Grad students develop low-cost housing solutions for refugees

Peter Lang

Peter Lang

This fall students in a Texas A&M graduate architecture studio prepared prototype low-cost housing solutions for long-term inhabitants of some of the world's largest refugee camps, which they plan to present for consideration to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

In the first phase of the project, students prepared videos illustrating the plight of refugees at camps in Chad, Kenya, and Thailand, which were exhibited alongside projects by designers from around the world Oct. 18-20 as part of an exhibition staged at the Swiss Architecture Museum in Basel, Switzerland.

"The second phase of the refugee camp project focused on designing contextually sensitive housing prototypes," said studio director Peter Lang, associate professor of architecture. "The students produced a wide range of responses, based on a number of complex factors, beginning with the sensitive geopolitical nature of the refugee camps and including the camps' surrounding ecosystems, age, and social characteristics, as well as accounting for thornier issues such as access to the camps and restrictions on the residents' movement."

The students' low-cost solutions incorporated imaginative use of readily available building materials unique to each camp. Structures suggested for desert environments, such as the Dabaab camps in Kenya for Somalian refugees, used sand bags, tarpaulins and repurposed freight containers. Building solutions for the Iridimi camp serving Dafur refugees in Chad used woven straw and bricks fashioned from the surrounding soil. For refugees from Burma living at the Mae La camp in Thailand, students selected bamboo as the building material of choice.

Student Kevin Walsh's innovative freight container solution called for shredding the container's metal walls to fabricate structural supports for a wide variety of building solutions. Student Jing Zhang supplemented her idea for weaving straw into protective sun huts for children with a video demonstrating the weaving process. The bamboo shelters proposed by students Jacob McKinney and Ryan Buys included "green" components, such as composting toilets, bio-gas production from animal waste, hydroponic farming and rainwater collection.

One timely suggestion in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's destruction on the U.S. East Coast was student Jason Minter's idea for an emergency box, or E-Box, equipped with supplies needed to survive the immediate aftermath of a devastating disaster. Based on cold-war era bomb shelters, the E-Box can fold into a package small enough to store in a closet space, yet be large enough when unfolded to provide rudimentary shelter as well as access to needed supplies.

The students' solutions can be viewed in more detail on the project website or in the PDF presentations below:

Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya

For Somalian refugees

  • Cameron Burke (348K PDF): Sandbags and tarps and green walls
  • Cameron Christian (2.2 MB PDF): Erector Set-type structures
  • Kevin Walsh (12.3 MB PDF): Repurposed freight containers with wall units sliced to create structural supports.

Iridimi Refugee Camp in Chad

For Darfur refugees

Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand

For Burma refugees

Hurricane Sandy/disaster preparedness

  • Jason Minter (206.4MB PDF): e-box: emergency survival unit stored in homes; 6'x2'6"x2' box unfolds to create shelter packed with supplies.
posted December 12, 2012