Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Paper Emergency Shelters at the LA MOCA & UN Politics

While in LA this past weekend I went to opening day of a brand new exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art  (LA MOCA) entitled skin + bones: parallel practices in fashion and design. I was very surprised to see one piece in the exhibit displaying an innovation in emergency shelters for refugees by Shigeru Ban. From what I can tell Shigeru Ban is a world renowned architect who on the side has decided to devote some of his work to helping humanity. The gallery educator told me this piece was a part of the shelter and structure and innovation in structure theme. The entire exhibit took over six years to put together.

From the exhibit: “Shigeru Ban began using paper tubes in 1986 as a structural material in exhibition design. Inexpensive, easily replaceable, and low-tech, paper tubes can be made to any length and are also recyclable with little waste being produced during their manufacture…His cardboard and paper emergency structures have been used for earthquake victims in Japan, Turkey, India and more than 2 million Rwandan refugees…”

I watched the video of constructing paper tube shelters in Rwanda and noticed 3 basic supplies were needed: the paper rolls (the bones of the structure), plastic connectors (to connect the paper rolls), and string (for added stability). As Ban demonstrated the construction through this 15 minute video I was left with more questions than answers. I wondered, how much the paper rolls and other materials cost, how difficult it was to have these shipped, and how complex was it really to set up? I certainly applaud such a heralded architect and effort but I am also curious about on the ground reality.
I did a little research and found this from a NY Times Magazine article a few years ago on the politics of emergency shelter:

“That term — ”red tape” — popped up in nearly every conversation I had with architects, including Nader Khalili, who has spent more than a decade meeting with the U.N., offering proposals and seeing almost nothing come of them. Shigeru Ban spent several years as a U.N. consultant but eventually left and now runs his own nongovernmental organization, the Voluntary Architects Network. He first proposed his paper houses in Rwanda because refugees were cutting down trees to build shelters and whole forests were being lost. But Ban says the U.N. told him that his houses were ”too nice.” ”The refugees would stay longer, instead of returning home,” he said. ”I was told I couldn’t provide them something too good.” One U.N. worker I spoke with readily admitted this: ”We don’t really want to do better than tents for refugees,” he said.”


Written by Aman

November 20, 2006 at 6:40 pm

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