The winners of the global Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction showcase the cutting edge of approaches to sustainable design, green architecture, and materials innovation. In the 6th cycle of the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design, offering prize money totaling USD 2 million, most of the global prizewinning projects came from the Asia Pacific and Middle East Africa regions; one top prize each also went to Colombia and Switzerland. The prizes were presented at a handover ceremony at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy.Read more »
Project description by regional jury
Combining the surplus of the global textile industry with the limited means of refugee camps, T-Serai (Textile System for Experimental Research in Artistic Impact) introduces a “cultural technology” to strengthen the ethnographic and environmental resilience of displaced populations. The project deploys participatory design and upcycled textiles for the creation of modular tapestries that serve as refugee shelters for displaced Syrians in Jordan. Inspired by cultural traditions of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, the tapestries can provide a better insulation of temporary settlements, preserve cultural memory and add aesthetic qualities to the refugees’ daily reality. Recycled jeans layered over emergency blankets can be used for mobile storage, or to set up colorful tents for social gatherings.
The project also aims to foster cross-cultural collaborations through the involvement of students from the USA, Europe, and the United Arab Emirates. In so doing, the multidirectional knowledge exchange between participants of different generations and backgrounds becomes the opportunity for self-expression, self-determination, and advancement of pluralism. The project draws its strength in blending two contradictory conditions of our society: the culture of abundance – partly represented by the textile industry responsible for more than 80 billion m2 of surplus garments every year – and the lack of livelihood of displaced people fleeing from conflict and disasters.
Regional jury appraisal
The Holcim Awards jury Middle East Africa found the way the project creates an “out of the box” humanitarian innovation from these two critical social, political and environmental issues to be highly commendable. The jury also appreciated the project’s support towards cultural resilience of displaced communities through the promotion of cooperative-based practices. Introducing cross-generational knowledge exchange, T-Serai acts as a bastion against the loss of the living culture, while offering opportunities for cultural expression, education and vocational training of refugees. All in all, the project outlines a culturally sensitive, socially inclusive, and environmentally conscious approach to humanitarian design.
Global jury appraisal
The proposal draws attention to the issue of refugee displacement by showing the difference that human-centered design interventions can make on the life of people who are forced to spend years in harsh, often dehumanizing camps. In this sense, the reuse of textile waste was considered as a true act of resilience, self-expression and self-determination. The colorful pieces of tapestry inject new life in refugee camps and at the same time revive the culture and the tradition of displaced communities. The jury found this project a “cultural technology” able to bring a creative and positive sustainable message that can be potentially extended to the building sector at large.See more
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Connective Threads in Jordan automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
The world generates over 80 billion square meters of discarded or unused garments every year. Creating value by coupling that waste with the human potential of refugee camps is the idea behind this project. Modular tapestries are created that can be used to make refugee shelters for displaced Syrians.The jury appreciated the project’s support of cultural resilience of displaced communities through the promotion of cooperative-based practices. “Our project addresses problems of cultural infrastructure and refugee camps and mitigates the lack of opportunities of displaced people to access means of cultural resilience,” explains project author Azra Aksamija of the MIT Future Heritage Lab team, Cambridge, MA, USA. “The upcycling of discarded clothing demonstrates how the global textile industry could support the cultural resilience of displaced communities.”Read more »
Co-creation across borders promotes new ethical standards for socially inclusive design
The T-Serai supports the cultural resilience of threatened communities through creative innovation in education and vocational training of refugees. Introducing transdisciplinary design processes and cross-generational knowledge exchange, the project provides means for the dynamic preservation of the living culture, social relations, and networks of communities in threat of cultural erasure. Beyond collaborations with displaced Syrians in Jordan, the project also advances cross-cultural understanding through co-creation across borders, involving students from the USA, Europe, and UAE. The multidirectional knowledge exchange between participants of different generations and backgrounds offers a possibility for self-expression, self-determination, and advancement of pluralism.
Upcycling textile stock surplus for low carbon humanitarian design
While more than 85% of displaced people live in developing countries, in conditions of scarcity, the T-Serai examines the global surplus in the textile industry in relation to recycling in the humanitarian system as a provocation to the culture of surplus. Today, textile manufacture is among the most lucrative and largest polluting industries: more than 80 billion square meters of leftover garments end up in landfills or get destroyed by burning. When the expected demand is not met, supply chains channel stock to the parallel economy of stock destruction ensuring price control. The phenomenon is widespread in fast fashion. Critiquing the strategy of stock surplus, the T-Serai turns textile donations into a resource for the refugee-led improvement of humanitarian architecture.
Creating humanitarian innovation by positioning culture as an essential human need
As global displacement numbers are rising due to the acceleration of climate change, it is imperative to address the increased cultural vulnerability of people fleeing from conflict and disasters. While humanitarian institutions prioritize supporting the basic biological needs, the T-Serai outlines a cultural approach to humanitarian intervention, addressing problems of lacking cultural infrastructures in refugee camps. The project mitigates the lacking capacity of displaced populations to access means for cultural resilience. The reinterpretation of historical applique techniques through "slashing" offers culturally sensitive tools and contextual design processes that help displaced communities overcome adversity through self-determination, education, and preservation of living culture.See more
From raw material to manufacturing, construction, use and end of life, T-Serai incorporates measures for the reduction of gas emissions. The idea lies on the reuse of surplus material for the local manufacturing of modular insulating tapestries that configure a multiplicity of spaces for the changing needs of the displaced. The raw material is the surplus of fabric found locally. Manufacturing requires sewing machines, equipment that already exists in Jordanian refugee camps, and contributes to tailoring training recognised by the Jordanian Ministry of Labor. Tapestries are deployed on-site to minimize energy consumption on the heating of shelters or as adaptive social spaces. The T-Serai end of life has a minimal environmental impact, living no trace behind and dissolving to the soil.
A participatory design upcycles textile waste to create refugee shelters while offering opportunities for the cultural …
Author comment by Azra Aksamija, Future Heritage Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA on Connective Threads …
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