60 513 In Transit: Mass Displacement: When Temporary Becomes Permanent


Passed foundation level courses/ Master
Open for architecture and landscape architecture students

Course content

In the context of the Syria crisis and as a contribution to the global response to mass displacement, In Transit II aims to develop design solutions, urban planning strategies, and tactical urbanism interventions to increase the livability for people in transit and their host communities.

Traditional, centralized urban planning seems to fail when faced with extreme, even temporary, population growth. Whether the reasons are due to political will, ability to engage or economic incapacity, the slow-moving urban planning processes are not meeting the urgency of these matters. Simultaneously, transitional spaces - such as refugee camps, are designed for the short term: to meet an emergency need and then disappear. This is no longer the reality in a globalizing world faced with urbanization and mass displacement caused by disasters and prolonged conflicts. The average stay in a refugee camp is now 17 years. At the same time, over 80% of displaced populations worldwide are seeking sanctuary in cities instead of settling in camps or camp-like settings. There is currently a disconnect between solving immediate needs and developing sustainable solutions benefitting the ones fleeing and the urban environments hosting them.

Both host community arrangements and large-scale refugee facilities require rapid urban planning interventions. Both situations also require hands-on design solutions ready for immediate implementation. In line with the urgency of the situation, the In Transit II course will be fast-paced, and make use of the following approach: smart programming combined with attractive physical spaces – where the goal is to achieve city or neighborhood coherence, and social cohesion between the new arrivals and their host communities.

The studio will focus on mass displacement and urbanization by looking at the situation in two vastly different host countries: JORDAN and NORWAY
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is currently housing 80,000 persons, while in Norway the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) is planning to rent “flotels” (ships) and construct “barrack cities” that will each house between 1000-5000 persons.

Despite the temporary nature of such facilities, emergency accommodations tend to become permanent settlements. How can we maximize the capacity of people in acute need of protection, and at the same time ensure a high degree of dignity and livability? How are we addressing the long-term spatial and specifically urban needs with rapid relief interventions?
How can we develop design strategies for durable solutions and livable communities in in countries where refugees seek asylum?

What is the best option for the new arrivals, and what are acceptable solutions for the hosts? What is the spatial and programmatic common ground for the new arrivals and their host communities?

“Barrack cities” or “Flotels”– can’t we do better?
The number of refugees arriving in Europe seeking international protection continues to increase. However, it remains low compared to Syria`s neighboring countries, with slightly more than 10% of those who have fled the conflict seeking safety in Europe. As Syria is entering its sixth year of conflict, more than 2.1 million Syrians have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Approximately 2 million Syrian refugees are currently in Turkey. One million refugees and migrants fled to Europe in 2015.

Learning outcomes

Both the international community (the United Nations, the World Bank, INGOs, the AU, the EU, and others) and the professions constituting the built environment (architects, urban planners, landscape architects, designers and engineers) urgently need to adapt their capacity and response to the shifting nature of this global crisis.
Merging the built environment and urbanization with the particularities of the international community’s crisis response, the students will be introduced to the United Nations and its response mechanisms, focusing on the role of the architect/designer and the subject of urban planning and design within the field of humanitarian response and development

Working and learning activities

The studio is organized around two case studies:
JORDAN: A total number of 800,000 Syrian refugees are currently living in Jordan, in addition to a considerable number of Iraqi asylum seekers. Approximately 80 per cent of Syrian refugees reside in non-camp settings, while the remaining live in refugee camps. Zaatari is the second biggest refugee camp in the world, and with a population of close to 80,000 individuals it can no longer be considered as a temporary camp, but rather a city.

For most people, the iconic image of refugees is thousands of people living in row upon row of tents in a sprawling emergency camp in the countryside. But the reality today is that more than half of the world's refugees live in urban areas, where they face many challenges and where it is more difficult to provide them with protection and assistance. That’s the case in Jordan, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have bypassed camps near the border and sought shelter in towns and cities like Amman, the national capital.

When refugees have arrived at the country in which they wish to apply for asylum, they are accommodated in asylum/ reception centers. Some stay there for a few weeks, others for months, even years. These centers turn into parallel worlds, in many cases secluded from their surroundings.
According to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), the total number of people seeking asylum or other forms of protection in Norway in 2015 was 11,884. Out of these, 2,222 Syrian citizens applied for asylum/other protection. The UDI guidelines say that the physical environment in reception facilities should be of “modest but reasonable standard “. The UDI is currently planning the construction “barrack cities” with the capacity to accommodate 60,000 refugees.

Supplementary information
Study trip to Jordan

Professor in charge

Håvard Breivik, Tone Selmer-Olsen