Architecture The Art of Emergency Urbanism
posted by June 9 at 11:27 AMon
My introduction to the importance of emergency design (architecture for those have been displaced by war or a natural disaster) was Rachael Cavallo’s installation at Cornish College of the Arts’s Art & Design BFA Show 2008. Its concern was developing “a flexible, cheap, and modern architecture for refugees who follow the path and laws of Islam.”
Proof of how timely Cavallo’s work is can be found in an article published yesterday in NYT Magazine. Here are three important passages:
Until recently, camp design focused less on shelter and more on food, water, security and medical care, in part because people can live without a roof longer than they can live without a meal and in part because shelter tends to fall into a gray area between aid, which is immediate, and development, which is longer term and therefore financed differently. There are hundreds of humanitarian organizations now operating throughout the world, but only a handful are devoted to dwelling, and they have sprung up in the last few years. The most recent edition of the U.N.’s “Handbook for Emergencies,” the vade mecum of relief planning, is 569 pages long. It includes everything from specifications about communications equipment to vehicle log sheets to minimum nutrition standards, but only 19 pages of it is devoted to shelter.
Still, the structure of camps is imperfect. For one thing, the fundamental unit — four to six people under one tarp — assumes that the nuclear family is the basic unit of settlement worldwide, as it is in the Western countries from which most aid workers come. But in many communities, people live among their extended families, their tribes or their clans. And the grid arrangement, too, replicates European notions of the rational city; it works quite well on the island of Manhattan, but it may not serve those cultures that originally organized themselves along more fluid lines. By the same token, Western notions of democratic space — each unit of housing equivalent to the next — may fit our own notions of fairness but prove disruptive to communities that are structured around an implicit or explicit ranking in honor, say, of town elders.
And, finally, the passage that speaks in the language of Mike Davis:
Refugee crises are usually seen as a stark example of the more general problem of disaster relief, which is similarly urgent though in crucial ways different. (Hurricanes, earthquakes and the like are usually over quickly, the affected population remains near home and rebuilding can begin almost immediately.) But it may be more useful to see them in the context of the enormous new tide of urban migration, a trend that has created at least 26 cities worldwide with a population greater than 10 million.
This has created an ongoing housing emergency: megaslums, shantytowns, favelas, squatter’s colonies. There are 80,000 people living on top of a garbage dump in Manila; a population of indeterminate size — perhaps as many as a million — who sleep every night in the cemeteries of Cairo; homeless encampments in San Francisco, Atlanta and Houston; guest workers camped beside the towers of the Persian Gulf; migrant workers in the San Fernando Valley. They are all displaced people.
The future of refugees cannot be separated from the future of slums on our planet.