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Uprooted An intervention model that honors dignity, cultivates ethical economy, and fosters local agricultural liberty within existing refugee camps.

Stephanie Smith 2018 Thesis Project Bachelor of Landscape Architecture


Contents Introduction


Site Inventory


A History of Conflict


Syrian Civil War


Cultural Inventory


Case Studies


Site Analysis


Analysis Findings


Unpacking a Refugee Ration


Goals and Objectives


Reworking Modular Requirements


Revisioned Masterplan


Closing the Loop


Final Thoughts


Explosion caused by a suicide bomber in Kobani, Syria Gokhan Sahin via Getty Images

Introduction Refugee camps globally are a response to emigrating people that require asylum from long term or frequent military conflict or inability to access necessary resources such as food, water, shelter, work, or education. During a sudden crisis there may be thousands of people seeking assistance because their homes, or their access to a safe living space, have been destroyed. They flee disaster zones with minimal belongings, sometimes only a phone or beloved object to signify their past or connect with loved ones. The Syrian conflict, beginning in 2011, is similar to many other political conflicts in the Middle East. Following anti-government demonstrations, the country erupted into war, with the emerging forces of power being the government, headed by Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army rebelling to overthrow the government, and a third axis of jihadist groups exploiting the division of the state, including ISIS. Use of chemical warfare, bombings and heavy artillery use, destruction of farmland, a disappearing workforce, and public demonstrations of violence and executions, has left civilians largely unprotected and fearing for their own safety. Over 4.5 million people have fled from Syria, and an additional 6.5 million people have been internally displaced within the country. These figures add up to more than half of the population of Syria being displaced from their homes. Refugee camps located in host countries provide migrants with a fixed area to escape the terrors of war. The camps focus the population in need within a designated space that can then receive aid in the form of food, shelter, medical services, water, and other needs. In times of crisis, camps or other established epicenters for migrant gathering, can receive thousands of incoming people each day. Aid organizations and host countries must respond to need quickly and efficiently. Azraq, a refugee camp in Jordan, has been known as one of the best refugee camps in the world for its designed layout and attention to security improvements. However, the camp was constructed using sheet metal rather than concrete and cement as an attempt by the host country to convey the intention that the settlement would not become permanent. Furthermore, basic issues such as extreme temperatures in the summer, unreliable electricity, and high prices of food, pushed people out of the camp and illegally into the surrounding communities. Although the camp was designed to house some 120,000 refugees, numbers consistently remained between 15,000 and 30,000. Larger refugee camps fostering Syrian emigrants have developed their own economies and social systems. Za’atari, located in northern Jordan, has over 3,000 businesses set up within the camp exemplifying opportunities for residents to make a living for themselves. Refugees often choose to live in a camp over assimilating into a host country and thus having to tackle the hardship of adapting to a new culture, language, and means of living. 5

Refugees crossing between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesvos. Etienne De Malglaive via Getty Images

Refugees living on their own in cities are vulnerable to labor exploitation, detention, and must compete for some of the least desirable jobs within a community. They often do not receive help with paying the cost of rent or buying food and other supplies. For some, living in a camp provides more security and assistance in providing for a family. The temporary label affiliated with camps is applied to conglomerations of people and services that eventually become permanent cities. Palestinian refugee camps established during crisis in 1948 are the oldest refugee camps in the world, and many are still standing, and still inhabited. Camp residents refused to accept the permanence of their suffering and exile from their homes, retaining indefinitely the hope to return home and rebuild what was lost. The improvement of delinquent camp structures and shelters into more habitable living conditions was seen as giving up hope, and residents quickly removed any sign of permanence from the camp: planted trees brought in to provide shade, and new concrete building materials to improve shelters. The setup and layout of camps in response to a rapid influx of refugees needs deliberate improvement. Security, privacy, dignity, and access to healthcare and education is fragmented or nonexistent in many camps. Furthermore, relying on aid for donations of food, a steady supply of electricity, and clean water is not a reliable nor sustainable model. Ignoring local contexts such as soils and waterways, land use patterns, culture, climate, and environment in general contradicts sustainable development guidelines.

Even a settlement built to be genuinely temporary should respond sensitively to the surrounding environment, local culture, and existing site conditions, and if not, should make the best use of lower-impact materials that can be reused, reconfigured, and relocated in response to the next crisis. Camp guidelines should be taken seriously. They should be used as a standard of development by which to analyze and design by. New camps should also be dynamic, and respond to local conditions as well as the people they serve. Methods to reflect culture, economic opportunity, and self-reliance should be built into the model. Rather than treating refugees as a number, part of a greater whole being contained in some interim place while the rest of the world decides their fate, we should treat them as the dignified people that they are. Refugees are individual people who have endured suffering, violence, immense hardship, and loss. While they languish in an inhospitable makeshift camp, their ideas, creativity, workforce, power, hope, and pride erode. We should be compassionate towards our fellow human beings by offering them a place to recover, to reorient themselves, and be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

City ruins in Syria Manu Brabo / AP

A mountain of discarded life jackets in Greece Tasos Markou











Jordan (1



Al Za’atari Refugee Camp

24,000 caravan housing structures


(Cal Poly’s campus fits within the

of residents are under the age of 24


5.3 km2

of land is occupied by the camp

current camp


= 4,000 individuals


461,701 refugees have passed through the camp

Site Inventory Geography

Za’atari Camp is located approximately near the northern border in Jordan. The camp is approximately only 12 kilometers south of the Syrian border, although the United Nations guidelines for refugee camp establishment mandate a 50 kilometer distance from the border.

Climate and Geology

Za’atari is located in the northern Jordanian desert, in a mostly arid climate. The average summer temperatures are around 35 degrees C, and the average winter temperatures are 10 degrees C. The Mafraq region receives about 7 inches of rain each year, and 1 inch of snow, on average, during the cold winters. The surrounding landscape is a rocky steppe terrain. The topography is mostly flat, with minor undulations that allow drainage off of the site. Surrounding mountain ranges are to the west (Jordan River Valley), the direct north in Syria.

Regional Agriculture

Northern Jordan and southern Syria subsist off of the arid climate, cultivating crops suited for the region with the aid of some irrigation improvements. Important crops include olives, poppies, roses, irises, eggplants, nuts such as walnuts and pistachios, pumpkin and squash, plums, mulberries, artichokes, pomegranates, citrus, and tomatoes, among others.

Native Flora

Steppe type vegetation, scrub, acacia, Ballota undulata, Sarcopoterium spinosum Salvia dominica, Astragalus bethlehemiticus, Anabasis spp., Retama raetam, Salsola verticillata, Iris nigricans (the national flower).

Camp Demographics

Within Za’atari, 100% of 79,559 registered refugees are Syrian. Of those, 57% are children, 19.9% are under the age of 5, and 1 in 5 households is headed by a female lead. Inside the camp, 80 children are born each week. 79.1% consider Daar’a, Syria their home, and other major origins include Homs, Damascus, Aleppo, and rural areas.


Services and Economy

Sources of Aid

3,000 businesses hold a stake in the Za’atari economy, generating $13 billion USD each month for the entire camp. Businesses include wedding dress rentals, restaurants and bakeries, pizza delivery, gardening shops, among many. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) encourages trade and services within the camp. Nearby Jordanian cities have also loosened their ban on employing Syrians.

Medical Aid is provided by: Doctors Without Borders International Medical Corps Moroccan Military Field Hospital Syrian American Medical Society Italian Field Hospital UAE Red Crescent Jordanian Red Crescent Handicap International International Organization for Migration

Essential services within the camp consist of 11 schools for children, two hospitals, and 27 community centers providing recreation activities and support.

Al Mafraq

The closest city to Za’atari is Al Mafraq. In 2000, the city reported a population of 58,954, which rose to 200,000 in 2016, with approximately 50% of that number emigrating from Syria.

Water & Energy

Jordan is one of the driest countries in the world, and with the sudden influx of refugees into an arid region, the stain for essential water was placed on the host country. In 2013, a third well was constructed for the camp, providing accessible water for over 65,000 people and lessening the need for water aid from the surrounding community. The German government funded a 15 million Euro solar plant project in 2017 that powers the entire camp as well as some of the surrounding community. The solar plant project is the largest in the world for any refugee camp, and is in line with Jordan’s initiative to increase reliance on sustainable energy sources by 2020.

The UNHCR is responsible for the refugees, while the camp is managed by the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization.

Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH) is coordinated by Unicef as well as: Federal Agency for Technical Relief Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency MercyCorps Oxfam Food is provided by the World Food Programme, a branch of the UN. Education services are provided by: Unicef Save the Children Mercy Corps United Nations Educational, Scientific Organization (UNESCO) International Rescue Committee (IRC) International Organization for Migration UNFPA Norwegian Refugee Council The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Protection of Women & Children: International Rescue Committee (IRC)





Temple of Bel, ancient ruins at Palmyra, Syria. Bernard Gagnon


A History of Conflict The Republic of Syria formed as an independent state in 1946. It was ruled previously by a collection of some of the worlds greatest powers: the Ottomans, French, Babylonians, and the Romans. Syria contains some of the oldest Paleolithic remains in the world, dating to 800,000 BCE. The Levant region, or the fertile crescent, has been the center of neolithic culture since 10,000 BCE. Humans first began agricultural development and cattle breeding in this location, and thus it can be said that current human civilization originated there. Syria was successively fought over by Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittittes, and Babylonians, and was referred to as “Mar.Tu,“ or “land of the Amorites” during the 24th century BCE. The name Syria later emerged as an Indo-European corruption of the true name “Assyria.” During the Classical Era, Syria was dominated by Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman rule. Under Cyrus the Great’s rule during the Persian Empire, Syrians were allowed a good deal of autonomy. However, later revolutions and uprisings were heavily suppressed, and Sidon was burned with all of its citizens still inside the city. Hellenistic rule was commanded by Alexander the Great, during which six successive wars drained the region of its resources before it was conquested by Rome. In 64 BCE the Romans ruled Syria, and the empire became important both commercially and culturally. Syria became an influential Roman province during this time, and the Apostle Paul from the Christian religion was converted on the road to Damascus, Syria’s capital. The Apostle Paul is still a significant figure at the Church of Antioch, in present day Turkey, and many Roman ruins remain throughout Syria. The Muslim Arabs, also known as the Islamic Empire, took hold of Syria in the 6th century. Syria was divided into four districts during this time (Damascus, Homs, Palestine, and Jordan), and Syria became the center of economic prosperity with its central location within the empire’s vast spread from Spain to Central Asia. Although Islam became a prominant religion during this time, Christians, mostly ethnic Armaens and Assyrians, were completely tolerated and respected. Arabic was also made the official language. The Byzantines, Turks, Egyptians, Mongolians, Iranians, and Ottomans later came to rule over Syria. Ottoman rule from 1516-1918 was likewise unburdensome to Syrian citizens. The Ottomans were also Muslim and respected the Arabic language and the Koran. Damascus became a mecca and a center for religious pilgrimage. Syria was made into a large province with districts restored to a peaceful coexistence within different sectors of Syrian society. Each religious minority was respected and had leaders in positions of power. Ottoman rule presided over modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, the Gaza Strip, and some parts of Turkey and Iraq during this period. 13

Neolithic remains from Ugarit, Syria. Jon Dent

In 1920, Syria fell to British and French rule with the capture of Damascus and Aleppo. At this time, the Turkish and Kurdish conducted ethnic cleansing of Christians in Armenian and Assyrian populations living in Turkey. Fleeing civilians were frequently attacked, and many people fled to Syria during this genocide. The attacks against Christians resulted in casualties of many Assyrians and Armenians. Agitation with French rule also spread throughout the region, however revolts were heavily suppressed. Syria’s Treaty of Independence was ratified in 1936 although French military and economic presence persisted as the treaty was never officially ratified by France. Syria was finally recognized as an independent republic in 1944, although the French insisted on blocking the independence and occupied Syria until 1945. French artillery killed approximately 400 civilians and destroyed many homes. British troops invaded Syria in order to escort the French out of the country, and the remaining troops were evacuated in April of 1946. The Arab-Israeli war in 1948 sent Jews and Arabs fleeing for safety. Close to 700,000 Jews faced persecution throughout the Middle East and fled to Israel, and 700,000 Arabs were expelled from their homes in Israel, becoming Palestinian refugees. The war was simply a conflict for control over Palestine, yet the lives of many civilians were uprooted and displaced. 14

In 1973 Syria issued a new constitution and alligned with the Soviet Bloc. Syria defined itself as a secular socialist state with Islam recognized at the major religion. Conflict continued with Israel through Lebanon. Since this time, internal uprisings have been of some significance. Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim revolts took place in 1980. In 1982, anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 people were killed in the Hama massacre in order to suppress civilian uprisings. This was a major display of the government’s force against its own people, and it would certainly not be the last. Syria’s relationship with the United States has declined since President George W. Bush’s declaration that Syria was a part of the “axis of evil” in the Middle East. This statement was made in response to the potential presence of weapons of mass destruction in Damascus and alliance with recognized terrorist groups. Syria’s internal affairs became limited in government reform, and civilians were further suppressed with the censorship of the Internet and tracking of citizen activity. In December of 2010, protests arose in Tunisia, sparking the beginning of the Arab Spring. Revolts across the Middle East took place, and eventually, Syria fell to civil war in 2011 after 15 children were arrested and tortured for anti-government demonstrations. This most recent conflict is still taking place in Syria today.

The Triumphal arch of Palmyra, in 1929, 2008, and 2016, was destroyed by ISIS in 2015.

Richard Levine/Alamy; DEA/C. SAPPA/De Agostini/Getty Images; Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images


European Union

Lack of Negotiation

Arab Spring

Radical Islamists

Repressive Regime

Religious Intolerance

United States

Chemical Weapons

Proxy War Bashar al-Assad



Rebel Groups

Syrian Civil War The Syrian conflict is complex and convoluted, and many factors have influenced the civil war. Conflict origins continue to remain disputed and controversial. In December of 2010, protests arose in Tunisia in response to a street vendor who set himself on fire after his livelihood was confiscated by Tunisian authorities. The event became a catalyst for an uprising of citizens speaking out for employment disparities, corruption, and human rights infringement by an oppressive government, and these revolts spread throughout northern Africa and into the Middle East, overthrowing governments in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt. These demonstrations are referred to as the Arab Spring. In March, 2011, 15 children were arrested and tortured in Daraa, Syria, for demonstrating against Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian rule. Consequently, thousands of people throughout the country gathered to protest and demand the resignation of Syrian president Assad. In return, Assad sent government forces to retaliate heavily, launching armed military operations against civilians at each demonstration. Rebel forces organized, forming the Free Syrian Army and several other smaller groups. By 2012, Syria’s conflict had erupted into a full-fledged civil war. The conflict became increasingly complex with global powers allying with or against Assad’s regime. The United States, the European Union, and the Arab League have favored anti-Assad groups while Russia and Iran have sided with Assad. With increased use of force, the global powers have formed a sort of proxy war, making resolutions complicated. To make the power struggle exceedingly problematic, militant Islamic groups such as ISIS have taken advantage of weakened forces to gain control for their own power. Despite several cease fires and treaties attempting to end the conflict, the war has continued. Human rights continue to be violated, clearly demonstrated by the use of chemical weapons against civilians, bombings of residential areas, hospitals, and aid workers, and cutting off access to agricultural production and food sources.


Traditional flavors of Syria.

Rachel Roth, London Travel Guide


Cultural Inventory Food

Wheat is the main crop and food staple in Syria. Most people cannot afford meat on a daily basis, although lamb is a popular choice. Among the middle class, common meals include roasted or grilled chicken or lamb with rice, chickpeas, yogurt, and vegetables. A midday meal, or “mezzeh� contains 20-30 small dishes such as hummus, tahini, baba ganouj, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, falafel, and pita bread. Valued staples also include olives, lemons, parsely, onions, garlic, dates, figs, plums, and watermelons. Tea is often consumed at social gatherings, wile alcohol consumption is forbidden by Islamic religion.


The Syrian economy is based on industry, mining, oil (controlled by the government), textiles, and agriculture (wheat, cotton, vegetables, beans, and fruit). There does not exist a large gap between the rich and the poor, especially when accounting for an increased access to education. There is little difference in salary between the professional and working classes. The middle class, under normal circumstance, is growing. Individuals are legally allowed to pursue the careers of their choice. However, options may still be limited by gender, family or social pressure, or economic hardship.

Social Structure

Traditionally, classes are very stratified and different social classes to not socialize. Lower classes tend to be humble towards their position. Current classes also coincide with racial differences. Lighter skin is often associated with higher positions economically and politically. Landholders and merchants have traditionally held the highest social positions. Religious teachers are also highly valued, and they often serve as judges, teachers, and government advisors. With the growing middle class has come the spread of education. The wealthy and the well-educated typically live a Western and quite modern lifestyle. Young people prefer Western clothing, although showing the shoulders, arms, and skin in general is still considered unfavorable. Jeans and T shirts are rare, and a dressy attire is favorable. Tribes and villages have patterns, designs, and colors affiliated with their community. Traditionally, the status of wealth has been to show women clothes in long robes with veiled faces. Family is a central structure in society, and loyalty to family is of primary importance.


In the Muslim tradition, arranged marriages are the norm. Although there is currently more leniency, the family’s approval is still very important. The oldest male in the family is responsible for providing for everyone else. Several


generations typically share the same family home, and the inheritance, estate, and political and social position transfers from father to oldest son. In some situations, family may be the only social outlet for women who do not lave the home. A clan mentality still holds a strong influence throughout Syrian culture, and even distant relations have strong family ties.


Traditionally, children are considered a blessing from God, and more children equates to more fortune. Children are treated with a great deal of affection. Primary schooling is run by the state and children are required to attend for six years. The school structures are mixed with Islamic and French traditions. Universities are located in Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia, but teachings and methods are outdated. Obtaining a visa and studying abroad is favorable if it is affordable. Current literacy rates are about 78% for men and 51% for women. Broken access to education during the current conflict is not helping. Men and women socialize separately unless the entire family takes part in the occasion. The art of conversation is a prized skill, and greeting others and socializing hold a high significance. Close physical contact between the same gender is very common, holding hands, linking arms, and hugging is normal. Syrians are often reluctant to accept aid from others in fear of tarnishing their own pride. Syrians consider themselves independent and those that are dependent on others may feel undignified. There is great dishonor among men who are not able to fill their roles as a patriarch and a provider for the family.

Gender Roles

Traditionally, labor is divided by gender. In small towns, women are responsible for the household and are restricted to their homes. In rural areas, women work in the agricultural fields in addition to performing domestic work. Although women are legally allowed to work, there are many obstacles. The Moral Intelligence Department investigates women before they are hired for any federal position. Only 11% of women are employed outside of the home, and 80% of those are employed in the agricultural industry, in textiles, or tobacco. The Baath party declared emancipation and equal treatment of women. All citizens have euqal rights, yet the traditional attitude of female inferiority prevails. Women are considered the posession of a man rather than her own. They are identified as their fathers’ before marriage, then wives of their husbands, then mothers of their sons. Attitudes are currently changing in regard to female participation in the workplace. Harsh living conditions demand female involvement in providing for the family. Female empowerment is becoming more valuable to families as many men have been recruited to the military,

killed in conflict, or exiled from the country. Many women must therefore become independent.


The current constitution was adopted in 1973. Each president is elected every 7 years, and must be Muslim. The militaristic government has the power to overrule all other decisions. Political officials are often related to or are the family of the president. There are different courts for trials within each different religion. 30% of the national budget is spent on the military, which is comprised of an army and an air force. All men are required to serve 30 months in the military, unless they are the only son in a family. It is also possible to purchase exemptions from military involvement. Women are also now allowed to volunteer.

Public Opinion

Public opinions are split into three sides: ProAssad, Anti-Assad, or ambivalent. Assad, though generally unfavorable, poses the largest threat to combating ISIS, and support can therefore often be conflicted. People generally do not want ISIS in power and also do not want Assad in power. Voicing political opinions can impact individuals and families deeply, and therefore, more people contain their views within the family unit. Censorship is strictly enforced, and foreign books on politics and Middle Eastern history are banned. Film production and showings are highly regulated. Poetry and short stories are widely appreciated and they are not as strictly censored as other media sources. Reciting poetry from the Koran is popular entertainment, as is the rich tradition of storytelling. Arabic music is also linked to storytelling. Islam forbids the artistic depiction of animals and humans, and so geometric designs and calligraphy are much more popular and are prevalent in palaces and mosques.

Spatial Structures

Residential quarters within cities are typically divided among ethnic and religious lines. Currently, divisions of society exist among class lines, between the wealthy and the poor. Homes are usually closed off to the public, they represent the self-contained family unit. Homes are small with 1-3 rooms, built around a central enclosed courtyard. Souks are the marketplace in Syria, and they are the focal point of Middle Eastern cities. All walks of life, and all religions are present, gathering among others and haggling for the best price. The souk is laid out as a labyrinth of alleys made up of small shops, stalls, and are surrounded by ancient mosques and shrines.

Maktab Anbar, in the center of Old Damascus. Left: Rayan Azhari, Right: unknown.


Case Studies LATRA, Kara Tepe / Lesvos / Greece


LATRA is an in-the-field innovation laboratory that gives refugees the opportunity for hands on learning, workshops, and design. The studio focuses on circular design, environmental engineering, and big-data digital applications within the humanitarian sector. The group has created a technology driven marketplace in Kara Tepe that allows projects to be open sourced and applied in the field. LATRA promotes empowerment through STEM skills development, social entrepreneurship, and inclusivity.

Projects Cataloging lock systems on refugee shelters, CORE

RELIEF, bicycle powered washing machines, STEM Academy for Refugees, Better Shelter Hack, etc.

Relevance LATRA utilizes the time and resources that people

living in refugee camps are more than willing to provide, to research and find solutions that apply to improving life in refugee camps. Refugees are able to contribute to and build the solutions.

Aqabat-Jabr Refugee Camp / West Bank


The Aqabat-Jabr Refugee Camp, established outside of Jericho in 1948 in response to crisis in Palestine. This camp is one of 59 camps providing “temporary� shelter that still exists. These camps are the oldest in the world, and showcase the juxtaposition between temporary and permanent establishment. Aqabat-Jabr exists as a capsule capturing the struggle of the Palestinian people, in a way to display their story, their past, and their displacement. Although building permanent structures was initially a symbol of lost hope, most structures have been converted to concrete, and thus permanence.


Projects The

UN initially planted trees and buildings structures to improve the quality of life within the camps, however, they were promptly removed by residents there. Later, the UN recognized the Palestinian right to return to their homes, despite their ability to actually do so.

Relevance The oldest

camps bring to light the complexity of establishing home in a refugee camp. Over time, large camps with little population mobility (or lack of ability for residents to mobilize) attain a type of permanence. Although the hope to return home persists within individuals and the community as a whole, inhabitants find a way to continue and improve their lives within the camp. The camp provides resources and benefits that are not available in nearby communities, making it easier for refugees to remain in the camp rather than integrate into a new host community.

Seedling Farms, Tanzania / Africa


Refugees from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda have been in Tanzania since the early 1990s. There, the UNHCR manages refugee camps for more than 300,000 people. The World Food Programme (WFO) has assisted in delivering food aid to residents to prevent famine in the camps. However, budget cuts forced the WFO to reduce rations, threatening food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UNHCR, and the government of Sweded helped to set up household and community vegetable gardens within the camps. Now, acres of trees have been cleared for farming and development, leaving shelters exposed to weather conditions. Over 800,000 tree saplings have been raised by refugees to be planted within the camps. The refugees are able to learn new skills, mobilize within local communities and earn living wages.

Projects Seedling

farms at Nyarugusu, Nduta, Mtendeli


Relevance Providing

opportunities for refugees to provide food and shelter for themselves gives them a chance to learn new skills as well as meet their basic needs. Instead of relying on outside sources of aid for food and resources, refugees can be empowered by their own abilities, and can earn an income in the process.

Trash Talk / Za’atari Camp / Jordan


When 100,000 refugees make camp in an arid desert, they become reliant on their host community and the aid of other organizations. Within Za’atari, waste management was initially a problem. Mobile dumpsters were overflowing, attracting pests and insects. The landfill near the neighboring city had seen their waste input triple. Oxfam, a global organization aimed at ending the injustice of poverty, implemented a new waste management project that helped to employ local camp inhabitants and to generate revenue from recyclable materials.

Projects Oxfam Startup.

Recycling and Solid Waste Management

Relevance The new waste management system for the camp

allows for expansion of economic development within the camp. Projects like this can tap into the potential workforce and idea generation from local residents as well as establish a local market of jobs and income sources. 23

Site Analysis Analysis of the site guides the entire design process moving forward, and should inform each decision made for the final outcome of the site. Understanding the functions of the space and how components interact should be a mandatory step, although ignoring it unfortunately seems to be the prevalent direction for development, past and present.

Population Density Darkened areas display an increase in population density. These areas correlate with some of the most undesirable settlement districts. The most dense areas were part of the original camp built in 2011 and are situated near clustered services and camp entrances.

Services Services in the camp include aid centers, recreation areas, schools, hospitals, community centers, women and family centers, recycling stations, and others. The service layout is somewhat in agreement with the grid layout of the camp, however, seems to sprawl along the outskirts, probably as more dwelling units are added. This layout may not serve the community most efficiently.

Water Drainage Although the topography of the site is minor, rain or snow events can have serious consequences. Bare, compact soil with low infiltration rates combined with inadequate planned stormwater management create flooding, especially in roads and walkways. This heavily impairs movement and quality of life, in addition to demonstrating inefficient use of rainwater.

Circulation Major circulation arteries depict the layout of the site. With a rapid influx of nearly 100,000 refugees, quick and organized settlement is a necessity. However, in the long run, the layout may have aided in economic and social stagnancy, as services and communites are fragmented and isolated. The layout does nothin to foster community or recreation opportunities.

Aerial Mapping The city appears to be an organized and wellplanned city from above. Nearby settlements condradict this pattern, however, in their organic structure. This more natural evolution of the growth of a city over time may stem from human spatial use patterns as well as cultural infuences, and may be a better alternative to model from.


Population 45,000

November 2012

Change in Patterns The arrangement of individual housing units changed dramatically from November 2012 to June 2013. The population increased from 45,000 just 4 months after opening the camp to over 200,000 less than 6 months later. The diagrams here display the changing settlement patterns within the camp during this time period. It is evident that some initiative was taken to arrange dwellings differently from the initial gridded structure.

Population Shifts July 2012 - opening of camp August 2012 - 15,000 November 2012 - 45,000 January 2013 - 65,000 February 2013 - 76,000 March 2013 - 156,000 April 2013 - 202,855 June - 147,000 September 2014 - 79,000 March 2015 - 82,000 May 2018 - 78,520

Housing Unit

June 2013

Population 147,000

Service / WASH

Data from UNOSAT & UNHCR


Should Relate

Should Not Relate Existing Elements

circulation walking distance climate / exposure wildlife / vegetation soils topography electricity / energy water visibility transportation food production businesses housing recycling

The existing site elements are those determined as having a high priority in regards to design and programming. The above chart highlights where there should be connections, perhaps in areas where there are not currently.Relationships between circulation / topography / water currently are problematic and should be improved and taken into account in design and restructuring.

Proposed Elements playground healing garden lighting private gardens / plots social food space womens’ workspace restrooms / sanitation local materials crop nutrients / resources prepared food / goods imported materials / resources art waste seed supply

Proposed design elements and their relationships between each other should guide infrastructure and site layout. Important connections such as those between waste / resources / food highlight site programming needs and inform process design.

nd ou en gr rd g ay a tin s pl g gh ot e ing li / pl pac ce al s s pa on he en od ks ti ls rd fo or ita ia s ga ial ’ w san ter rce ds te soc ns / ma ou oo es e s m al res / g urc art e iva o pr wo om oc / st y ro l ts ood res f wa ppl st ien d / re su r t re ls ed nu epa eria se op pr mat ed wi clim wa ld a lki c lif te ng irc e / d ul / e is at el ec ve xp ta io tr ge os nc n ici to ta ur e ty po so tion e g / r en ap ils fo tran od s vi w erg hy pr por sibi ate y bu od ta lit r sin uc tio y e t n re hou sse ion cy sin s cli g ng





Comparison of Elements


A comparison between proposed and existing elements brings to light additional needs for the end product. Major improvements and opportunities lie within recycling and waste, food production, restroom and sanitation facilities, as well as addressing the walking distance between important community services. The final design needs to be dynamic enough to respond to complex relationships not only between the elements on the site but the people that will be using them in addition to the potential impact on the surrounding environment.

Analysis Findings The analysis of Za’atari Refugee Camp brought to light many issues with the current site. The gridded layout contrasts both the natural topography of the site and the cultural and historical arrangement of Middle Eastern cities. Although the grid layout is meant to maintain order and organization within a camp operated by international authority, the effect is a confining, militaristic space which does little to foster community and personal well being. Studying the traditional layout of Syrian spaces unveiled that homes are arranged to create a central enclosed courtyard, a space in which families can use the private space for social gathering or sharing meals. So, not only does the camp ignore traditional city layout, but the typical arrangement of space around and between dwellings is ignored as well. The diagram depicting the shift in dwelling locations as the camp population increased helps to illustrate the undesirable grid layout. The June 2013 layout shows a shift away from this formation, indicating that the individuals living there prefer another arrangement. The effect of the current layout of the camp is that the camp atmosphere is foreign and unwelcoming, and although that may to some extent be the point, the layout of space within any refugee camp should at the very least attempt to send a message of hope, healing, and perseverance. Although refugee camps are meant to be temporary, Za’atari’s existence surpassing 7 years indicates that it may not be. Some of the oldest refugee camps in the world, dating to the 1940s during the Arab-Israeli War, still exist today. A duration of over 70 years does not quite contribute to the authoritarian desire for camps to be temporary. At some point, over prolonged necessary existence, refugee camps become permanent cities, and they should be treated as such. By investing in the longevity of refugee camps, living conditions can be elevated to a more tolerable level, and waste of financial resources as well as dependence on aid can be abated. Currently, services in the camp are scattered along the perimeter of gridded neighborhoods, and the 530 hectare (1309 acre) site is fragmented by them. The size of the camp and location of services does not make them easily accessible, and long walking distances, especially for children walking to school, creates additional hardship. The grid layout, additionally, does little to acknowledge the existing site conditions. This layout imposed onto preexisting drainage channels has created larger problems than originally intended. During winter storms and rain events, roads flood, making them impassable and leaving homes underwater. Leaving drainage channels as they were and working around them to create a space that responds to the topography would have created a more dynamic solution. Housing units, donated by generous Gulf States, are prefabricated and delivered to the site assembled and ready to house residents. The 27


Extreme temperatures

Vouchers to receive food

Inhospitable environment

Flooding during rain events

Wasted water

Dependence on aid

Lack of agriculture

Long walking distances

shelters have been criticized for their lack of adaptability in an environment that endures extreme exposure in both the summer and the winter. The units provide little respite from summer heat and winter cold. There are no other sources of shade on site, and residents build structures from waste materials to provide some relief for themselves during the summer months. There is an extreme need for shade on the site. Wasted resources create opportunity in Za’atari. In 2012, all wastewater was trucked off site. Because of this excessive use of resources, some attempts were made to address wastewater on site, and rudimentary sewage systems were installed. However, this sewage system is comprised mostly of shallow channels guiding water away from homes and buildings, creating an unpleasant environment in public spaces. Rather than allow this system to function in a linear direction, the loop should be closed to utilize water on site by bringing in vegetation to remediate greywater and provide shade. This simple solution can solve both problems quite easily. The World Food Programme (WFP), a branch operating under the United Nations, is responsible for providing food to the refugees. Currently, the WFP uses a voucher system, designed to allot a designated monetary amount to each individual to spend on necessities of their choosing. This system allows refugees to make their own choices, giving them back some sense of freedom, instead of mandating the distribution of specific dry products that may be undesirable. The food vouchers average to $20 USD per individual per month. However, the WFP operates with a dependence on consistent funding, and has set a track record that indicates that when funding is cut, so is refugee access to food. This means that if donors do not

support the organization continuously, then refugees do not eat. They are not able to meet their own survival needs and are subjected to increased risks. This dependence on aid for food in the camp in not a secure model, and leaves refugees vulnerable when they are already among the most vulnerable populations in the world. Food security in refugee camps should therefore be a top priority. In Za’atari, hardly any green spaces are visible across the landscape. It appears to be a barren dessert environment. But there is an aquifer located beneath the camp, and wells on site allow access to this valuable water source. As addressed previously, this resource exists within a linear system, and the water is not treated like the valuable resource that it is. This is of major concern in a country that is one of the most water scare countries in the world, and is already dependent on importing water to meet demands. Household wastewater, in addition to providing shady, remediating green spaces, can also be used for some agricultural purposes. While it is not recommended that greywater be used on crops that come into direct contact with the water, fruit trees and vegetables with an upright growth habit can use this source readily. Although agriculture does not currently take place on the site, the United Nations guidelines for camp planning delineates space for individual food gardens. This requirement should be taken seriously. Providing agricultural opportunities in the camp would not only satisfy the need for secured food sources, but it would also give individuals the opportunity to resume employment. A majority of refugees living in Za’atari come from farming communities, and so agricultural knowledge and experience is present within the camp but is underutilized. Agriculture could then serve to feed the camp, provide income, and use a wasted resource. The linear system can become circular.


Unpacking a Refugee Food Ration



1.92 kg

400 g



300 mL

Tinned Sardines

125 g

Food rations are distributed on a weekly basis in camps that do not receive food vouchers. Items within the ration may be traded or sold for other goods. Each ration is per one adult. Children, infants, and pregnant women receive foods with specific nutrients requirements to aid in development.


85 g

Dried chickpeas

400 g

Tinned Kidney Beans

170 g


Goals & Objectives

Agricultural Liberty

Food Security Explore methods for food production Understand site resources and limits Supply, prepare, eat, and recycle food on site Harvested food should be sold within the camp first, and then to nearby communities as needed

Closed Loop Systems Identify linear systems and rework these systems to be circular Food waste, water, materials recycling, trash, etc Waste systems should create ease for residents Designated locations or methods should be established

Cultivate Cash Crops Identify cultural and social demands Produce desired crops within the camp to stimulate the economy, provide agricultural jobs, and fulfill a service

Save Heritage Seeds Source seeds from nearby communities or within the camp People should supply saved, generational seeds, not government or aid sources Save seeds after each harvest to establish a seed bank


Ethical Economy

Female Empowerment Create space for women to learn new skills Create space for existing skills as well as space to implement new skillsets Encourage participation in camp decision-making Understand female economic motivators

Cultural Products Produce economic products from resources on site Agricultural products can be transformed into goods that meet demands and fetch a higher market price Camp residents prepare finished food products, preserved food, or other goods for sale

Equal Access Identify gaps in resource procurement within the camp Equity for each individual Understand distribution methods within the camp and discourage black market Access to physical business spaces

Create Incentives Incentives for legitimate business Identify black market goods to understand consumer demands and necessities



Local Alternatives Identify local building materials for structures, gardens, walkways, etc Materials used on site should be locally abundant and easy to prepare or manufacture

Self-Sufficiency Reduce the need for outside aid Identify aid products and develop local sources Can local alternatives be used to benefit the local economy or need for jobs?

Recycle Resources Spent resources should be recycled or degraded as needed Waste is viewed as a new resource Necessary imports should be reused/reworked when the current function expires

Water & Resource Management Use resources wisely Identify existing resources and manage for long term needs Understand risks or threats to current resources Protect positive environmental conditions


Social & Cultural Dignity

Safe Zones Ensure physical safety Space for women and children Public spaces well lit at all times Private, locking shelters

Personal Space Private spaces, such as individual gardens and quiet places Spaces for reflection, peace, and solitude, if desired

Social Interaction Public space should foster social activity with consideration of cultural needs Space to prepare and eat food together

Recreation Places for children to act like children Foster youth art, creativity, and exploration Exercise opportunities within communities Customizable space


Reworking Modular Requirements Single Unit Standards

Emergency planning standards indicate that crowded camp conditions lead to increased stress and social tensions. Therefore, adequate space both inside shelters and outside in the camp is essential. The space provided is meant to accomodate living needs as well as services and hygiene. 1 person - 45 square meters total surface area 15 square meters for household gardens 3.5 square meters of covered living area ~30 square meters for services, roads, etc Camp size = 530 hectares = 5,300,000 square meters Population 200,000 x 45 = 9,000,000 square meters Population 79,000 x 45 = 3,555,000 square meters Camp capacity = 117,777 individuals

Agricultural Requirements

Planning guidelines define a family unit as comprised of 4-6 persons. So, that is the approximate occupancy for one single housing unit, which occupies a 15 meters squared surface area.1 person requires 3.5 square meters for covered living area, which would make the maximum occupancy 4 persons.

Create Dynamic Space

4 persons x 3 units = 12 kitchen garden plots of 15 square meters each, totaling 180 square meters. Adding units onto the existing arrangement allows the compound to be scaled up according to social connections within the camp. Perhaps family members or close friends arrive at different times or new close connections are made. The ability to customize additions according to need creates a more dynamic social network while also creating outdoor space to be shared between the units. The new outdoor space can be tailored to family needs. Whether a garden, play space, or an area to share meals is desired, the use of this semiprivate space is up to the discretion of compound residents.

Pinpoint Economic Opportunity

An increased number of unit additions has the opportunity to create multiple dynamic spaces. The removal of agricultural plots from within the compound to a nearby site allows for increased flexibility. Perhaps residents have expertise in different skill areas and can share knowledge or labor. Relocation and aggregation of agriculture allows for better management and

UN Standards Uprooted

Agr rel icultu o com cated ral s pa pou nd. outsid ce ca eo nb ft e he


Flower Seed Heads


The radial arrangement of seeds are presented within the center of the flower head for surrounding wildlife. This geometric arrangement is very pronounced, and would not be the best fit for a refugee city.

Perfect hexagons are built by living creatures to store their food and protect their young. A hexagonal structure may have a similar outcome as the rigid existing grid layout in this camp system.

Leaf Veins

Feather Arrangements

The veins within a leaf carry nutrients to each individual cell. Quite literally, this plant system represents a living city. The improved Za'atari plan most resembles this natural element.

Feathers are another natural occuring element. The hierarchy and organization of the feathers denote their purpose.

oversight of crop production while still retaining agroecological principles, polycultural production, and traditional farming values. An expert within the compound or community can take advantage of new economic opportunities in this manner.

Emergency Planning Guidelines

The camp planning guidelines released by the United Nations lists requirements within the camp for each individual. These requirements serve as quantitative indicators by which to measure the quality of services, space and shelter allocation, and other resources and distribution throughout the camp. However, with little time for proper planning during an emergency, not all of these measured may be fulfilled. Within Za’atari, the camp fails to promote self-reliance, respond to the local environment or cultural identity of the refugees, establish appropriate drainage, 38

reduce dependence on long-term aid, respond to the natural topography of features of the site, and avoid high density conditions, among other issues. However, planning in regards to solving social, cultural, and environmental problems can promote community ownership and responsibility and preserve natural resources while answering to a long term humanitarian crisis.

Restructuring District 10

Nature organizes itself organically, yet there is order within chaos. Geometric patterns emerge in the natural world upon closer observation, and these influences have shaped the organization of space within Za’atari. A grid imposed onto the landscape is not the only option in creating and maintaining organized space.

Integrating restructured neighborhood

Housing Units Agricultural Plots Tree Cover

components into an existing city proves challenging. Improved compounds are meant to create an ease of transition to camp living in the interim context of displacement. Cultural and social context must be taken displacement. Cultural and social context must be taken into account, and each individual region globally has its own conditions by which to guide designed space. Individual personhood and background should be considered to promote dignity within the camp setting. Encouragement in learning and applying new skills can benefit economic opportunity while furthering individual capacity to foster future livelihoods. Environmental management and protection should hold priority over camp resource use. Maintaining a preservational mindset towards scarce resources fosters creativity in closed loop systems, driving the overall outcome towards more sustainable parameters. Implementing

agroecology, planting trees, and reusing waste water can help to fill in the gaps. Once the camp has fulfilled its purpose of refuge for displaced persons, the site will have the dynamic capability to continue to serve a purpose and benefit the nearby community without offsetting economic drivers. It may be worthwhile to invest in more longterm solutions within the camp that boost the longevity and desirability of the space. At some point, the camp’s durability and persistence will drive it towards permanent settlement.


Revisioned Masterplan Stacking Functions

The new arrangement of circulation and housing is necessitated by site features. In response to topography, a drainage course is determined for water flow. Waterways should in turn inform human land use patterns. The new plan takes advantage of water using two separate methods. Following existing drainage channels that have proven to flood in the past can help mitigate excess flow during storm events. This intervention becomes a greenway that serves multiple functions within the refugee camp. Noting locations to take advantage of pooling water, can serve also serve camp needs. Creating berms, or mounds of earth to deter the flow of water, can cause further pooling. This slowed flow can be taken advantage of for greenery and to aid in replenishing underground aquifers, in addition to crop production and leisurely activities.

Ecological Corridors

Earthwork Intervention

Supplemental Circulation


District 10 is located here!


Closing the Loop Community Agriculture

Opportunities to engage in agricultural activities utilizes the skills of people already living in the camp. Many of the communities that the refugees have fled from have been agricultural based, yet in the camp system, these skills in food production go to waste. Knowledge surrounding farming, livestock, and beekeeping can contribute to providing fresh and healthy food for the camp, and an income for those who may be in need of employment.


Green Walkways

Greenways implemented into the existing network of pathways and drainage channels can double as an enjoyable, scenic space that also provides shade, wildlife, and recreation. The use of plants capable of remediating waste water to create healthier spaces in addition to planting fruit and nut trees able to withstand the local conditions further heightens the usability and longevity of the green network. When the camp is no longer needed, this space can transition into an established, productive orchard that serves nearby communities.


Food Security

Agricultural production within the camp will solve food insecurity and recrease if not absolve completely dependence on aid. Self-sufficiency of the camp gives power and dignity to the people and allows them to control their own lives.


Neighborhood Relationships

The new arrangement of housing units can be manipulated to provide the most desirable outcome by the inhabitants to best meet their needs. The new neighborhoods create communal space for families and friends that did not exist before, and the residents can now decide how they would like to program their own space, whether that means tending to a vegetable garden, cultivating their favorite flowers from home, or sharing a meal together.


The Lemon Tree Trust garden at the 2018 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Britt Willoghby Dyer


Final Thoughts In continuing with the project, it would be riveting to explore the options in the closing of al Za’atari. Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya housing Somali refugees, has recently received orders to begin dismantling. Observing this process versus pushing towards city permanence provides interesting contrast. It may also be worth exploring how local cities can utilize the remaining infrastructure of camp systems and services. On the other hand, maybe we should approach mass migrations of people differently. Instead of being rejected by host countries around the world, discriminated and stereotyped against, and forced to live in slum conditions, it would be incredible to make refugee camps a place that people want to go. By making them attractive, they could become instant economic drivers rather than a burden on host communities. They could just become new cities. Landscape architecture has the ability to positively influence many lives. If landscape architects have the ability to synthesize complex ideas in engineering, watershed management, sustainability, resource management, art, ecology, and planning, among others, then there is also a responsibility to put that knowledge to use. Often, the profession allows itself to be closed into the parameters defined by those outside of it. But this creative field deserves more recognition, and it will only receive that if change is inspired. Landscape architecture needs to step outside the boundaries to help solve big issues in a modern and global world. The changes that could be made in al Za’atari Refugee Camp would impact hundreds of thousands of people. These changes require standing up for human rights and working with empathy and compassion. Refugees are some of the people most in need, and even just changing the dynamic of a space in a refugee camp would have a positive effect. Understanding the complexities of how space works needs to be applied to bigger problems. Simple changes can make big impacts.