Responding to the Refugee Design CrisisXXI Magazine
Displacement is at the first place, and foremost, a spatial phenomenon. Despite of being perceived as “temporal guests”, refugees are urban actors whether in camps, villages or cities. They build makeshift houses, rent apartments, open shops, create social spaces, bring new urban identities, and sometimes change the urban fabric of entire neighborhoods; thus, they surprise us with the ways they can influence urbanization processes wherever they go. Amidst this dynamic environment, relief agencies are expected to assist refugees meeting their basic needs of food, shelter, health, livelihood and education. However, relief workers are usually no architects or urban planners. Even if there were trained as such, humanitarian programmes are rarely concerned with urban space. This leaves a whole set of questions related to the spatial aspects of displacement, unaddressed and not answered. More significantly, this comes at times where humanitarian organizations are striving to shift their assistance from “relief” to “development” and when scholarly voices are increasingly assuring the fact: it is time for architects and planners to get involved, and take a stance towards the refugee crisis. But the question remains: how? How can a multi-dimensional phenomenon, like displacement, be approached? What frameworks need to be set and developed while designing for refugees and with refugees?