LafargeHolcim Awards winners Joana Dabaj and Riccardo Luca Conti from CatalyticAction highlighted the importance of ethical standards and social inclusion at the Strelka “Future Architect” Conference in Moscow, Russia. The winners of the LafargeHolcim Awards Bronze 2017 for Middle East Africa explained how their work not only addressed sustainable design from the perspective of building materials – but also created opportunities to empower local communities.
Under the theme, “The architecture of complicity: how to work in conditions of the global migration crisis”, the duo used examples to show how a focus on social engagement improved the impact of their projects. They received a LafargeHolcim Awards Bronze for their project Pavilion Re-claimed in Lebanon that re-used the building materials sourced from a temporary pavilion by “Save the Children” in Milan to construct a school for Syrian refugees located at El Marj, Lebanon. In addition to repurposing a new life for the building materials, the team also utilized local materials including agricultural bags for lining walls and adapted wool for use as insulation by processing the fibers to prevent degradation by insects. The refugee population were proactively involved through community engagement in the project development and were also trained in building processes.
Joana Dabaj explained that sustainable design was an important cornerstone for CatalyticAction. “Architecture is not just about building, but also about adapting processes and seizing opportunities for community empowerment,” she said.
Endorsing the LafargeHolcim Awards
Joana Dabaj encouraged the conference attendees to participate in the LafargeHolcim Awards competition. “It meant a lot to us as a young practice to receive such a prestigious acknowledgement – there are many benefits to being part of the LafargeHolcim Awards,” she said.
Joana Dabaj will be a member of the LafargeHolcim Awards 2020 jury for Middle East Africa. The Awards competition is open for entries until February 25, 2020 and recognizes projects and concepts from architecture, engineering, urban planning, materials science, construction technology, and related fields. A comprehensive “Step-by-step” guide explains the evaluation criteria and illustrates how to enter the competition at www.lafargeholcim-awards.org
Joana Dabaj and Riccardo Luca Conti appeared at the “Future Architect” Conference courtesy of LafargeHolcim Russia. Strelka conference “Future Architect” is a series of lectures, discussions and workshops on architectural trends and challenges that young architects are facing today. Founded in 2009, the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design is a non-profit international educational project, based in Moscow.See more
The energy and raw materials used to create a building are substantial, so finding ways to extend building life or reuse materials are becoming a critical element of the sustainability of design. The architects reused a pavilion from Expo15 in Milan as a school where no permanent structures are permitted. The intervention greatly improves the living conditions in a refugee settlement in Lebanon.
A protracted civil war has been raging in Syria since 2011. But calling it a “civil war” overlooks the significant cross-border impacts of the conflict within the region and beyond. To date, the conflict has claimed about half a million lives, and about 12 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes. According to the UN, the refugee crisis caused by this war is the largest since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
A large number of Syrians have fled to Lebanon. There are good reasons for this: Nearly all of Lebanon’s borders are shared with Syria, so the two countries are geographically interconnected. Many Syrians have relatives in Lebanon, and they can communicate there in the same Arabic dialect; unlike in Turkey, another frequent destination of the refugees. Lebanon now has the world’s highest per capita number of refugees: 1.5 million refugees to 4 million inhabitants.
The call for refugees to return to their homeland is getting louder – but of course no one would voluntarily return with their family to a war zone. Because the authorities and the government don’t want the situation to escalate, the refugees in Lebanon are merely tolerated; new refugees no longer receive legal status. Nothing should give the impression that more Syrians are settling permanently in Lebanon. That’s why permanent buildings are no longer allowed in the innumerable refugee camps. Newly arriving refugees live in tents. They set them up on land they rent from private owners – for whom they also work in many cases, usually for low wages, for instance in the agricultural or construction industry.
People in the temporary camps of course strive to live a normal life too. And it’s not that Lebanon doesn’t support them. For example, the authorities want to see that the children and adolescents attend school. The older children are taught in public schools – in the afternoon, after the local students have gone home. Education is the key to their future. If today’s generation were to grow up without education, a future catastrophe in Lebanon and Syria would be inevitable. The many NGOs that organize schooling for the children in the camps must therefore follow state requirements.
One of the NGOs providing education in the refugee camps is Jusoor, founded by Syrian expatriates. It runs a school in the Jarahieh refugee tented settlement, which is located in the town of El Marj in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s main agricultural region, and one with a fairly harsh climate. The settlement is home to around 300 families with well over 1,000 children. Here arose Jusoor’s contact with the NGO CatalyticAction, which is based in London and led by a team including the young architects Joana Dabaj and Riccardo Conti.
Joana Dabaj (left) and Riccardo Conti (above) first visited the Jarahieh refugee settlement in December 2015. They saw the poor conditions of the tented school. The school consisted of two tents with barely enough space for the children. The tents were sweltering hot in summer and bitter cold in winter. Jusoor and CatalyticAction discussed the options for building a better school – with the restriction that no permanent building is allowed.
Fortunately for the initiators, the universal 2015 Milan Expo had just come to an end. For such major events – for example also the Olympic Games – many buildings are erected that have no purpose after the event.See more
As one of the three main LafargeHolcim Awards winners for Middle East Africa in 2017, “Pavilion Re-claimed” automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global LafargeHolcim Awards 2018. All 15 finalist project teams were asked to submit an updated and more comprehensive entry that was evaluated by a global jury in March 2018.
The results of the global phase of the 5th LafargeHolcim Awards competition were announced on March 28, 2018.
Innumerable Syrian children currently inhabit the refugee camps of Lebanon. Joana Dabaj, Riccardo Conti and Matteo Zerbiof CatalyticAction in Lebanon aim to engage with these children and help prepare them for life after relocation. They propose to create a dignified learning environment for children at the Jarahieh Informal Tented Settlement in the El Marj by relocating a pavilion from Expo 2015 in Milan. “The project provides not only space for education but also a dignified environment as a source of pride for the community who helped to build it,” praised the jury.Read more » Pour en savoir plus (French) »
After the 2015 Milan Expo, the collaborators of the project repurposed the “Save the Children” pavilion to build a school for Syrian refugee children in the Jarahieh Informal Tented Settlement in the El Marj, Lebanon – an afterlife that could not have been more fitting. The pavilion was disassembled, shipped, and reassembled in a new configuration centered around an internal courtyard. Local residents were involved both in adapting the pavilion’s design to its new site and use as well as in the construction process. The wool from sheep – a waste product in the region – was used for insulation, a technique which has found resonance with the settlement’s inhabitants who are now employing it for their own homes. By reusing a temporary structure for a humanitarian purpose, the project contributes to sustainability through re-appropriation and calls attention to the opportunity for architectural structures to be reused beyond their originally intended purpose.
The jury was greatly moved by the project’s contribution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees and the ingenious reinvention of the pavilion as a school. Within a context lacking basic infrastructure the project provides not only space for education, but also a dignified environment that is a source of pride for the community who helped to build it. Through the use of what would otherwise be material waste (i.e., both the pavilion and the wool insulation), the school is the impressive result of limited means and resources. The project is an implicit critique of the high-design, short lifecycle model of grand exhibition events and offers a potent template for future application.
A participatory process as catalyst for positive impact in the lives of the communities
The design was tailored around an interdisciplinary approach between the different stakeholders, having the community at the core of the process. CatalyticAction (CA) engaged with the children, teachers and family members in the ideation, design and construction of the project. Conceptual planning started with children participating in envisioning exercises that directly informed the design; they had the opportunity to be decision makers. By creating a community project through an inclusive approach, CA aims at improving social cohesion within the settlement and the neighboring Lebanese communities. The inclusive approach adopted succeeded in generating livelihood opportunities, capacity building, empowering women and children, boosting local economies and enhancing community resilience.
A sustainable and innovative building cycle for prosperity and transferability
The reuse strategy of a temporary pavilion structure to serve a humanitarian cause represents a positive example of a global sustainable strategy that aims at redistributing resources to tackle long-term global sustainability goals. The open space structure pavilion designed to take part of an International Expo was re-adapted to become a school space. The choice of materials adapted to the low budget and focused on empowering the local community. The materials were sourced locally including sheep wool, timber, corrugated metal sheeting, etc. Throughout the building process, workers from the settlement were employed; most were construction workers in Syria. The community members learned new building skills working alongside our team and transferred this knowledge to the youth.
Environmentally conscious, cultural and context specific design solutions
The school is located in the Bekaa valley, an agricultural area hosting thousands of refugees who endure harsh climate conditions. The design of the school adapted to the local context, facilitating the use of suitable technologies, materials and labor. The design also adhered to the cultural specificity and responded to the natural environment. The Lebanese sheep farms, 72 % of which are located in Bekaa, usually treat the sheep wool as waste. We chose to make use of this material for the school insulation. Sheep wool is a completely natural and sustainable material, its use empowered farmers and women in the process. The school design allows for bright, naturally lit and ventilated classrooms. The materials and techniques used inspired the families of the ITS to employ them in their shelters.See more
The urgent needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are the focus of this humanitarian project in sustainable design say …
In the El Marj, Lebanon, located in an informal settlement for Syrian refugees, the project creates a dignified school …
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