EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS47. Beyond the Camp: The Unbounded Architecture and Urbanism of Refugees (20th-21st century)

Coordinators: Eliana Abu-Hamdi (, Yael Allweil (

Provoked by the contemporary refugee crisis, this session calls for varied perspectives on refugee spaces within and beyond the camp, across historical periods and geographic areas, challenging the assumption that the camp is a socially, politically, and spatially bounded territory.

Social theory has devoted much attention to the camp in the post-WWII period, identifying it as an isolated and insulated space, whose architecture and urban form represent a disenfranchised collective, particularly one without social and political rights. In this way the camp dwellers are regarded and represented as living a bare life within a heterotopic space where the “other” is contained (Arendt, 1943; Agamben, 1995, 1998; Foucault, 1967). This influential and paradigmatic theoretical framework has identified the camp as a spatial category onto itself – as a bounded condition – largely neglecting the camp as a space of agency, multifarious social and political systems, but, most importantly, a space of architectural complexity that often extends beyond the imagined boundaries of the camp.

Invoking a historical inquiry of spaces designed for and by refugees, this session calls for a reframing of theories to better understand the architecture of the refugee as the product of cross-cultural and cross-territorial transportation of people and conflict - within and beyond the camp. Examining the auto-constructed and ad hoc architecture of the camp reflects vibrant, and particularly porous urban spaces, full of potential to restore political and social capacities. We consider the camp as a space of integration rather than isolation, where it is possible that the fringe of the camp is the fringe of the city. The apparent temporality of these structures ought not to imply nor enforce the categorical assumption of the camp as a transient space with bounded internal practices. Indeed, refugee camps in the Middle East, Africa, Australia and South America, have largely proved to be permanent (rather than transitory) spaces that seem to challenge the theoretical frameworks of the camp as a bounded territory of bare life.

We invite an architectural and urban history critique of theoretical frameworks of the camp as a bounded territory that regards its inhabitants beyond the established homo sacer condition as a population set apart, hollow and hopeless, and the camp as a static space of loss. We seek to tease apart the established discourse, intentionally and explicitly calling for a discussion of the camp as a space of innovation, where traditions of “here” and “elsewhere” produce new architecture and urban forms through a discussion spanning broad historical periods and geographic areas. Submissions are expected to align with the imperative of this session, which is to present new knowledge, able to amend (perhaps even challenge) the established, discursive critique, of the refugee camp.
Keywords: refugee camp; urbanism; architecture; territory; displacement