This Nonprofit Design Studio Hopes to Give Refugees a Future

The Oculus could return some dignity to those displaced by disaster.


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Architects For Society has a dream - to provide refugees worldwide with a dignified, comfortable space that feels like anything but just a temporary home. Founded by architects and designers from the US, Spain, Canada, Jordan and The Netherlands, the nonprofit design studio became aware of the plight of refugees during a project with Chalmers University in Gutenberg, Sweden.

Together with students of the Material and Detail studio of the University's Master’s Program in Architecture and Urban Design, Architects for Society developed Oculus, a rapidly deployable shelter prototype for Syrian refugees living in Jordan's Alzaatari Camp.

The camp, which opened in 2012 as a temporary housing solution, has evolved into a permanent settlement with more than 80,000 inhabitants. The project born from the collaboration between AFS and Chalmers University, challenges the barracks and tents presently used in most refugee camps and seeks to develop a solution that would fit the needs of refugees anywhere, while at the same time offering a more pleasant and optimistic sight.

“As a group of allied professionals from the US, Europe and the Middle East, AFS is a non-profit design practice with a mission to enhance the built environment of disadvantaged communities through innovative architecture and design,” says AFS.

The rapidly deployable structure, which was designed to be quickly delivered to disaster-stricken regions and then assembled by unskilled builders, was "based on a material-efficient construction with multiple layers that also brings to mind the extension of a telescope." The interior system and internal connection details have strongly influenced the exterior shape which aims for the sky and stand out from its surroundings.

The unique design even allows several units to be placed next to one another or even to be joined to form larger units with an inner courtyard for big families.

What really sets the student’s concept apart from the many other emergency shelters, is that it addresses not only the practical issue of refugee housing, but also attempts to make the living arrangements as pleasant and homely as possible.

The Oculus is still only a concept, but could truly transform the life of hundreds of thousands of refugees around the world, should it become reality.  

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