibility of a non-state politics. Humanitarianism claims a moral purpose, in that it acts not in the interests of any parties, but for the good of humanity itself. In this sense, humanitarianism is sometimes seen as opposed to or transcending political life. But humanitarian operations and their effects on cities are perhaps opposed not to the political, but to the state; or, more precisely, to the spatial ordering of state territory through the institutions of private land ownership and national boundaries. Humanitarian spaces point toward new spatial and political formations: governance structures, property laws, and models of land tenure that respect the complex forms of ownership seen in refugee camps and other communities where no land titles exist, or where land has never been formally divided into parcels, or where a legal distinction between public and private space is not specified. The refugee camp is therefore not outside the realm of politics, but rather points toward a political community beyond the nation-state, and beyond property and territory, the spatial extensions of the state. Seen in this light, humanitarian spaces, like camps and settlements, might not be outside the polis; rather they are emerging sites of non-state politics. The architecture of these humanitarian spaces would be designed not for a universal humanity reduced to its basic needs, but for the humans of a political life still to come. Benedict Clouette and Marlisa Wise are the authors of Forms of Aid: Architectures of Humanitarian Space.
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Why are architecture’s major professional organizations silent on the immigrant detention debate?

A preliminary Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to house nearly 100,000 detained migrants across California has been shelved.

 According to a draft Navy memo reported by Time late last week, the military base at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego and the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) east of San Francisco were being eyed as potential sites for “temporary and austere” detention facilities that would hold up to 47,000 detained migrants each over coming months. The plans encountered swift and fierce local opposition from residents and City of Concord officials alike, prompting DHS to unofficially reconsider the plan. Aside from local political opposition to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies—especially with regard to the policy of separating migrant families and detaining separated children under inhumane conditions—locals pointed to the CNWS site’s environmental toxicity and the presence of unexploded munitions on the grounds as additional reasons against its use as a detention facility. The dust-up in California comes as the United States government works to expand the number of migrant detention facilities across the country in order to deal with the rapidly growing number of detainees resulting from its hardline stance against incoming migrants and refugees. The memo uncovered by Time estimates the government is projecting to warehouse up to 25,000 detained migrants over the coming months in abandoned airfields across southern Alabama and in the Florida panhandle in addition to the nearly 94,000 detainees planned for California. There is no word regarding where or whether the detention facilities originally slated for California are being relocated to other sites. The new facilities will join what is quickly becoming a sprawling, nation-wide network of private jail facilities, non-profit-operated detention centers, and now, camps and “tent cities” located on military bases aimed at housing detained migrants. Perhaps nothing has brought this more into focus than recent controversy over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation. Although President Trump recently put a temporary halt to the practice through an executive order, nearly 2,500 children have been separated from their families over the past two months and are now being detained in facilities spanning at least 15 states. According to government figures, roughly 12,000 migrant children overall are currently being held in over 100 facilities across the country, many of which are at or exceed their designated capacities, and some of which are facing allegations of abuse and misconduct, not to mention ill-equipped to handle the mental health, welfare, and legal hurdles these children face. As a result, the nation’s sprawling—and expanding—carceral archipelago has now become a major source of  political, ethical, and moral debate. 

As with the vast for-profit prison system, there are many questions about the ethical and moral implications of designing and constructing these facilities. So far, however, the architectural profession is staying mostly out of the fray, with a few exceptions. Last week, The Architecture Lobby (TAL) and Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) issued a joint statement rejecting the role of architects in designing such detention facilities, stating, “The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on architects, designers, planners and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure, including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers. We encourage owners, partners and employees who find themselves in practices that engage in this work to organize, and deny their labor to these projects.” The statement came as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its annual convention in New York City, an event that was marked with a heavy emphasis on the profession’s attempts to overcome the diversity and inclusion hurdles currently faced by the white- and male-dominated profession. It was not long ago that the association drew the ire of its members following the 2016 national election, when AIA CEO Robert Ivy declared that AIA members “stand ready to work” with Trump toward shared goals like infrastructure investments. During last week’s conference, ADPSR attempted to get AIA leadership to endorse its rejection of detention center projects, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful, though the group is still working to convince the AIA to adpot its position. Raphael Sperry, president of ADPSR, told The Architect’s Newspaper, “People should recognize that immigrants, including currently undocumented people in the United States, contribute greatly to architecture, and always have. There are immigrant and undocumented architects, builders, carpenters, plumbers, welders. We must recognize and respect the contributions of everyone who shapes the built environment, and ensure that our profession and our broader industry respect human rights for everyone.” When reached for comment on the question of whether architects should take on these commissions, Carl Elefante, AIA president, referred AN to the AIA press team. When contacted, a representative of the AIA simply asked, “Why do you think architects are working on these projects?” without providing further comment. Even a casual observer would note that architects are likely fundamental to the development of not only the increasingly ubiquitous detention centers being built across the country, but also, as ADPSR points out, the myriad supportive facilities necessary for DHS to carry out its ongoing efforts to fight so-called “illegal immigration.” Most notoriously, a 200,000-square-foot former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas came under scrutiny in recent weeks as a detention center with a unique claim to fame—the largest detention center for migrant and refugee children. Operated by the privately-run Southwest Key Programs organization, the big-box detention center was converted from a retail store to its current use in 2016 as a result of corporate downsizing and currently holds roughly 1,500 separated children. The conversion likely required building permits, construction drawings, and the like—services that often require architects. It is safe to assume that local jurisdictions would require basic planning approval and permitting for these projects, so it seems natural that architects would somehow be involved in the propagation of these facilities. The silence from professional organizations on the matter is troubling to say the least; as the government ramps up efforts to build more facilities under increasingly hostile terms, it would benefit practitioners and contractors to understand the ethical implications of their work. Furthermore, other professional architectural organizations, like the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), have pushed to have architects and designers engage with migrant and refugee detention centers through design in the past. Last year, ACSA issued a controversial call for its annual steel construction competition, asking participants to design a “Humanitarian Refugee (Detention) Center.” The proposal drew ire from the architectural community as well, prompting the group to shut down the competition in exchange for a different brief issued earlier this year. In a statement announcing the end of the competition, ACSA remarked that it had received “justified​ criticism” over the prompt and that it regretted its decision to publish the competition. When reached for comment this week regarding the current debate surrounding migrant detention centers, a representative said, “ACSA does not have a comment on that issue. We do not take positions on the work that architects choose to take on.” The reticence that professional groups like the AIA and ACSA have toward speaking out against what many consider to be plainly unethical facilities speaks to the profession’s ongoing struggles with racial and ethnic diversity along with human rights concerns. Because detained migrants are being distributed among a network that runs the gamut of structures, from private prisons to improvised tent cities in remote desert sites, the implications of the expanding detention network extends beyond the realm of individual projects and firm-specific business decisions to encompass profession-wide ethical and human rights concerns. The racialized dimension of the immigration debate alongside the architectural profession’s continued lack of diversity present particular challenges for professional organizations and individual firms as they attempt to respond. At stake is whether—or how—the architectural profession will engage with the American immigration debate, and more broadly, with a global refugee crisis that is only due to keep growing in scope and severity as the effects of climate change and resource-driven conflicts spread globally. If AIA and ACSA will not provide leadership during these trying times, who will?  
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Shigeru Ban will design 20,000 shelters for a Kenyan refugee settlement

After visiting the Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement in Kenya, Pritzker Prize–winning architect Shigeru Ban has signed an agreement with UN-HABITAT to design up to 20,000 new shelters for the site’s incoming refugees. Ban has previously completed similar projects in Nepal, Turkey, Rwanda, and Italy to house displaced populations, demonstrating a skill for creating high-durability, low-cost shelters using eco-friendly building materials such as cardboard, wood, and recycled containers. The shelters need to be a replicable model that can be adapted to Kalobeyei's influx of people. The new housing has been commissioned in response to the settlement’s rapid growth in the past months—it currently houses 37,000 refugees fleeing violence and climate change in South Sudan and Somalia, and is expected to outnumber its original capacity of 45,000 within a year. This project in particular poses challenges: Kenya’s arid, hot climate gives way to powerful floods in the rainy season, existing shelters are rapidly deteriorating, building materials are scarce, and Nairobi is a three-day drive away. Yuka Terada, the Project Coordinator for UN-HABITAT, stated in a press release that the project’s approaches will be “strongly participatory and the relevant county officers, as well as the representatives from refugee and host community, will have an input in the design process.” During his visit to the settlement, Ban also emphasized his commitment to incorporating local architectural traditions into the final product. “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,” he stated. The resulting design will be prototyped on 20 shelters before expansion throughout the settlement.
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The MoMA delves into designing for refugees but falls short on substance

Modernism’s alienating functionalism seems not so subtly hidden in the perfect grids and modular shelters of refugee camps. The urgency of survival turns shelter into a problem to be solved while ignoring the complexities of refugees’ situations. For example, the 2007 edition of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Handbook for Emergencies presupposes that refugee camp shelters can be organized around nuclear family units (hardly a universal cultural constant). MoMA associate curator Sean Anderson cited a similar example of poor shelter design as the impetus for his exhibition Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter. In Jordan, where Anderson spent extensive time visiting camps, refugees were given metal shelters—a disastrous choice in the punishing desert heat. To counter the seductive notion that “architecture is the solution to assist, aid, represent and help these populations,” as Anderson said, the exhibit presents a range of drawings, photography, artworks, and objects to question whether there is a simple “solution” at all. While Insecurities laudably forefronts this perennial issue (there are some 60 million refugees worldwide) and highlights what makes it challenging (a complex fusion of geography, violence, international politics, and architecture), it also seems like a missed opportunity to take a long, hard look at specific instances where designers failed refugees.

I say a long, hard look because—as Anderson himself said in an interview—refugees often find themselves trapped in camps for years, decades, sometimes in seeming perpetuity. One of the exhibition’s most poignant works is a large wool tapestry designed by Sahrawi refugees in the Western Sahara. The Sahrawis were forced from Morocco some forty years ago and have subsequently remained in a remote region of neighboring Algeria ever since. The National Union of Sahrawi Women, in collaboration with Switzerland and Germany-based architect Manuel Herz, created this map of Rabouni (the camp-turned-capital of the Sahrawi government-in-exile). The camp bears the hallmarks of a proper capital, with ministries of defense, the interior, and education, though with a key difference: The UN’s World Food Program is at the heart of Rabouni.

Much like the Rabouni tapestry, Refugee Republic testifies to how camps evolve. This immersive audiovisual installation mapped the sounds and layout of Camp Domiz, a collection of some 58,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq. On a visceral level, it places you in the camp: Users hear the sounds of a small city while they take an illustrated walking tour of its shops, bus stops, community spaces, restaurants, hairdressers, and more. While permanency and the camp-cities are critical dimensions to the global refugee crises, the exhibition also rightly highlights the extreme and immediate vulnerability of refugees: Liquid Traces: The Left-to-Die Boat is a video, assembled by a team of researchers and designers, that tracks how a boat of migrants was left to drift on the Mediterranean Sea within a NATO surveillance area, leaving 9 survivors out of 72.

Yet, for all the urgency and nuance that some works in Insecurities bring, others fall short. One wall features a grid of photographs depicting different emergency shelters made from plastic, metal, sandbags, etc. It seems dangerous to present these shelters—as well as large photographs of camps from around the world—without context. Tasked with helping respond to a refugee crises, any architect or organizer would immediately face tremendous dilemmas: By preparing a community for the long haul (building permanent homes, economic infrastructure, local government) refugees may fear that tacitly admitting that a return to their homeland would be impossible and, consequently, that they must settle for whatever fate their host country provides.Government-provided shelters and protective fences may later seem like prison cells and walls. Where’s the line between providing shelter and containment? How does architecture—supposedly solid and sturdy—respond to communities in limbo?

This is a paradox the exhibition makes clear and it’s a question that architects must consider if they’re to be part of a response to refugee crises. But when the exhibition displays photographs of countless camps—Nizip II (a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey), Mugombwa in Rwanda, Dadaab in Kenya, Dheisheh in the West Bank, and shelters in Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport—it makes one wonder: What worked? What failed? How can architects respond? Perhaps a tall order, but the exhibition could have investigated further to offer at least bread crumbs toward a new, comprehensive architectural response.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter highlights how refugees are caught between invisible borders, relocated to the periphery, and controlled by governments under the guise of protection or security. Those are the symptoms of a deeper reality: Refugees are, by definition, individuals and communities without the protection of architecture or government. The fact that refugees are without the advocacy of their national government (assuming it exists somewhere) makes the role of the designer even more fraught (not to mention the potential shades of colonialism, something the exhibition doesn’t address). The UN can provide instructions to help leaders manage a crisis, but we would hardly expect a single, universal manual for any field of design or planning. If architects are to step up, there must be a deep and broad institutional awareness of past failures and successes to chart a path forward.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter Museum of Modern Art, New York, through January 22

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MoMA to open exhibit on refugee displacement

In Europe, the "refugee crisis" has been a hot-topic for months and conversations about urban habitats through the lens of temporary dwellings like refugee camps are quickly emerging in the Western world. On October 1 this year, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will open Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition that aims to address the "contemporary notions of shelter, as seen through migration and global refugee emergencies. Comprising a collection of projects from architects, designers, and artists, the issue of displacement is acknowledged through various mediums, looking at variables that influence refugee environments. Organized by Sean Anderson, Associate Curator, and Arièle Dionne-Krosnick, Curatorial Assistant, the exhibition also looks at how refugee shelters offer shelter from a critical perspective. The United Nations indicates that there are up to 59.5 million people across the globe who are refugees, asylum-seekers, or displaced, with 86 percent of this population being hosted in developing countries, a 16% increase from ten years ago. Subsequently, "emergency architecture" is establishing itself as a prevalent topic in both the developing and developed world. Alejandro Aravena currently leads the way along with Shigeru Ban who has been dubbed "architecture's first responder." Both architects are recent Pritzker Prize winners. In schools too, the topic is being addressed directly as can be seen at the International University of Catalonia in Barcelona which offers a Masters in "Emergency Architecture" and at the University of Nottingham in the UK where undergraduate's and Phd students specifically tackle the issue of permanency and growth within likewise environments. Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter aims to further this and establish a discourse on how safety and shelter are defined within these host environments, while also addressing the issue of permanency surrounding these shelters. Once a temporary place for refuge, many camps are now permanent installations. Such places, as the MoMA says, "have become a locus through which to examine how human rights intersect with and complicate the making of cities." Questions such as the definition of shelter and what temporal living means will be raised throughout the exhibition which will include works by Estudio Teddy Cruz, Henk Wildschut, and Tiffany Chung and the IKEA Foundation-UNHCR-Better Shelter modular emergency structureothers that respond to the exhibitions themes. Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter will close January 22, 2017.
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The RE:BUILD Project offers shelter and education to displaced Syrian refugees

The civil war in Syria has created millions of refugees forced to flee hostilities for safer ground. Those numbers include, according to the United Nations' refugee agency and Save the Children, more than 1.3 million children under the age of 18. To help house those staggering populations, nonprofit Pilosio Building Peace has teamed up with architects Pouya Khazaeli and Cameron Sinclair to build economical architecture designed to house refugees who have been uprooted by war. Cameron Sinclair, former founder of Architecture for Humanity and current founder of for-purpose design firm Small Works, collaborated with Iranian architect Pouya Khazaeli to ensure meaningful social and cultural impact for the project. Their 52-foot-square re-deployable buildings are located in Amman, Jordan at refugee camps Rania Park and Zaatar. The structures can serve as houses, schools, or clinics. A team of ten workers and $33,000 was able to construct the so-called RE:BUILD project. The buildings use earth as a primary construction material. The complex consists of all locally-sourced materials ranging from framework made from scaffolding tubes, walls assembled using earth and sand (also functioning as a natural insulator), to a roof fashioned from steel panels. RE:BUILD is both structurally sound and environmentally friendly as water and electricity are not required. The project also offers refugees the chance to get involved in a hands-on experience by allowing them to assist with assembling the structures. This opportunity, organizers say, provides the refugees with a glimpse into the experience of transforming what appears to be a helpless situation into positive progress.
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Seeking Refuge: Thinking differently about architectural solutions to the European refugee crisis

In a recently published article by NextCity, German students at Leibnitz University in Hannover have taken a different approach to the standard shantytown-tent communities often considered for refugee accommodation. Instead, they are proposing long-term solutions. Providing tents, containers and gyms as places to house refugees may become impractical as the refugee crisis in Europe continues. Camps, usually comprising of tens of thousands of tents—the most common provision—take up a vast amount of ground space, which can compound the problem. As an alternative, the students have created a handful of designs which feature schemes being built upon abandoned sites, narrow boats, and in car parks. The project, appropriately named "Fill the Gap," is aimed at offering pragmatic solutions to refugee housing needs in Germany. Each program should be mainly timber-based, able to be constructed within one week, and capable of housing up to 40 refugees. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, architect Jörg Friedrich said "Timber creates a more comfortable living environment than previously-used metal boxes." Friedrich, who is a professor at the Institute of Design at Leibniz University and creator of "Fill the Gap," has called for a need to provide "welcoming and comfortable architecture for refugees in Germany." "Fill the Gap" as a project, was initially only meant to hypothetically provide housing solutions for 2,500 refugees in Hannover as Friedrich consulted with psychologists, anthropologists and conflict experts. However, the project has since drastically expanded as students found more and more innovative locations for short-term dwellings. While all but one of the solutions are (currently) imaginary, the project offers valuable insight to approaching refugee housing from a different angle.