Conflict & Emergency

When facing emergencies such as natural disasters, warfare or pandemics, architecture must offer immediate and effective solutions.

In 2020, the World Migration Report reported 281 million people are on the move, making up a 3.6% of the world population. This puts a high pressure on the system in terms of needs for housing, both permanent and temporary, and the need for services and infrastructure to accommodate ever increasing social groups with specific needs. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) estimates that around 100 million alone have been forcibly displaced worldwide because of new or protracted conflicts.

Project entry 2014 Africa Middle East - White Canvas: Health center and school in refugee camp, Bassikounou, Mauretaniad

White Canvas , a health center and school in a refugee camp in Bassikounou, Mauritania takes on the arduous task to provide public amenities in refugee camps. Tent structures form the basic units for the school and health center facilities. Phase Change Material (PCM) accumulators are used for air-conditioning to create liveable and safe conditions without additional energy requirements.

A deepening crisis

The impact of conflict and emergency expands widely when considering displacements because of food insecurity, climate crisis and other humanitarian emergencies. Vulnerable populations across the world are being deprived of land and livelihood means because of extreme weather-related events, such as drought, floods, rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Catering for refugee needs means providing housing and services that are human and dignified, or conducive to economic empowerment and social integration. It requires planning and design intention to avoid marginalized, ghetto realities, or “non-places”.

Long-term solutions are required

The publication Urban Transformation by Ruby Press inspired by the Holcim Forum 2007 includes an entire chapter dedicated to the theme “Between Permanent and Transitory”. Reuse of temporary housing is a strategy that aims to correct the long-term impact of temporary and assigning it a second life. “The most economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable forms of reuse are either the rental of temporary housing to low-income residents, the reuse as new community buildings, or units acting as core for permanent housing” explains Cassidy Johnson, Professor of Urbanism and Disaster Risk Reduction at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL.

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Can we build shelters that are able to not only stand against the next hurricane, but to feel like home? Johan Karlsson

In conflict zones, abandoned buildings and infrastructure are often left in a state of disrepair and forgotten. Access to clean water and all services provided by infrastructure are heavily compromised, rendering human livelihood difficult if not impossible. Long-term post-conflict urban remediation and recovery is of utmost importance to achieve sustainable development and social and economic recovery.

Reconstructing buildings and local identity

Rehabilitation of historic sites, for instance, can be a powerful form of cultural appropriation, as well as a tool to propel social equity as well as economic recovery. When engaging the local community and raising awareness around historical heritage, the sustainability message of the project is enhanced. One of these projects is Post war reconstruction in Yemen.

Post-war Reconstruction in Yemen

Post-war Reconstruction in Al Mukalla, Yemen aims to rehabilitate or reconstruct important Yemeni cultural landmarks, notably three Sufi shrines and two mosques in Hadramut, two mosques and the Domes of Al Habib Abu Bakr in Shihr and the Shaikh Yaqub Dome of Mukalla. The project also addresses the imminent danger of the further collapse of structures that are already damaged.

Young people from the community take part in training schemes on the building sites, that aim to raise awareness of the historic cultural heritage and resources in their region. The reconstruction also involves local master builders and artisans as the project prioritizes the use of traditional building techniques and materials, including mud bricks and a water-resistant plaster to ensure the long-term sustainability of the edifices. This not only goes in favor of the local economy but contributes also to an ecologically sound building restoration. Stone used in construction sourced on-site from debris, minimizing the need for new materials.

Geographical answers to geographical threats

The built environment plays a key role in disaster prevention and increase of resiliency of our cities. This can and must be achieved through systemic, coordinated planning and appropriate buildings and infrastructures that not only contribute to mitigate damages in the event of natural disasters, but guarantee improved reconstruction capabilities through a planned management of risk.

The Sustainable post-tsunami reconstruction master plan was developed for the coastal city of Constitución , Chile, after the 2010 earthquake, and received the Holcim Awards Silver 2011 for Latin America. The project planning was focused on reconstruction and increased resilience towards tsunami risk. First line tsunami defense was achieved though planned riverside forest park, which complement added public infrastructure, social centers, green areas, and a housing complex for 484 dwellings. The whole planning went through participatory consultation and resulted into an integrated, innovative solution that enhances the urban and social dimensions.

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The ultimate test for our proposals is always the question: ‘Would I want to live here if our plans are put into effect?’. Alejandro Aravena

The interventions included planting forests along the flood-prone foreshore to dissipate the energy of tsunami waves, urban planning to limit use of ground floor spaces in the risk zone, and an evacuation plan as the third protection element. In addition to responding to the threat of tsunami, the approach enabled long-term preservation of the city at its historical position, created public spaces along the banks of the river that alleviate the lack of inner-city recreation areas, and also support the dissipation of rainwater runoff to avoid further flooding.

Further updates on conflict & emergency