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Emergency Urbanism


Project statement

Refugee camps are not considered as long-term settlements when they are planned and built, but the reality is that these camps exist for years and years. This lack of planning contributes to the increased alienation of refugees and to camps that are not necessarily designed in the best interest of the people they are suppose to serve.

The purpose of this project is to address that gap in refugee camp planning by looking to urban design topics as a way to think comprehensively about camp design. The project aims to provide macro and micro-level recommendations for refugee camps in Jordan, Syria’s neighbor to the south which is trying to accommodate the mass in ux of Syrian refugees eeing the Syrian civil war. The recommendations will be sent to designers at the Ennead Lab working on the Rethinking Refugee Communities projects with UNHCR and Stanford.

This is qualitative research project reviews the Handbook for Emergencies from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Additionally, the project investigates Zaatari and Azraq, the two most recent refugee camps in Jordan, as case studies to learn more about camp development, and interviews those who have had direct experience and exposure in these camps.

My project concludes that the UNHCR policy, although comprehensive for the initial emergency phase of a situation, does not adequately address the long-term needs of a camp. Zaatari needs
to address how its looming permanence will a ect host populations, and Azraq needs to boost community and address the emptiness issue. Both camps need a contingency plan for the how they will integrate into Jordanian society after the camps are no longer necessary.

Refugee camps are a crucial feature of the humanitarian e ort. They serve as a part of UNHCR’s emergency response, and are particularly useful in identifying people with speci c needs and delivering large amounts of supplies to large populations. About 40% of the world’s 13 million refugees live in camps, and there are more than 1,000 refugee camps scattered over 60 countries (UNHCR Policy on Alternatives to Camps 2014)(Herz 2008:281). Camps are used in order to assess the initial emergency situation and can support refugees for some time, but they have their problems. By de nition, a refugee camp is “any purpose-built, planned and managed location or spontaneous settlement where refugees are accommodated and receive assistance and services from government and humanitarian agencies.” The de nition continues with “the de ning characteristic of a camp…

is some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees, such as their ability to move freely, choose where to live, work or open a business, cultivate land or access protection and service”


(UNHCR Policy on Alternatives to Camps 2014). I was drawn to study refugee camps for my senior project because despite of these limitations, refugee camps have managed to mimic cities in their complexities. Interestingly, these makeshift cities are erected in a fraction of the time it takes for
the average city to develop, yet still displays some of the characteristics present in cities. Taking my knowledge and curiosity of urban planning and design, I apply several topics within this eld in order to understand how refugee camps have developed and grown over time.

More speci cally, the urban planning and design topics that sparked my interest were layout design and its relationship with open spaces and lighting, and also housing type and orientation. On a
larger scale, I was interested in understanding how comprehensive planning, governance structure, community involvement strategies, and infrastructure quality were present and managed in the refugee camp. These 6 topics in total, ranging from micro to macro scale design and planning
topics, were chosen out of a number of other potential topics in the planning eld because they
were the main recurring themes that I noticed when researching for the group project while
studying abroad. Other topics I could have included might be environmental impact and host community relationships, but adding those to my list would have greatly expanded my project scope. Additionally, I made the choice to study refugee camps on their own instead of also look outward

to understand the more complex political negotiations that usually happen around camp sites. I wanted to limit myself to thinking just about the immediate camp space and only those six guiding topics, which also helped guide my research and also helped to frame my nal product. My nal list of recommendations were also structured around small and large scale suggestions based on the 6 topics that I have outlined here.

My nal product, a list of recommendations for the short and long-term goals of Zaatari, Azraq,
and the UNHCR Handbook for Emergencies, will be sent to two architects/designers at the Ennead (pronounced en-nee-add) Lab. Ennead Lab was established in 2010 as a branch of the ennead Architects’ professional practice in order to expand “the traditional boundaries of professional architectural practice by promoting discourse, experimentation, invention, education, collaboration, and action in the elds of architecture and design” (Ennead Architects). Additionally, Ennead Lab “identi es civic challenges and opportunities, creates and sponsors innovative design solutions and advances these solutions as catalysts for civic discourse, education, community improvement, a sustainable environment and urban progress” (Ennead Architects).I was able to make the connection with Ennead Lab by talking to Evan Elise, a teacher assistant who helped Kathie Friedman, my mentor, teach the Jackson School of International Studies’ class on Forced Migration class. Evan, a UW alumna, had just completed her Master’s in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies in Oxford and is a member of the Humanitarian Innovation Project. The Humanitarian Innovation Project hosted a conference last year and two members from the Ennead Lab, Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery, spoke at
the event about a project they are working on called Rethinking Refugee Communities. The project
is responding to UNHCR’s need to change its process of planning, building, and operating refugee camps by designing a toolkit that provides “systematic framework for integration information,


design, and technical tools and the expertise of multiple disciplines and stakeholders to better plan settlements” (Ennead Lab | Rethinking Refugee Communities).Since there were many similarities between my thesis and that project, Evan encouraged me to send Ennead Lab and eventually I was able to connect with the two people who spoke at the event. I have been in email contact with Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery of the Rethinking Refugee Communities since February 2015 and they have agreed to receive my list of recommendations when I am nished.