Magazine article Forced Migration Review

An Architectural Investigation into the Provision of Refugee Accommodation

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

An Architectural Investigation into the Provision of Refugee Accommodation

Article excerpt

As teachers in a school of architecture, we challenged our students to consider how our city - A Coruña, in north-west Spain - would cope if we had to accommodate a large number of refugees. We all felt that what a school of architecture needs to contribute was not the design of yet another new type of emergency shelter. Anyway, most of the existing solutions for emergency shelter appear not to have been used for the purpose for which they were designed; in refugee camps shelters have in reality been built from a limited number of types of accommodation or are huts or shacks that have been improvised by their own residents.

An analysis of the capacity of A Coruña to host groups of people in need of shelter led us to identify a variety of hypothetical possibilities, each of which needed to be looked at from the point of view of their availability, potential for resilience, capacity and suitability for facilitating integration. While we were looking at all possible locations throughout the city, our goal was to design a methodology that could be replicated in any other city similar to ours. We identified three possible solutions:

1.Setting up a camp on a vacant plot of land: This is only possible away from the city centre, since that is where the city's large vacant spaces are. This solution would not be suitable because it would hinder the residents' local integration, particularly that of women, by distancing them from what the city has to offer. It would possibly turn the new settlement into a ghetto and the response would be slow since it would require prior preparation of the land, connecting it to public utilities and building the camp itself.

2. Using unoccupied housing stock: According to official data from 2011, there were 19,228 empty housing units in the city, scattered throughout all the neighbourhoods. This being the case, it would be difficult for social support services to provide care for the newcomers and it would prevent the formation of a critical mass of new residents and thus the creation of their own self-help networks.

3. Using an existing public building: We looked for a building of approximately 5,000 square metres, located in any area, in any state of repair and in any state of use. We excluded privately owned buildings (although the local housing crisis has left many buildings unoccupied) because of legal issues. We also rejected buildings of a type that would be difficult to adapt for permanent residential use, such as sports centres, cultural or religious centres, schools or industrial buildings. Four potential buildings were identified. One is the former provincial prison, now in disuse. Another was an old tobacco factory, currently undergoing transformation into a court building. The third was a former boarding school, now under construction to be turned into a hall of residence for university students. The fourth was a vacant part of a military barracks located in the city's historic centre.

Of these four, the former prison was rejected because it is symbolically charged - a building whose original purpose would be well-known among the city's inhabitants - and we did not consider this appropriate for use for refugees. The second and third cases were already being adapted for public use. Therefore, the barracks presented the best option for re-purposing. …

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