The Rohingya Camps; Permanence in Transition

The Rohingya refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh host the largest refugee population in the world. The Rohingyas are a Muslim, ethnic-minority people who live in the Rakhine state in west Myanmar. For a long time, they have been finding their way into Bangladesh to escape persecution in their country. Following the violent persecution of 2017, there was huge influx of about 800,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh. Currently there are more than 1.2 million refugees living in these camps.
Besides the Bangladesh government, there are about 136 national and international agencies that work in the camps to help the refugee population in aspects of health, education, water supply, sewerage and waste management, construction, etc. and to help the refugees cope with issues of mental health, neonatal care, and so on. The sheer scale of the problem often overwhelms the support services.
There are 35 camps located in mildly hilly sites across the southwestern parts of Bangladesh, close to the Bay of Bengal. There are a host of issues related to habitat and infrastructure in these camps. Families live in 10’x15’ houses or rooms. Toilets are communal and inadequate. Water supply is limited. Access roads and paths are of poor quality. The solid waste disposal systems are inadequate. The rainy season brings flooding and landslides, and there is the threat of hurricanes that form in the Bay of Bengal. There is the need for adequate social infrastructure to improve the quality of life of these people, particularly women and children.
In this studio students will be required to develop design solutions to either housing or infrastructure issues in the camp. They may design housing units that consider social and environmental factors for better living conditions and investigate the way these housing units come together. Alternatively, some may attempt design solutions to problems of infrastructure such as water supply, landscape, access roads, waste disposal etc. This can include social infrastructure such as gathering spaces, particularly for women and children or spaces/buildings for socio-cultural activities.
To get a better understanding of the conditions in the camps there will be site visit by the studio participants to the camps in Bangladesh in the 2nd week of October. The visit, besides providing the opportunity to get a first-hand experience of the conditions there and the site, will allow students to identify any other problem they want to address. The studio is open to that.
The pedagogical process followed in the studio will consist of the five following components:

  • Exploration: Background study and research
  • Site: Field trip
  • Focus: Defining the problem
  • Development: Design developments
  • Refinement: Details

The final design solutions will be shared with camp personnel to explore the scope of implementation on site.

TThe first day of GSD classes, Tuesday, September 5th, is held as a MONDAY schedule at the GSD. As this course meets on Tuesday, the first meeting of this course will be on Thursday, September 7th. It will meet regularly thereafter.