Living is Form

by John Wagner (MArch II '19)

Among the extents of international human aid facilitated by the United Nations High Council on Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, intervention strategies are characterized by utilitarian means, and a stark semblance of society, expression is supplanted by mere sustenance. Could instead an artistic or architectural intervention engage residents of this camp, who endure an indeterminate duration of temporary occupation, in a constructive conversation of how space and form could be organized to meaningfully counteract their experience of a suspended state of dwelling? Could the installation itself become a method of healing of traumatic experience? As an ephemeral construction, could the event of its installation serve as a memory vessel, demarcating a moment at the outset of an indeterminate future timeline, formulating the core of new spaces of solidarity?

While directly addressing the corporal needs of refugees, may this intervention also itself be a process by which primary trauma may be comforted and ongoing traumas of camp be mitigated? Can the art intervention, in form and in process of conception, be itself both a memory device, a symbolic device, and a therapeutic device? With reference to the conceptual provocation Brian Holmes identifies in Eventwork, social movements “are vehicles to change the forms in which we are living.” Within the exceptional circumstance of the camp, can a design intervention to address an essential need itself be a vehicle to change the condition of subsiding within the camp?

Adopting the position that art and architecture can expand beyond the object, the argument of the intervening project Living is Form seeks to reveal how a process of creating and shading a public space could be means to enable and empower a community to conceive, organize, implement and maintain their own environment.

Taking the form of three urgent need areas, Living is Form materializes as an improvisational sunshade for delineating public space, a prototypical community kitchen for engendering third spaces in camp neighborhoods, and a street trellis that serves as a platform for agricultural nursery, provisional sunshade, and readily appropriated framework for privacy screens.

Each of the designs is intended as a pattern, script, or readily appropriated building form that enables residents to create, augment, or appropriate spaces within the camp. The method of implementation is through community engagement and outreach, a new conception of space within the camp may be realized. The physical spaces delineated by these object(s) of intervention become a focal point around which new social configurations and realities can condensate, engendering a new condition of empowerment of the refugee.