3 Winning Designs for Unplanned Cities Focus on the People Who Live in Them


As more of the world’s population moves into refugee camps and slums due to war, climate change, rural-to-urban migration and ad hoc urban planning, discussions about housing are increasingly shifting toward how to meet these makeshift neighborhoods where they’re at.

Shelter Global’s annual Dencity Competition urges architects and planners to consider those neighborhoods, and attempts to “foster new ideas on how to handle the growing density of unplanned cities,” according to a press release. Last year’s winning projectaddressed the needs of the Kolis, a fishing community in Mumbai, with a proposal to find uses for the waste that accumulates in a local river. (Shelter Global is a nonprofit focused on safe, quality housing for all.)

The first place winner for 2017 is a water system for refugee camps in Jordan, by four urban design students at Columbia University. It would capture rainwater through a network of mini collection and storage units throughout the facility and is designed to account for future growth. More than functional infrastructure, the team’s design provides public space and opportunities for socializing in the camps too.

“Designing for permanent impermanence is a great challenge,” jury member Peta Kempf said in a release about the winners. “This proposal demonstrates with great diligence how an informal community living in a water-scarce environment can become proactive to secure their livelihood without questioning their permanent impermanence. Providing the community with an ephemeral but lasting tool kit to collect water, this group enables a community to take on current and future water shortages within their region from the bottom up.”

The second and third place winners address water challenges at the Syria-Turkey border and Delhi, respectively. A group of four architects envisions modules that start with a single dwelling and expand into a network of structures that fit together and accommodate the needs of the growing Syrian refugee camp.

A French landscape architect addressed the risks of flooding to the residents of the Yamuna Pushta slum in Delhi, for the third place win. The proposal calls for active involvement by city government, a rigorous mapping of the area, community-engaged design, and the construction of channels and reservoirs adaptable for both the monsoon and dry seasons.

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