Architecture seems to throw up its hands in the face of displacement crises like the current refugee crisis. The discipline is still a little uneasy about its role in temporary and makeshift situations, even despite prolific pop-up culture and the hunger for temporary pavilions, which are starting to make a comeback to rival their glory days during the time of World Fairs. The Eiffel Tower and Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building are both examples of how ‘built to last’ mentality trumps even the most deliberate attempts at impermanence. This goes some way to explaining why there have been surprisingly few design interventions for displaced people since the Paper Partition System, developed by Shigeru Ban in the mid-1990s and widely used to provide quick comfort and privacy to people displaced by natural disasters. Most architects have also remained stubbornly shy of designing tents for the millions of people who find themselves newly stateless, and it’s quite telling that the only designer to seize the opportunity to innovate in that niche has been the furniture giant IKEA.
“We believe in the social power of Architecture and that in certain cases Architecture is more than a social product, it is a social need.”
Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone
This makes Italian architects Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone and Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner quite singular in their field. Being moved by media reports of suffering and motivated by their structural curiosity, the pair made several trips to the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece. As well as perceiving the impacts of the deep psychological trauma of the residents, the architects noticed that while people made every effort to designate a ‘living space’ within their tiny allotments, there were no central spaces for formal and informal gatherings, exchange and reflection. The duo then turned to Arabic architectural traditions of communal and restorative spaces to conceive of a highly resilient but demountable structure that straddles the functions of tent and pavilion, which could fill the conceptual void at the centre of the camps.
The Maidan Tent was designed to provide a much-needed safe public space that residents can share to host cultural events, discussion forums and many other activities. “In make-shift or refugee camps, the existing tents are fundamental because they provide the conditions for survival, but we believe that at this time we need to go a step further. These people who lost their homes, or worse, need a space to live not merely to survive,” Visconte di Modrone told us.
Charitable collaborators Echo100Plus are currently running a crowd-sourcing campaign to send the first prototype to Ritsona, which shelters over 700 people displaced by civil war in Syria and bordering areas. The potential benefits to mental health of both architecture and social interaction are well-established, and with 160 families with children in the camp, and 25 per cent of its residents aged between 16–25, there is every reason to speed the process along. The campaign has raised almost 50% of it’s target and production has begun.
If you or your business would like to support the effort to deliver a Maidan Tent to the refugees of Ritsona, you can submit a pledge to their Indiegogo campaign here. Note that the total does not reflect all contributions (roughly €20,000 at time of writing) as lump sums have been collected outside the funding platform.
Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone and Leo Bettini Oberkalmsteiner
Lily Keil is Senior Editor at Right Angle Studio. She trained and worked as an editor at Melbourne University Publishing before freelancing for diverse publishers for a few years before joining Right Angle. She has been published in magazines such as Meanjin, January Biannual and Higher Arc and was a co-editor of Good Sport magazine in 2016. Her childhood in remote Tasmania may be the origin of her abiding fascination with cities.
Images courtesy of Maidan Tent Organisation and Filippo Bolognese.