The Guardian headline on March 30 read, “India racked by greatest exodus since partition due to Corona Virus”. In any crisis, it’s the poor who suffer the most. However, recent events just showcase how fickle our world is. The possibility of everyone becoming a migrant or a refugee are ripe. The question is when. Thus, it is essential for us to think ahead and open dialogues about refugee centers, emergency shelters and socially responsive design. The concept of ‘Healing Architecture’ becomes prime in these scenarios, creating environments which can psychologically enrich people and gradually heal trauma.
The mass exodus of daily wage laborers from New Delhi has once again brought to light the neglected and dire state of poor in India. India witnessed the mass migration of thousands of people, who are out of work, out of homes and out of options other than walking back to their villages. Covid19 has caused reverse migration around the World as well as a refugee crisis with foreigners stuck in different countries. Wars, natural calamities, economic crisis, health and humanitarian crisis have already forced so many to become migrants or refugees. So, how are designers tackling this issue? Let’s study in depth about some of the most acclaimed refugee centers in the World.
One such example is the Community Center in the refugee camp at Mannheim. Germany, which has set an example to the World with it’s liberal policies on refugees and immigrants has once again won us over with its spectacular design for this cultural space. Built by students of University of Kaiserslautern, this wooden pavilion serves as a private and public meeting space for the displaced. This project is also special, as the students collaborated with the refugees themselves to build this center in three months. Their collaborative efforts, helped the refugees to acquire German language skills, building skills and proved to be an integrating team building activity. With interconnected courtyards and covered spaces, bathed in interesting features of light and shadow owing to the wooden lattice screen, the center is a quiet, healing space for the refugees.
It is important for humanity to prioritize architectural interventions. Aligning with world issues and coming up with responsive solutions is the need of the hour, especially for designers. Catalytic Action, a non-profit UK based firm have designed the Jarahieh school in Lebanon for lakhs of Syrian children at the Bekaa valley refugee camp. Building with the locals, they have used recycled, donated and temporary light-weight materials to construct this colorful school. They’ve followed the concept of Circular economy, such that the school can be completely deconstructed and moved to another location if needed. This multi-function structure, also acts as a learning center for adults after school hours as well as serves as a public cinema and aid-distribution center. It is designed keeping in mind the need for refuge during natural disasters as well as to become a public square for residents of the camp.
Catalytic Action have also designed this interesting playspace in Bar Elias, Lebanon in an effort to give refugee children some normalcy. This interactive playground brings together Syrian and local children together in a safe, colorful and fun environment. In many cases, refugee children are overlooked and they remain bereft of normal childhood activities which affects their personal growth and causes development issues. In some cases, children who’ve been through excessive trauma experience Resignation Syndrome. Socially relevant projects such as these attempt to bring necessary change in the world and create a healing ripple for the displaced.
Quick temporary structures aligned to surrounding context as well as low-cost structures are important when thinking of mass-housing strategies for refugees. Agora architects in Thailand have proposed these simple timber dormitories for Burmese refugees in a small border village of Mae Sot. These dormitories are built with locally sourced recycled timber and can accommodate 25 people in each unit. The bamboo and thatch roof is an element of vernacular Thai architecture and make the structures light and easy enough to be disassembled and transported. The easy assembly, low cost and quick construction time make this a viable solution for the refugee crisis.
In places affected by natural calamities like earthquakes and volcanoes, it is vital to build emergency shelters for affected people. This prototype for disaster struck people in Gautemala, by Deoc Architects in collaboration with Breezeblocks, is an excellent example. Combining concrete blocks and hollow breezeblocks, this shelter encourages community living with private and semi-private spaces inside. Open spaces replace corridors and simple light weight elements allow easy customization of living spaces by individual users.
With Islamophobia and Nationalism on the rise, it is still heartening to see how some countries in the World are welcoming grief-struck people with open arms and giving them a chance to rebuild their lives in a safe environment. As we all undergo this Global trauma, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our privilege and vow that we come out of this crisis as better people with more empathy.