Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban has signed an agreement with UN-Habitat, the United Nations agency tasked with guiding sustainable development, to design up to 20,000 new homes for refugees in Kenya’s Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement. Currently home to more than 37,000 refugees, the settlement is quickly outgrowing its original capacity of 45,000 – over 17,000 have arrived this year alone, with numbers expected to continue to increase.
“The key thing will be to design and construct shelter where no or little technical supervision is required, and use materials that are locally available and eco-friendly. It’s important that the houses can be easily maintained by inhabitants.”
Ban will draw from a wealth of experience designing humanitarian architecture, including more than a dozen displacement-related shelter projects around the world in countries including Rwanda, Italy, and Nepal, using unconventional building materials like cardboard and paper tubes. At a recent visit to the Kalobeyei Settlement, he also explained the importance of drawing from local construction traditions to provide familiar living spaces that are tailored to their environment.
“The shelter designs have to comply with the national regulations for housing while responding in a responsible manner to local climatic conditions and challenges, providing replicable sustainable solutions to shelter.” Yuka Terada, UN-HABITAT Project Coordinator, agreed. “UN-HABITAT’s approaches are strongly participatory and the relevant county officers as well as the representatives from refugee and host community will have an input in the design process.”
Designs will be tested first on 20 prototype shelters. If successful, they will then be gradually rolled out to replace existing structures, many of which have already begun to wear out.
Pritzker Laureate Shigeru Ban may be as well known for his innovative use of materials as for his compassionate approach to design. For a little over three decades, Ban, the founder of the Voluntary Architects Network, has applied his extensive knowledge of recyclable materials, particularly paper and cardboard, to constructing high-quality, low-cost shelters for victims of disaster across the world – from Rwanda, to Haiti, to Turkey, Japan, and more.