Ever since the UN declared shelter a “human right” in 1951, the number of refugee camps has escalated. Across the globe, NGOs, humanitarian organizations, and architects have been involved in designing provisional housing for refugees—a term that covers peoples displaced by ethnic, political, economic, and environmental reasons, both within and beyond their countries. Initially designed as temporary solutions, many are now the size of cities, in some cases with populations that have soared to half a million people. The number of refugees worldwide, currently set at about sixty-five million, is expected to grow rapidly, given the accelerating climate crisis. The camps themselves fall into different typologies. News organizations frequently report on the more recent ones—in Kenya, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Pakistan. Older camps such as the Palestinian ones or Dadaab (Kenya), have become a permanent home to several generations of residents who, though born in the host country, are nevertheless stateless and thus extremely vulnerable. Less visible, but equally ubiquitous, are detention and internment facilities established by liberal democracies in Europe and Australia and at the U.S./Mexico border. This seminar analyzes refugee camps and detention centers from a transnational perspective, probing the limits and problems evident in different cases, as well as the state of exception and extraterritoriality that applies to all of them. It also studies disaster relief housing around the globe, sometimes built with the help of refugees. What metrics should we use to judge successful design?

All Semesters

Spring 2021
From Shigeru Ban to IKEA: Designing Refugee Camps
Esther da Costa Meyer