ARCHITECTURE FOR LONG TERM REFUGEE RELIEF: A DESIGN AND POLICY MANUAL [MIDDLE EAST EDITION]
Plagued with warfare and insurgencies, the Middle East today is home to some of the largest protracted and soontobe
protracted refugee groups. In protracted refugee camps, architecture falls acutely short of its premise to provide shelter and comfort. Building upon the challenges and opportunities discerned from existing Palestinian refugee camps in the region, this work delivers a 220-page written framework and a pilot design to equip the UN and other organizations with planning approaches, construction options, and design strategies for establishing new and improved refugee settlements in the region. Shifting from a pessimistic to optimistic stance, we view the momentum of displacement dynamics (populace, aid, advocacy) as a development opportunity. As such, we propose a mutually beneficial system where the camp becomes an orchestrator of physical, digital, and economic systems to provide in the short term thriving living hubs for refugees, and in the long term, seeds of economic and social development for the host communities. You can preview 72 out of the 220 pages through the ISSUU embed above.
IM Blanky is a computational fabric panel comprised of tilt sensors inter-weaved as a grid on fabric in geometrically interesting patterns. Accelerometers and embedded sensors detect the tiniest motions, allowing vital signals (heartbeat, temperature, and breathing) to be remotely monitored and stored for clinical analysis. It could also self-model its shape and function as a 3d scanner using tilt information.
Between the summers of 2011 and 2014, I participated in designing, testing, and building two IM Blankys. The first one, IM Blanky 1, was passive, meaning that its fabric surface did not have any type of pre-made accelerometers. Tilt was instead detected using free-flowing metal tassels affixed at the center of each flower. Whenever a tassel hit a petal (made of conductive threat), a change in resistance was detected and tilt was determined in software using some calculations. The blanket caused a stir after its exhibit at Stitches – Suzhou Fast Forward because how could something so pretty be so powerful? Admittedly, it was not as powerful as we had hoped. The tassels kept getting stuck by petals and loose threads, and in certain positions, tassels did not interrupt the current running through the petals enough to detect a change in resistance. So in 2012, I became the lead developer for IM Blanky 2. It was more digitally advanced, albeit less attractive. I spent weeks and weeks trying to make it work just using conductive thread, to no avail. So we gave in and used LilyPad Accelerometers and real wires, with the intention that engineers can make the technology less invasive once we had a well-functioning prorotype. I also implemented an interactive user interfaces to visualize and analyse the sensors’ data. IM Blanky 2 underwent rigorous testing at the Department of Occupational Therapy Home Lab (University of Toronto), and was found to be effective in detecting breathing patterns especially sleep apnea. Given its passive operation and attractive design, the home lab has integrated the blanky into a suite of tools to measure long term sleep patterns and their correlation with health and wellbeing. Despite the encouraging results, further testing ceased when the PhD student/post-doc accepted a scientist position in Ottawa. Around that time (August 2014), I started my M.Arch thesis on refugee camps so I no longer had the time or interest to do more software/hardware development.
INTERNET OF MOSS: PROTOTYPES FOR GREEN CEILING™ TILES
While green roofs and walls have become common architectural features, ceiling tiles remain as undisturbed, under-utilized zones. This project augments standard Tbar drop ceilings tiles with moss culture for healthier and richer interiors. The tiles are wirelessly connected to their neighbors and linked to the Internet. They report individually on their status (moisture and pH) and together on ambient environmental conditions (temperature, ambient light, humidity, C02). It is envisioned that tiles in a given space can join other networked moss communities around the globe in an ecosystem of live correlated data whose feedback serves their resilience and sustainability. My role in this project was to link the moss tiles to the internet and display their live feeds on a web page that is now offline because the tiles have been dismantled.
PARTICIPATORY SHELTER DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION IN REFUGEE CAMPS
Forced displacement is one of the most pressing and complex crises the world faces today. Over sixty million displaced persons globally remain caught in indefinite forced transit while disasters continue to compound and conflicts escalate. Unable to return home or integrate in neighboring nations, their only choice is to seek shelter and sustenance in refugee camps; the modus operandi in humanitarian relief. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deploys a variety of options for addressing shelter needs in camps. Tents are the most common, but plastic sheeting, tarp, and matting are other alternatives provided for building simple shelters in conjunction with tree branches and nominal framing systems. The agency also deploys concrete barracks, caravans, pre-fabricated modules, and aided self-help housing schemes. Given that two thirds of the UNHCR refugees have been displaced for more than five years, these non-tent options are far better shelters. Yet, they are rarely deployed for financial and logistical reasons. There are other noble shelter examples such as the inflatable concrete tent Concrete Canvas, IKEA’s flat pack refugee shelters, shipping pallet houses, prefabricated core housing, laminated cardboard huts, straw bale housing, polyester fiberglass panel domes, and Super Adobe to name a few.
Most of the aforementioned options exhibit many shortcomings. First, they offer no capacity for customization. Second, tents and their doppelgangers provide negligible privacy, safety, sanitation, and thermal comfort. When used as homes for months or years, they cultivate appalling environments that leave occupants in highly distressed living conditions. Third, the procurement of better alternatives such as caravans and prefabricated modules rely exclusively on donors and finite (often diminishing) aid resources. Fourth, such shelter interjections have been shown to promote dependency and marginalization, hinder the prospects of relief to development continuum, and emphasize the transient nature of forced displacement even when it prolongs beyond a few months or years. Lastly, the international community is gradually recognizing that displaced persons are neither victims nor burdens, but skilled individuals, capable survivors, innovators, and strivers towards better living conditions. A widely-deployable self-help shelter scheme in camps and other forced displacement gatherings is thus the next step to act upon and materialize this recognition.
But self-help shelter schemes are not widely deployed, even if the construction technology is as simple as straw-bale or sandbags, because they require education, detailed construction steps, and architect intervention to conceptualize the shelter design. And there is currently no product as far as our research shows on the market to mitigate that. Given that participatory design and personalization are becoming increasingly popular due to advances in digital fabrication, I am investigating feasible technologies that can enable displaced populace in camps to participate in the design of their own sandbags shelters and subsequently build them with minimal overhead and staff intervention. Using a combination of intuitive sketch vocabulary, computer vision, and optimization algorithms, my goal is to develop tools that make it possible for technology to play the role of architects whose intervention is impracticable in such scarce-resource contexts.
Publication: Samar Sabie, Maha Salman, and Steve Easterbrook. Situating Shelter Design and Provision in ICT Discourse for Scarce-Resource Contexts. In Proceedings of the Second ACM Workshop on Computing within Limits (LIMITS ’16), Irvine, CA, USA, June 9-10, 2016. ACM.
PRESERVING VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE FOR PRESENT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS
Vernacular architecture emerged as a response to shelter needs since the earliest civilizations, exploiting the limited resources and building materials available in the ambient environment such as mud, earth, straw, wood, and stone. Through trial and error, community members, builders and craftsmen, often untrained professionally, developed over generations innovative low-tech construction processes. These processes capitalized on inherent material properties, and incorporated physics to drive passive cooling, heating, and lighting systems to placate the exterior climatic conditions indoors. But all that ingenuity is almost lost thanks to drastic changes in material, construction systems, design practices, economic developments, and social paradigms brought by the industrial revolution and subsequent phenomena in the 20th and 21st centuries. Architecture today is vastly comprised of modern high-rise buildings with big glass facades and comfortable indoor environment regulated by mechanical systems and actuated by fossil fuel.
If vernacular architecture was the result of constraints imposed by austere limitations, its contemporary counterpart is the culmination of abundant resources. Because the future does not look very abundant resource-wise, and we no longer see vernacular architecture (at least in the developed world), the goal of this project is to curate knowledge about the construction methods for vernacular architecture. In a world of scarcity, we will need this cultural memory. Thus, the present is the right time to rediscover, analyze, and conserve vernacular construction practices and expertise the way archaeological artifacts are uncovered and preserved.
Publication: Maha Salman, Samar Sabie, Steve Easterbrook, and Josie Abate. Sustainable and Smart: Rethinking What a Smart Home Is. In Proceedings, Fourth International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S 2016), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, August 29-September 1, 2016.
CIRCLE OF HEALTH
In slums and long term refugee camps, resource scarcity manifests in many ways, one being the squalid environments where homes, schools, streets, and clinics are of substandard quality. A wide body of existing research suggests that such environments negatively impact both the health and overall wellbeing of inhabitants. But how bad are such environments? Where do they fail the most? Do they exhibit any positive traits? Can their quality be measured in ways other than health or satisfaction indicators? Is it possible to visually represent such qualities? And can it be captured through a set of simplified benchmarks?
The objective of this project is to address the aforementioned questions by devising a strategy to measure the quality of the built environment in substandard contexts in order to fathom its impact on health and wellbeing and provide a checklist for architects, planners, aid agencies, and policy makers for future construction and renovation. Our method proposes the Circle of Health, a set of 115 indicators in the form of yes/maybe/no questions encompassing the major built components that occupants interact with daily, organized in a concentric sunburst diagram. Each answer is color coded (yes is green, maybe is orange, and no is red). Colors for each component are summed up to generate a hue indicative of the overall quality of the space surveyed. The meaning of the three colors/overall hues is:
Green: an empowering built environment, where access to basic services is easy (shelter, market, employment); the environment is free from dangerous objects (loose electric wires, armed individuals, pronounced military presence), health hazards (over flowing sewage), and discomfort (mold, irritants, etc…).
Orange: a restricting built environment that poses certain limitations and difficulties on daily and seasonal activities.
Red: is a dis-empowering environment that incubates harm, causes anxiety, hardship, and disease, poses constant obstacles, and inhibits the occupants’ daily activities and future aspirations.
Using primary and secondary sources, we applied the indicators to three Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. We found expected and unexpected results. For example, the worst parts of the camps are the house and street, the schools and clinics are mediocre (due to recent renovations), while the neighborhood is the only positive aspect about the built environment in the camp (more green hues). The quality of vastly complex environments can be captured in the Circle of Health through a simple set of benchmarks to be satisfied when building long term refugee camps or renovating slums to improve occupants’ health and wellbeing.
The Circle of Health can be integrated within the planning, construction, and public health divisions in cities, NGOs, and the UN as a simple yet condensed checklist for structuring renovations and improvements for slums and long term refugee camps. Moreover, it can be used to find where the austere conditions, restrictions, and haphazard interventions leave their mark on the built environment to inform the specs of improvement interventions needed.
CODIFICATOINS FOR OCCUPYING WATERS
Large coastal cities such as New York, Tokyo, and Dubai attract and foster global investments while being less conservative in adapting cutting-edge technological innovations and progressive urban practices. Hence, they are in a sense, future cities that will continue to grow and bear economic/social/political importance for at least the next few decades. But the next few decades cannot be premeditated without considering the infrastructure crucial to sustaining the livelihood of the-ever-increasing population in these cities. Aging infrastructure, natural disasters, and population growth will escalate failure probabilities in food/power/water provision systems. Hence, access to critical services in such cities will certainly be insufficient. At the same time, the future cannot be speculated with much certainty either. Will rising sea levels push settlement further inland? Will we see the rise of pencil towers? Will demand grow at a rate faster than the rate at which new infrastructure is added? And will more tsunamis hit? No definite answers to these questions exist yet. Therefore, either such cities will continue to exist, hence necessitating the demand for constantly expanding infrastructure. Or, they may relocate/shrink/cease to exist, hence, defying the rationale of building permanent infrastructure.
As architects, landscape architects, and urban planners, we can face both demand and uncertainty through smart design that is sharable, resilient, and mobile. In case of coastal cities, water provides the ideal medium to construct a food/energy/water generation network with the above characteristics. In addition to providing auxiliary support to the existing infrastructure, such network will exhibit several advantages. First, it is need based; more components can be plugged in/dispatched as demand fluctuates. Second, the network can be transported to a safe place in the case of disasters. Third, similar to a demand and supply equilibrium, different municipalities, regions, or countries will experience peak demand at different times. Hence, components and cost can be shared and transferred.
The network we propose in this project, after research based on Florida Keys, consists of a zoning code for the waterscape, an armature (floating docks) that interfaces with the open city, and a group of components (floating units) that hook into with the armature to generate food, energy, and water. But how could the spatial allocation of such activity on water be determine? Well, we developed a zoning code generator using GIS data and community criteria as input, with variables including land proximity, wind patterns, desired activities, benthic habitat, boat traffic, and others. A computer code then outputs detailed zoning maps allocating the appropriate use (energy generation, food production, traffic, swimming, etc…) for every square inch of a given water body. Overtime, as demand changes, as more intelligence about the network is gained, or as factored are adjusted, the zoning map is regenerated and the armature and components get repositioned/augmented/transferred. The component type and design can be chosen as to create interactions within the network while generating destinations for the community. The inhabitability aspect of the network extends the coastal city beyond its hardscape borders and celebrates rather than conceals this vital network.
AL KHAYMA AL SEHYA: A MOISTURE ABSORBING FABRIC MEMBRANE FOR INDOOR APPLICATIONS IN THE WEST BANK
Excessive relative humidity in slum and refugee camp dwellings causes multiple adverse health outcomes. Al Khayma al Sehya is a project I initiated and led. The project proposes an affordable, feasible, and socially responsible solution to excess humidity through a special fabric hung on the ceilings or walls to shield occupants from existing mold and mildew build up while absorbing excess ambient moisture and preventing its accumulation in the house. This project utilizes desiccant filled fiber tubes which local women can weave into synthetic yarn with guidance from Canadian expertise. Through this project, I initiated the first (or maybe second) collaboration between the Faculty of Architecture and the School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Of over 600 applications, Al Khayma al Sehya was shortlisted for the Grand Challenges Canada Stars in Global Health Stage II due to its “boldness, innovation, and excellent integration of social entrepreneurship, business, and health aspects.”
Tables and Graphs are effective visualizations for presenting data. However, generating them in wiki pages requires time, effort, and complicated syntax. This becomes more problematic if you have large sets of data, or if you want more customized visualizations. Hence, I decided to make vizExpress to support computational scientists as they develop scientific c software, document their findings and share their results with others.
vizExpress is a Mediawiki extensions that allows users to create highly customized tables and graphs quickly and easily. vizExpress features a simple, excel-like wizard that can be accessed through a button in the editing toolbar. When you start the vizExpress wizard, you can:
/ Provide data by typing it, copying and pasting it from another source, or by browsing to an existing Excel or CSV file.
/ Choose one of eight graph types.
/ Choose one of seven pre-defined color schemes, or simply make your own scheme.
/ Apply further options such as titles, graph size, legend position, etc..
/ Preview the graph before inserting it.
Once you have the graph in your wiki page, you can:
/ Allow users to download the graph data as a csv file (which is the coolest feature about this plug-in).
/ Edit the graph easily by restarting the wizard again.
Here’s some praise for vizExpress.
CAD Presenter is an Infrared and Bluetooth powered wireless glove that can be used to interact with common drafting software such as in AutoCAD to perform frequent commands such as rotate, pan, zoom, and change views using intuitive gestures. The glove is targeted for performing architecture presentations to showcase digital building models in a more fun, polished way. While the glove idea might seem obsolete today, I developed this back in 2010, 3 years before xbox was released, using Nintendo Wii hardware and Autodesk ObjectARX programming environment with C++, C#, and Lisp.