The Berlin Walls by Le Quang Architect was an experimental – Future Project entry for the World architecture festival in the year 2016 and gained attention for it’s reformative and sustainable approach.
Location: Berlin, Germany
Context: Experimental Project
Program: Temporary Housing for UNHCR
In the view of the European migrant crisis which intensified from the year 2014 with several migrants from South Asia, Africa, and Western Balkans emigrating through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe seeking aid and shelter, and considering the repercussions of such circumstance, the Berlin Walls was formulated as a response to it. Instead of restricting the objective of designing a ‘shelter’, Le Quang acknowledged the broader perspective of the fundamentals of human life and the need for the migrants to attain certainty and contentment, hence designing a temporary home. The home addressed the components of self-sustenance, acclimatization, integration of communities and sustainability, and easy construction.
The chosen site Holzmarkt along the Seine River in Berlin was suitable due to it being unoccupied, unconventional, and viable for social experimentation. The process of zoning and planning was a result of a conscious understanding of the traditional structures and the context. The fundamentals adopted in the design were in correspondence to the traditional structures such as the incorporation of a patio confined by the building masses facing towards this patio, however, what distinguished the design was the distinct characteristics attributed to the migrants which had to be regarded.
Therefore, along with dwelling units, the Berlin Walls also provided classrooms, training areas, indoor workshop spaces, an eating house, community and praying courtyards, open spaces, and green reserve to reform the lives of the migrants and give them a sense of belonging. Le Quang also surveyed the demographics of the migrants and acknowledged the younger age and the impact of the crisis on them, therefore providing an indoor space for kids, classrooms, and open spaces for them to play. A service block has also been provided within the site comprising an electricity station, bin center, loading bay, truck parking, and construction storage.
An apparent division could be seen between the service blocks and the housing blocks, also having provided different entries, while being associated with an internal pathway for the access of a fire engine. The segregation and disposition of the building blocks are as per the functions they contain, and their interdependence. The separate masses altogether characterizes a quadrilateral form in the plan, while creating adequate open spaces within them for the gatherings. These building masses have a narrow form similar to the walls, therefore the project is named Berlin Walls. The structure also provides look-out points for the migrants which look over the courtyards, creating harmony within the spaces. The trees in between and around the masses with healthy foliage and seating decks alongside them enhance the atmosphere.
These slender masses with their indoor spaces have a similar layout providing basic amenities that stimulate the process of migrants stepping out of their dwelling units and interacting with each other and the society, get acquainted with the lifestyle, and thus getting adapted to their new home.
Material and Construction
The intention of community strengthening is primarily established into the design through the construction process with an approach of using scaffoldings borrowed by construction sites in the city being used as a primary material. Through this process, the migrants could also have their share of contribution in the construction process and would assist them in interacting with the locals involved, therefore initiating their association with the community. Besides scaffoldings, canvas façade and wooden flooring have been integrated into the structure making it structurally viable, efficient, and adding a subtle character.
The scaffoldings provide flexibility to the structure and create a possibility of expansion for the future. As compared to the existing common construction systems where the processes are lengthy and seemingly permanent, the scaffoldings become a logical alternative with faster results certainly beneficial in the time of a crisis, with no requirement of specialized knowledge and involvement of local contractors and workers. The scaffoldings also ensure that the load of the structure gets substantially distributed minimizing the chance of a massive failure.
The re-use and recycling of the existing material minimize the cost and could be easily deconstructed when the migrants eventually settle down in the city and leave their temporary homes. The deconstructed structure could then be rebuilt in the same or another site as per the needs and circumstances, generating a cycle of re-invention, adaptability, sustainability, and hence resulting in the permanence of the approach, relation, and communication instead of the shelter.
The Berlin Walls is an effort of integrating the existing urban setting and the latest inclusion of the housing prototype of the migrants, through a responsive and sustainable approach. This system ultimately helps the migrants to heal and to have physical, emotional, and mental stability while making an economic, ecological, and cultural reform in the city.