The autumn of 2015 was a turning point. Else was in the middle of taking her Master Degree and had for a long time been researching how to engage with social challenges as an interior architect. She had over the recent years become personally engaged in the politics on how Norway runs their practice towards refugees. As the whole world were witnessing on of the most media covered “refugee crisis” in modern times, she started to create what later became MakersHub.
It started with an open-call for action. Else went around Oslo putting up posters and using her network to find likeminded people who wanted to engage. This was how Maria, Ida, Miriam (moved back to Germany the summer of 2016) and Else got to know each other – and created the organisation together late December 2015. Karam joined the organisation in the summer of 2016, and Jack in the autum of 2016.
Our work with refugees and asylum receptions in Norway:
The organisation based their early work on findings from the research report “Living qualities at Norwegian asylum receptions” by NTNU/SINTEF, published May 2015. The research pinpoints that the consequences of poor aesthetic and technical standard becomes a symbol of exclusion and the groups low status in society. MakersHub wanted to act as a response to the poor living standard in Norwegian asylum receptions so they initiated a collaboration with Torshov transit reception (Oslo), run by Norwegian's Peoples Aid.
But. In the big picture, it’s easy to think that there are other parameters more important for the refugees than their living environment in the receptions, so why did we concentrate on it? At the time, it was naturally a topic easy related to our profession. But the most important: Because belonging is a human need. And belonging can be directly linked to the living conditions. Let us explain:
Just as we need food to eat, and a safe place to sleep, we need to feel included, accepted and validated (by a society). The findings from the report mentioned, proves that the current state of Norwegian asylum receptions policy works against belonging. How we accomondate refugees actually increase their feeling of not-belonging. And belonging is important because research has shown that the feeling of belonging is associated with a better quality of life and increased health, both mental and physical. If we can increase the refugees feeling of belonging, we increase their general well-being.
Norwegian asylum receptions only provide the basic needs like shelter, security and food. But how can a reception, with the help of architecture, improve the refugee’s well-being? If architecture acts simply as a shelter, we have failed.
We believe that camps should be a space for opportunities that provides more than just the basic needs. Stigmatizing environments is either good for return or integration. To add a care in the design of the surroundings it can reinforce a message of inclusion, tolerance and dignity for its resident. By connecting positive associations with the physical layout of the surroundings, the resident’s feel valued and accepted as part of a new society. The living conditions is directly increasing the resident’s well-being.
During the first year of the organisation, we carried out a numerous different projects on this notion. Our work varied from small interventions to building a Pavilion and renovating the children’s room at Torshov. We learned a great deal regarding the reception system and how it is highly influenced by political matters. It is a difficult environment to manoeuvre in, and we often felt our hands were tied. We conducted projects on volunteer basis and carried them out with most of the money coming from out own pockets and some generous sponsors. It was mostly fun but also a great deal of struggles, and we knew we needed to make some changes on how we work, if it was going to be sustainable in the longer run.
With our gained experience and knowledge, we continue to fight for better living conditions in Norwegian asylum receptions - but we also decided to broaden our sightline.
Traditionally, a design studio or architectural practice work for a client who has hired them for their services. The designer or architect makes products or spaces for people. In the private sector, a client hires a designer or architect most likely to increase their own profit in the long run.
It’s not possible to generalise the whole design and architectural field, because everybody operates a bit different from the other. But it’s safe to say that most designers and architects in the private sector work for a client with a commercial interest – and they therefore create projects for the privilege part of society. We create spaces for people who have an office to go to in the morning, because they have a job. We create spaces for those people who can afford to shop; groceries, clothes, furniture, objects: spaces for those people who have a home, go to school or use the public library or cultural arenas.
But then we have all the others. Who are not as privileged. Those who often are labeled different, stigmatised and who are often considered less worth by the greater society. Because clients do not have a commercialised interest in them, usually the designers and architects do not create projects for them.
They spend one night at the hospice; they come by to have a meal and maybe a shower, or a conversation. They are placed to live in a reception, they are forced into hospital, and they inject syringes in your backyard or hang in the park with some refreshing. They wander around, they live in a temporarily social housing, and they might live on the streets. But they surround themselves with space and objects. All the time.
We believe our profession should have a closer relationship to social challenges we do face today. In MakersHub we are continuously exploring how designers and architects can use their field of study to take social responsibility towards modern society challenges. Follow us (or join us?) on how we develop in the future.