Posted in news on November 13, 2017 2:48 pm EST

A Timeless Bond in a Transient World

In refugee camps, houses of worship serve as touchstones that offer grounding to uprooted lives. These structures can be reduced in design, made of affordable materials, and transported where needed.

Recently, two Yale students, Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee, designed a series of pop-up houses of worship, suitable for the transient nature of life in refugee camps. Here, their chapel model.


 

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TAGS: adaptive reuse, architecture, design, materials, temporary structures, worship,

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By Ed Van Herik

Pictures from refugee camps often look alike. There are long stretches of tents pitched on barren land, with unsmiling people lounging around. The camps often have an unfinished look, as if only the basic necessities of life have arrived, with the amenities of homelife coming on a later truck.

Though all [of refugees’] material possessions may have been left behind in the flight to survive, they know that their spiritual life can remain unbroken.

The refugees themselves, torn from a lifetime of space and place certainty, often face a new, disorienting existence, with fresh daily dynamics, boundaries and fears. In many camps, though, there is a sight that bears some familiarity, and that’s the sign of a house of worship.

For the devout, a house of worship in a refugee camp can be a sign that their God has made the terrifying journey to the camp with them. Though all their material possessions may have been left behind in the flight to survive, they know that their spiritual life can remain unbroken, though tested.

Food, shelter, worship

For UN officials, creating houses of worship in new refugee camps is almost a routine task; they design entire cities, with housing, marketplaces and cultural opportunities, as part of their regular planning process. A house of worship is simply one of the needs of the newly arrived, a touchstone that can bring some grounding to uprooted lives.

Recently, two Yale students designed a series of pop-up houses of worship, suitable for the transient nature of life in the camps. While they acknowledged the human need for food and shelter, they also saw the importance of providing for more than material needs.

In their project description, the students, Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee, say their houses of worship “represent a fundamental aspect of not only an individual’s life beyond utility, but an identity within the collective, a familiar place of being and this is something that we consider synonymous with being human a requirement for the persistence of culture.

Recognizability & remembrance

“Through this project we have offered our vision of what a sacred space can be. It can be reduced, it can be transported, and it can be made of affordable material. But most importantly is that it should be recognizable and timeless.”

In one sense, that’s the challenge that architects who design houses of worship face on each new project. Beyond the specifics of the church group’s needs is the necessity to create structures that comfort by providing a transcendent experience rooted in elements both recognizable and timeless.

It is a challenge under the best circumstances.

But with more than 65.6 million people displaced in 2017, the challenge is likely to remain for the foreseeable future under circumstances that aren’t the best.

 

 

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