As of April 18th, more than 4,980,589 refugees have fled from Ukraine, making it the fastest growing refugee crisis since the second world war. The loss of human life, liberty and dignity call into question what — if anything — imperialism ever gets us.
In the face of such immeasurable suffering, most of us might feel completely helpless; and perhaps rightly so. A group of architects and interior designers at Balbek Bureau, an internationally award-winning studio founded by Ukrainian architect Slava Balbek, have asked themselves how to restore dignity and humanity to Ukrainian refugees.
To become a refugee is to live through traumas — political oppression, and migration resettlement; not to mention the loss of property and livelihoods, separation from family, witnessing death and facing violence and discrimination.
“Temporary but dignified” is how Balbek Bureau described their new project to address Ukraine’s refugee crisis. Balbek bureau is an architect and designer based in Ukraine. RE:UKRAINE is an innovative design solution to the refugee crisis. It was designed to be a flexible town system, capable of being set up in any climate or terrain both privately and publicly.
This design came about after the studio had studied 20 real-world temporary emergency housing projects to use as a blueprint of how these designs would meet the needs of those temporarily displaced.
“The main task that we set for ourselves is to maintain a decent lifestyle,” Balbek Bureau representatives explain. “We must ensure a usual and healthy lifestyle and decent conditions in the temporary residence of Ukrainians who lost their homes.”
“It is possible to take away a person’s house, but it is impossible to do it with a person’s dignity.”
The town can be built to any specific requirements, and the schematic grid can be configured to the terrain and size of the settlement. These blocks include sanitation units, baby care rooms, laundry and kitchen facilities plus community centres, allowing for both privacy and connection.
Estimates indicate that these structures could cost around $350/sqm, and their designs are made with mind materials that could be sourced even with supply chain disruptions. Three iterations are being experimented with to find the most durable materials.
"Time is playing against us, so it is important to find the best and fastest way to build," Balbek says in an interview with Dezeen. "Imagine a family that has to spend another day, another week behind a curtain in a school gym equipped for 500 people."
RE:UKRAINE would be able to house up to 8,000 refugees in the temporary shelter, or it could be a simpler 100-person settlement. "The biggest idea of the project is to allow people to maintain a dignified way of life," the founder and CEO of Balbek Bureau, Slava Balbek tells Insider. This project honours the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations such as Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Sustainable Cities and Communities and Reduced Inequalities.
The designers wanted to create spaces that could be not only functional but also comforting and homey. With provisions that can be made for communal green spaces and playgrounds, the space allows for connection and support, but also for rest and recovery.
Warsan Shire's poem Home put it like this:
"no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark"
In a world where so many people have so much to run from it is a small relief to know they will have somewhere to rest.
Down the line data collection, investors and construction sites are all ahead for these creative problem solvers. The team hopes to be able to start building these soon.
Learn more about the housing project here.