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The RSC Research Officer and architect features on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought

Dr 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. Dr Breeze (an architect and Research Officer on the project Architectures of Displacement) 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.

As Dr Breeze says, these challenges constitute more than an architectural problem. Architectures of Displacement is therefore a multidisciplinary project, involving anthropologists and archaeologists as well as Dr Breeze. They are engaging in historical and theoretical research together with extensive fieldwork. The aim, he says, is to inform future policy and identify how the refugee shelter experience can be improved.

Listen to the programme here >>

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