Posts tagged with "Refugees":

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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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IKEA recreates war-torn Syrian house inside Norwegian flagship store

Swedish furniture purveyor IKEA is usually synonymous with picture-perfect homes filled with flat-pack designs. At its flagship store in Slependen, Norway, however, a showroom space—where the best model interiors are usually on display—is instead showcasing a dwelling straight from Syria. Working with the Norwegian Red Cross foundation, IKEA has reproduced a war-torn Syrian house. Called 25m^2 Syria, the installation features bare concrete masonry units and a space bereft of any notable furnishings, let alone any from the likes of IKEA. (For those wondering, 25 square meters equates to 269 square feet). 25m^2 is based on a real-life house on the outskirts of Damascus, the capital of the war-torn state. The apartment in Syria belongs to a woman named Rana and her family of nine, of whom pictures can be found on the walls inside. Despite its jarring effect in the store, some of IKEA brand identity can be found inside 25m^2. Typical IKEA tags that usually display prices and product information here tell stories of Rana and her family. They shed light on the Syrian way of life and the daily struggles many Syrians endure such as food and medication shortages and lack of access to clean water. The concept was initially brought to life by Norwegian advertising agency POL. Through the installation, the company hopes to raise money for "TV-Aksjonen," an effort with the Norwegian Red Cross to collect donations to aid those living in war zones. An explicit plea for donations is also written on the walls of the mock-Syrian space. In a statement POL said:
It was important to get the public involved, and to really understand where the help was going. So the decision to build a replica of a Syrian home at IKEA was made. IKEA’s vision is ‘to create a better everyday life for the may people’. So this partnership was both natural, giving and especially relevant for the cause.
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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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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.