Design to Live: Everyday Inventions from a Refugee Camp, the new book from the MIT Future Heritage Lab, edited by Azra Akšamija, goes inside a Syrian refugee camp to uncover the creative lives of its inhabitants.
There will be a hybrid-event on Thursday, December 2, 2021 to celebrate the release of this volume.
The power of art and design to create a life worth living: designs, inventions, and artworks from the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan.
This book shows how refugees use art and design to transform their living environments, restoring humanity within circumstances that seem aimed at depriving them of it. Featuring more than twenty projects created by Syrian refugees at the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan, Design to Live offers a new way of understanding design as a subversive worldmaking practice and as tool for reclaiming agency in conditions of forced displacement. The projects—including a vertical garden, an arrangement necessitated by regulations that forbid planting on the ground; a front hall, fashioned to protect privacy; a baby swing, made from recycled school desks; and a chess set, carved from broomsticks—showcase the discrepancy between standardized humanitarian design and the real sociocultural needs of refugees.
This bilingual book in English and Arabic documents designs by refugees through architectural drawings, illustrations, photographs, and texts by the camp residents, humanitarian workers, and researchers who collaborated on the book across cultural and disciplinary borders. Design to Live is the product of a three-year joint project of the MIT Future Heritage Lab and the Syrian refugees at the Azraq Refugee Camp, supported by CARE-Jordan and the German Jordanian University.
The Azraq refugee camp in Jordan hosts about 35,000 people displaced by the Syrian civil war, who live in rows of small white steel sheds. Several years ago, a camp resident named Majid Al-Kanaan undertook a project to combat the visual and existential monotony of camp life.
Using clay and stones from camp terrain, he built a colonnade of decorative arches in front of his shed, referencing the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria — and added elements alluding to Syria’s Citadel of Aleppo and the Umayyad desert palaces in Jordan….
These projects “speak to the ingenuity of the human spirit,” says Azra Akšamija, an associate professor in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning and a co-editor of the new book. “These inventions point to what is missing. People invent things because they are lacking.”
At the same time, she notes, the cultural and artistic aspects of these inventions are also critical: “Those are essential human needs, it’s not just food and a roof above your head.”