In the previous post we looked at a project during the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice (ending today) that suggested solutions for the current refugee crisis. The conventional procedure is that refugees wait in temporary shelters until a country receives them. Years and even decades may pass, though, before their temporary status is approved. In the meantime governments and international agencies may not act as quickly as needed, finding it hard to justify investing money for a situation that won't last forever, and may turn to creating temporary shelters that could be quickly removed. Still, guaranteeing good living conditions remains a priority, and specific examples of how to do so can be found in countries that have faced long refugee crises. One of such examples is in Western Sahara, a country located at the western edge of the African continent.
This former Spanish colonial territory was occupied since 1975 by Morocco and Mauritania. A guerrilla war ensued between the occupying forces and the Western Saharan population - the Sahrawis.
Most Sahrawis flew into Algeria where they settled as refugees and proclaimed independence of the Western Sahara on February 27, 1976. Rabouni, the first camp that was established in 1976, is capital of the refugee nation.
This nation in exile is represented with a pavilion by Manuel Herz in collaboration with the National Union of Sahrawi Women at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice (on until today).
The Sahrawi developed their own architectural tools and design methodologies, based on opposite forces such as transience and liminality, permanence and temporality, and tradition and modernity. They employed tents and mud to create their structures and the pavilion at the Giardini pays homage to this typology and this material. The pavilion is indeed a tent decorated inside with tapestries and carpets showing maps and territories, woven by the National Union of Sahrawi Women.
Tents represent the traditional architecture of the desert, so in this case nomadic life inspired a solution; mud is instead perceived as a permanent form of architecture, a traditional technique pointing at an archaic heritage, while weaving is conceived as a craft, an ideal technique to produce decorative pieces with an informative added value. In this case the mud allows to improve conditions and at the same time makes sure that the material will go back to the earth when the refugee camp is no longer needed. The project shows therefore how typology, materials and techniques can become the foundations to create an identity.