Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has made his name by using cardboard and wood to craft low-cost disaster housing, and he will need to be at his enterprising and creative best as he tackles his next big project. The 2014 Pritzker prize winner has signed on to design thousands of new shelters in a major refugee settlement in Kenya, where he will have to make do with harsh conditions and limited resources.
Today, the Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement is home to more than 37,000 refugees hailing mostly from South Sudan and Somalia. It is actually equipped to handle 45,000 inhabitants, But 17,000 refugees have arrived this year alone, prompting the UN Refugee Agency to explore how the settlement could be expanded.
And doing so will be far from straightforward. There are no commercial flights to Kalobeyei and traveling there can take three days on the road from the capital of Nairobi, which makes shipping in materials problematic. Locally, there are brutally hot temperatures, low water supply, deforestation and a flood-prone rainy season to contend with, too.
But still, if there was a person for the job, Ban would be it. The bonafide starchitect has created low-cost housing from things like beer crates and cardboard tubes, bringing emergency shelter to disaster victims in Japan, India, Haiti and notably Rwanda, where he helped design paper shelters for nearly two million refugees in the wake of the civil war.
Ban paid a visit to the Kalobeyei Settlement to meet with refugees, examine the existing structures there and ponder the design requirements for the upcoming project. The agreement tasks him with designing up to 20,000 new homes, and he says that learning how the local people approach construction was an important part of the process.
"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," says Ban. "It's important that the houses can be easily maintained by inhabitants."
To begin with, Ban's design will be tested on 20 homes. If those prove successful, it will be rolled out more broadly to satisfy the settlement's needs, though the UN notes that sourcing materials will be an ongoing challenge.
"We are grateful for Shigeru's support," said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representative in Kenya, Raouf Mazou. "Providing decent and lasting shelter is key to addressing the needs of thousands of refugees in Kalobeyei. A successful partnership on shelter such as this will help to empower refugees, and reduce dependency by giving them stable and durable homes to live in. It will also go a long way to improving the socio-economic climate in Kalobeyei, which will benefit not just the displaced, but the host community too."