Architectures of Displacement: The Experiences and Consequences of Emergency Shelter

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: International Development

Abstract

The experience of forced displacement is profoundly shaped by where people find shelter. The most urgent concern for migrants is how to find safe and stable spaces in which to live, rest and sleep, both during their journey and when they arrive at their destination. Tents and camps dominate media images of forced displacement, but forced migrants find shelter in many other ways. They may make use of abandoned buildings, stay on the floors of friends and relatives, find rest in self-built shelters, or sleep under trees in the natural environment. Some may find themselves placed in reception centres and immigration detention facilities against their will. Others may be housed in specially created spaces, such as 'villages' made from shipping containers or IKEA-designed prefabricated shelters. Still others may find accommodation through private rentals, supported by cash transfers from aid agencies or forms of welfare from governmental bodies. These types of emergency shelter form a vital infrastructure that result from human improvisation and contingency as much as design or planning. At present this infrastructure is very poorly understood.

Architectures of Displacement begins with the observation that material forms of shelter offer unique insights into migration and refugees. By developing a new interdisciplinary approach to the physical dimension of the refugee experience, this research will provide unique perspectives upon the processes of human adaptation to new circumstances through displacement. The project will explore the impact of different shelter on the fate of refugees, as well as the political and legal consequences of forced migration and its entanglement with the exigencies of shelter. Given the scale of global displacement and the number of people living in 'non-traditional' spaces in large urban areas, there is a particularly urgent need to understand the variety of forms that shelter takes and the experiences and consequences of living in its various forms.

The project draws together three disciplines with distinct but complementary approaches to the study of material forms: Anthropology, Architecture and Archaeology. It will develop a new approach to recording and understanding the variety of temporary architectural forms and material ephemera that are so central to the experience of forced migration. It will document and categorise, for the first time, the diversity and consequences of emergency shelter. And by focusing on the connections between material environments and human experiences, the data gathered by the project will assist policymakers in making informed choices about how to manage the arrival of refugees.

The cross-disciplinary approach of this project builds on three main bodies of research and practice.

1) Architecture brings a focus on the significance of the built environment for human life. It provides a way to consider how forms of shelter are constructed and used, a method for categorising different forms of shelter, and a technique for examining how spaces function.

2) Archaeology brings an awareness of time, duration, and loss to the study. It enables the project to explore the connections between abandonment and shelter, the material circumstances of the repurposing of existing structures, the ephemeral interventions and adaptations made in the natural environment in order to shelter in it, and the traces left by refugees through sheltering practices.

3) Anthropology offers a technique for studying how people react to displacement. It enables the project to study everyday life in different forms of accommodation, exploring how beneficiary populations understand, alter, reimagine, and accept or resist the shelters they are provided with; examining the processes, motivations and practicalities through which they find places to shelter for themselves; and exploring the ways in which sheltering practices lead to adaptations in social life.

Planned Impact

Architectures of Displacement will benefit three main stakeholder groups: humanitarian organisations involved in the provision of shelter to refugees, forced migrants themselves, and public audiences.

1. Humanitarian Organisations.

Aid agencies will be closely involved in planning and advising on the locations of the research. Existing contacts at the Refugee Studies Centre will help identify suitable partners in the six fieldwork countries, and representatives from three organisations will sit on the project's steering committee. A planned special issue of Forced Migration Review will reach out to practitioners (circulation 15,000 across 160 countries) collecting articles that outline key concerns and debates in the sector. Findings will be communicated to humanitarian practitioners in the following forms:

a) An 'inventory of possibilities' on the project website. This will document the diverse range of options for emergency shelter, featuring architectural drawings, photographs, and descriptions of existing shelters in all their diversity. This can be used as a resource for aid agencies in understanding the full spectrum of possible options and interventions to assist refugees in their accommodation

b) Ten detailed 'portraits' of various accommodation types. This will include a full examination of the legal, political, cultural and social implications of ten emergency shelters, accompanied by narratives of lived experience and photographic images. They will be collected as a book manuscript, become part of a documentary film, and visual materials will be curated as an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The portraits can be used by aid agencies to help make informed decisions, helping understand in detail what shelter options look like, what they feel like to live in, and what their implications may be.

c) Seven collaborative workshops, one in each field location and a final workshop in Oxford. In these workshops the project findings will be discussed and the implications for the provision of emergency shelter examined. The workshops in each field site will be informal and participatory, with refugees and frontline aid staff discussing work in progress. The final workshop in Oxford will be for policymakers and staff from UK-based aid agencies, presenting entire project findings and generating briefings on good practice shelter programming.

2. Forced migrants.

Forced migrants will co-produce detailed 'portraits' of emergency shelter. They will be involved throughout the research and will benefit in three principal ways. First through the documentation of their experiences and memories - a form of 'writing against the wind' and ensuring key elements of their journey are preserved. Second, through their involvement in producing quality, detailed information about disaster shelter, which will help improve policy and practice in the shelter sector. Third, through improved public understanding of the refugee experience, which will help build opportunities for advocacy on refugee rights.

3. Public audiences

Greater public understanding of the refugee issue will be promoted through:

a) Two public workshops held in UK Refugee Week, 2017 and 2018

b) One exhibition of narratives, photographic images, and material remnants of refugee accommodation, to be installed at the Pitt Rivers Museum (400,000 visitors annually) alongside a programme of talks and public events. The exhibit will also be promoted to arts centres in Jordan and Lebanon through aid agencies.

c) One feature length documentary film, exploring five lives in emergency shelter. Film is the most appropriate way to communicate the spatial aspects of refugee shelter as well as a powerful medium for communicating the complex lived experiences of forced migration. The film will be a major part of the impact strategy. It will be archived at the Pitt Rivers Museum and promoted to film festivals in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt.

Publications

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Scott-Smith, T. (2018) A Slightly Better Shelter? in Limn

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Scott-Smith, T. (2018) The Humanitarian-Architect Divide in Forced Migration Review

 
Description The research under this grant is still ongoing. Fieldwork has taken place in Austria, Germany, Greece, and France. Further fieldwork is planned in Jordan and Lebanon later this year.
Exploitation Route We anticipate a number of policy briefs and summary articles concerning best practice in emergency shelter, which will appear once fieldwork is complete
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description This project is still in its early stages, with fieldwork in progress and publications in preparation. However, a number of public engagement activities have already taken place including presentations at various national and regional events, broadcasts on national media, and dissemination of a practitioner journal on the topic. These events have generated much wider interest in the project and widened discussions about the intricacies of emergency shelter. With an extensive website in the pipeline, a documentary film, and a high-profile exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford planned for 2019, the impact of this project will be much enhanced once the fieldwork is finished and findings disseminated more widely.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Other
 
Description HEFCE GCRF Open Internal Competition (University of Oxford)
Amount £23,636 (GBP)
Funding ID 0005077 
Organisation Higher Education Funding Council for England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 08/2018
 
Description 'Roles of design in emergency shelter' - Talk at the London Festival of Architecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participation in the Architectures Sans Frontiers event 'Designing for Inclusion: Integrating Refugees and Migrants in Cities' as expert panellist and workshop contributor. This was part of a day-long event at the London Festival of Architecture, 2016, attended by around 70 people. The workshop included a Challenging Practice activity, developed by ASF, which used participation, interaction, and human-centred design methods to help practitioners develop original insights into the challenges of integrating refugees and migrants in cities, based on real cases and inspiring projects from around the globe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description BBC Radio 4's Four Thought 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Mark Breeze features on BBC Radio 4's latest edition of 'Four Thought', in a programme titled 'Building for a new future' aired on Wednesday 1 February. An architect and Research Officer on the project Architectures of Displacement, Mark Breez addresses the question of why architects have not done more to design better shelter for refugees.

He speaks of the experiences of refugees he met at the so-called 'Jungle' camp at Calais, living in cold, damp shelters, unfit for purpose. As he says, this was not a 'destination' for those living there, they did not want to live there permanently, but this does not mean they should have to live in such "unsafe, unstable, unhealthy" conditions.

Architects are trained for many years, he says, to use "their imagination to create thoughtful responses to complex, often conflicting challenges", to design "effective, healthy, stable and relevant shelter". With so many displaced people and refugees in the world today (over 65 million displaced people according to UNHCR), and so many in need of shelter, he asks, "Why is architecture failing refugees?"

He highlights a number of the challenges faced:

Cost - how to make the few available resources go further in terms of the design process, materials, labour involved, etc. For example, could shelters be designed to be reusable, or could local labour be used to help build the local economy?
The client - just who is this? Governments, NGOs, or refugees themselves? How can a design reconcile their different needs?
Time/speed - shelters need to be easy to build on site, or easy to store, transport and assemble;
Context - refugee shelters are needed in a huge variety of contexts and environments;
The temporary nature of refugee shelters.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08c0rv5
 
Description Designing for the Refugee Crisis - Museum of Architecture Panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This panel, organized by the Museum of Architecture, was chaired by the Guardian Journalist Karen McVeigh and held at the Building Centre in central London, with a large public audience. The description of the event was as follows: "Over the past year the refugee situation across Europe has escalated into a full-blown crisis. Very recently the "Jungle" refugee and migrant camp in Calais - a symbol of Europe's immigration crisis - has started being demolished leaving many displaced. Architects are equipped with the knowledge that can provide a solution to one of the most basic human rights refugees need: shelter. The question is not should the architectural community respond, but how? This panel discussion will shed light on some of the work architects and designers are doing in response to the crisis.". Dr. Tom Scott-Smith presented his work alongside Uli Schmid, Senior Expert, Humanitarian Action Program, Innovation & Planning Agency Association; Dr. Harriet Harriss, Senior Tutor in Interior Design & Architecture, Royal College of Art; and Johan Karlsson, Interim Managing Director, Better Shelter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.buildingcentre.co.uk/events/designing-for-the-refugee-crisis
 
Description Forced Migration Review Issue 55: Shelter in Displacement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Forced Migration Review (FMR) is the most widely read publication on forced migration - available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic, and free of charge in print and online. It is published by the Refugee Studies Centre in the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford. Through FMR, authors from around the world analyse the causes and impacts of displacement; debate policies and programmes; share research findings; reflect the lived experience of displacement; and present examples of good practice and recommendations for policy and action. It is distributed to over fifty countries. This issue of FMR provided a forum for practitioners, advocates, policymakers and researchers to share experience, debate perspectives and offer recommendations. It featured practice-oriented submissions, reflecting a diverse range of experience and opinions. The issue was 83 pages long and it featured 30 articles from a variety of academics and practitioners. Displaced people all need some form of shelter - whether emergency, temporary or more permanent, and whether self-settled or in planned settings, whether in rural or urban contexts. The form of shelter and settlement that people find or are provided with profoundly affects their experience of displacement. Shelter and settlement should first support survival and safety. However, support for return or reconstruction options is important for credible longer-term solutions.

According to the Sphere Handbook, "Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security and personal safety, protection from the climate and enhanced resistance to ill health and disease. It is also important for human dignity and to sustain family and community life as far as possible in difficult circumstances." Achieving this has posed a challenge to the assistance sector for decades, with responses continuing to change and develop. In terms of assistance, shelter is not only about architectural or technical design but also matters of community planning and with a focus with significant links to other sectors.

This issue of FMR examined the variety of shelter and settlement responses found, employed and created by, and created for, displaced people. It looked at the possibilities and limitations of community planning and design in responses to displacement and at examples of good practice, in order to improve understanding of and practice in offering shelter and settlement support for people displaced into whatever circumstances.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.fmreview.org/shelter.html
 
Description Presentation at the UK Shelter Forum: working group for UK-based shelter practitioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr. Tom Scott-Smith participated in the day-long meeting of Emergency Shelter practitioners, which took place on 26th May 2017 at Oxford Brookes University. He presented the interim findings and approach of the Architectures of Displacement Project for feedback by practitioners and engaged in dialogue all day on the nature and evolution of humanitarian shelter policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public Seminar Series, Refugee Studies Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Emergency Shelter and Forced Migration, 7-part Public Seminar Series, Convened by Tom Scott-Smith and Mark E. Breeze in Michaelmas Term 2016

This interdisciplinary seminar series examined the nature and challenges of emergency shelter in the context of forced migration. Spread over seven weeks, it raised the following questions: What are the key issues in the design and provision of shelters? What does better shelter mean and how can we get there? How can political dynamics be managed in the organization of camps and urban areas? What lessons emerge from over forty years practical work in the shelter sector? The speakers in this series include academics and practitioners from the fields of architecture, planning, anthropology, humanitarianism, and design. The seminar series complemented the issue of Forced Migration Review Emergency Shelter, which was published at the same time. The schedule was as follows: Week 1: Wednesday 12th October, 5pm 'Emergency Shelter: Reflections on a New European Infrastructure' (Tom Scott-Smith, University of Oxford). Week 2: Wednesday 19th October, 5pm. 'Building Structures in Calais Refugee Camp' (Grainne Hassett, Hassett Ducatez Architects and the University of Limerick). Week 3: Wednesday 2nd November, 5pm. 'Dwelling in an emergency shelter: between geopolitics and everyday life' (Irit Katz, University of Cambridge). Week 4: Wednesday 9th November, 5pm. 'The settlement approach: integrating programming at community level' (Tom Corsellis, Shelter Centre Geneva). Week 5: Wednesday 16th November, 5pm. 'Complicit or emancipatory? Architecture, space and design in humanitarian operations' (Camillo Boano, University College London). Week 6: Wednesday 23rd November, 5pm. 'Lessons from 15 years of post-disaster shelter reconstruction projects in India'. (Tom Newby, CARE International). Week 7: Wednesday 30th November, 5pm. 'Shelter in flux'. Catherine Brun, Oxford Brookes University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/news/emergency-shelter-and-forced-migration-public-seminar-series-michaelma...