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Once Refugee Camp, Now Architectural Wonder Once Refugee Camp, Now Architectural Wonder

Once Refugee Camp, Now Architectural Wonder

by Yasha Wallin

May 13, 2013

It's not often that one could claim a refugee camp as an architectural wonder. But the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp, in Tripoli, Lebanon was just shortlisted for the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The camp is home to 27,000 people—mostly large, extended families. Nahr el-Bared was established in 1949 for Palestinian refugees and was more or less destroyed in 2007 when heavy bombing and artillery fire pounded the area during a conflict between the Lebanese Army and the extremist Fatah Al-Islam group, the latter of which had taken up in the camp (image above). In order to make the area inhabitable again the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) worked in collaboration with the Nahr el-Bared Reconstruction Commission for Civil Action and Studies (NBRC) and the community.

In rebuilding, the goal was to increase non-built areas from 11 percent to 35 percent, and to maintain the building typology of the refugees' original villages. With careful planning the architects utilized the idea of vertical expansion to build up to four floors, allowing for more free space around the grounds. The rebuilding was done in eight phases: The first allowed more than 300 displaced families to return back home; and by the third, 2,400 primary and secondary students could go back to newly built schools.

By now, some families have begun incorporating additional ways—like rooftop gardening—to create better lives for themselves. By using plastic barrels, recycled buckets and old tires painted in bright colors, residents have started to grow vegetables and small fruit trees to feed their families. So while their situation is far from ideal, at least with this recently implemented reconstruction, they can hopefully begin to look forward.

Images via United Nations Relief & Works Agency, Abdelnaser Ayi, Ismael Sheikh Hassan

design creativity israel palestine rooftop gardening architicture
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