ST 2022 | The Dheisheh Refugee CampCopyright: © Lara Shabani
The Dheisheh Refugee Camp – A Permanent Transience in Bethlehem
Master's Thesis by Lara Shabani
Refugee camps are ideally dissolved quickly. Whether people flee because of war, natural disasters, hunger or disenfranchisement, they return home or migrate on. In some cases, however, they must accept the new home as permanent, as in the case of the Dheisheh refugee camp.
The Dheisheh camp was built in 1949 on a steep hill south of Bethlehem as part of the Israeli occupation. Its creation was to house Palestinian families who had been displaced from 45 villages around Jerusalem and Hebron. Due to the long existence of the camp, third or fourth generation refugees now live there, though still with "temporary" refugee status.
After each family built according to its own needs, the camp began to grow through individual architectural elements, gradually becoming part of the urban fabric. The urban spaces constantly evolved according to cultural and historical background, socio-economic activities and demographic structure. Thus, a spontaneously created architecture emerged, where users responded to the local milieu with their construction works.
In this way, the camp soon had a completely disordered appearance: because a structured and orderly urban planning was missing from the beginning, a spatial structure developed over the decades that was neither architecturally nor urbanistically well thought out. Moreover, the area of the camp can no longer be expanded due to government regulations to maintain its temporary character, so that even today Dheisheh is becoming increasingly chaotic – with temporary structures on the one hand and the introduction of permanent and fixed structures on the other. Everything is still decided on a purely spontaneous, user- and goal-oriented basis – a complex urbanization process, the exploration of which was the task of this master's thesis. In the context of the work, the first priority was the detailed exploration and analysis of the refugee camp, so that subsequently a possible development scenario could be worked out for an abandoned and vacant building site. The resulting study is based on a field research and discovery method that foregrounds analytical objects and architectural elements based on archival collections, image documentation, city plans, and detailed site analysis drawings.
In particular, the multifaceted use of materials and construction methods plays an essential role in Dheisheh, so that insights gained in the investigation have been incorporated into the design proposal for the multifunctional building. The actual site is a disused 510 m2 area, characterized by the usual features of the camp. It is located on the outskirts of Dheisheh, overlooking the entire camp.
Based on the wishes of the resident, which emerged during the discussions and workshops on site or online, the building design has been proposed to accommodate several activities that were previously missing in the camp. The concept is intended to have two construction phases:
The basic structure initially only consists of a load-bearing skeleton as an optimized shell, because the regular basic framework of beams and columns also includes a main access and an escape staircase, technical installations and sanitary facilities. In addition, the grid of four meters ensures order and minimizes the "chaos" that may result from any future extensions.
Since the subsequent appropriation of the basic structure is to take place on the basis of individual self-construction projects by the users, three different typologies are proposed as examples, which can provide future residents with a starting point and orientation. This second phase of the work could be accompanied by consultation as needed.