According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 82.4 million people have been forced out of their homes. The situation worsened with the escalation of COVID-19 due to restricted movement, pausing of services, and increased violence. Usually arranged in a grid format, the facilities and layouts of the small, makeshift homes are pretty basic. It is not unheard of that these campsites have inhabitants who migrated more than ten years ago and adapted to a permanent way of living in these temporary shelters. 

With the lack of flexibility and restrictions, there are little the inhabitants can do with regard to creativity and individualized requirements. While some of the larger settlements have some relaxation and are in the line of basic services, the smaller camps do not have much of a say due to less funding and support. Although these sites have solved one-half of the problem by offering refuge, several problems are not getting addressed due to restrictions and the lack of freedom. 

Za’atari Camp

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Za’atari Camp_ ©ArchDaily

The New York Times article, Refugee Camp for Syrians in Jordan evolves as a Do-It-Yourself City, discusses the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan that started forming more than ten years ago. 

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Za’atari Camp View_ ©ArchDaily

With more than 18,000 children in school and 13,000 adults with work permits, there is a chance for starting a new life for these Syrians. Za’atari is a great example of the flourishing and burgeoning of some cities in the past without any external driving factor. 

To put it simply, a DIY city. A cluster of more than 80,000 people, some even call it home despite their want to return. It is dispersed with barbershops, a pizza delivery service, an airport pickup service, kitchen appliance carts, and many other utility stories. Similar to the other large refugee camps in Bangladesh, Somalia, northwest Kenya, and Sudan, there is hope, unity, and a feeling of safety. 

Unlike other camps with strict fencing, no electricity, unclean spaces, and snakes, the few mentioned above are mostly doing well and look and feel like a real town or a mini-city.

Shigeru Ban’s Ongoing design – Kalobeyei

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Kalobeyei existing view_ ©ShigeruBan

Shigeru Ban, a Japanese architect known for the usage of interesting materials for housing disaster victims, initiated a plan for the Kalobeyei campsite in Kenya. Using inexpensive and recyclable materials like timber, mud bricks, paper tubes, and soil blocks, he proposed a plan for 20,000 houses in 2017. He then avoided the use of paper tubes, mud bricks, and soil blocks as they were not sustainable for the location and would be difficult for mass production. 

Finally, tree branches are suggested for structures that do not require a lot of privacy, like a classroom as opposed to residential spaces. 

A Syrian Refugee House Replica – IKEA

Refugee home replica_ ©ArchDaily

An actual replica of Rana and her family’s house, this structure is built with concrete blocks, random art pieces, and the lack of aesthetic measures in comparison to the rest of the store. Tags tell stories about water, food, blankets, and medical need shortages instead of prices and dimensions. In collaboration with UNHCR, “The Better Shelter”, a prototype by IKEA, was created and installed in London by Design Museum. 

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Model unit_ ©ArchDaily

The easy-to-transport flat design lasts longer than the tent style widely used model. With ample space and privacy, the solar energy collected is useful at night. This prototype is being tested in Ethiopia before it can be transported to other places.

The question is, “What about the social interaction in these spaces that is an incomplete factor common to most sites?” Taking care of housing and basic needs is essential. But there still lies fear, insecurity, distress, and more states similar to this. To tackle these in a step-by-step manner, public space can be incorporated that would allow for small gatherings and natural conversations to follow. This would eventually encourage people to settle down and think about the larger picture that would make their lives better and even, normal. 

The larger picture one needs to note here is education, success, joy, and goals. Refugees would know better about the things they want and their interests that could be nurtured in those public spaces. Rather than outsiders deciding the activities and needs of the refugees, they would know what they need and desire. 


  1. ArchDaily (2013). Video: IKEA Foundation Design a Shelter for Refugees. [online]. Available at: Video: IKEA Foundation Design a Shelter for Refugees | ArchDaily [Accessed 22 July 2021].
  2. ArchDaily (2016). IKEA Recreates Syrian Home Inside their Store in Efforts to Aid Refugee Crisis. [online]. Available at: IKEA Recreates Syrian Home Inside their Store in Efforts to Aid Refugee Crisis | ArchDaily [Accessed 22 July 2021].
  3. Shigeru Ban Architects. Supporting Planning in Kalobeyei Settlement, Kenya. [online]. Available at: SBA ( [Accessed 22 July 2021].
  4. ArchDaily (2021). Invisible cities: Rethinking the Refugee Crisis Through Design. [online]. Available at: Invisible Cities: Rethinking the Refugee Crisis Through Design | ArchDaily [Accessed 22 July 2021].
  5. ArchDaily (2020). Refugee Camps: From Temporary Settlements to Permanent Dwellings. [online]. Available at: Refugee Camps: From Temporary Settlements to Permanent Dwellings | ArchDaily [Accessed 22 July 2021].
  6. The New York Times (2014). Refugee Camp for Syrians in Jordan Evolves as a Do-It-Yourself City. [online]. Available at: Refugee Camp for Syrians in Jordan Evolves as a Do-It-Yourself City – The New York Times ( [Accessed 22 July 2021].
  7. UNHCR (2020). Figures at a Glance. [online]. Available at: UNHCR – Figures at a Glance [Accessed 22 July 2021].

A believer in keeping the quirkiness alive, Harshini is an architect by profession, and a psychology fanatic by heart. With a strong interest in culture and the urban environment, she aims to bring them closer.

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