What's the Future of Humanitarian Design Symposium
Tom Scott-Smith

Humility and Autonomy: Two Lessons from Humanitarian Shelter Design

Tom Scott-Smith (Oxford University)
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Design Room, HEAD – Genève, Bâtiment H, Av. de Châtelaine 7

Join us for the first keynote of the What's the Future of Humanitarian Design Symposium where Tom Scott-Smith (Oxford University) will present on "Humility and Autonomy: Two Lessons from Humanitarian Shelter Design".

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Inflatable shelters, flat pack homes, and converted shipping containers: these are just three of the many unusual places that humanitarian designers have promoted as solutions to the refugee housing crisis in the past decade. This presentation explores the lessons of such initiatives for humanitarian design, drawing on detailed ethnographic research across Europe and the Middle East between 2016 and 2020. The first example to be explored in this presentation is a small, flat-packed shelter, funded by Ikea and designed in Sweden, which was shipped around the world. The second is the architectural reimagining of enormous abandoned buildings in Berlin, focusing particularly on the hangars of Tempelhof airport and the halls of the International Congress Centre. The third explores a bubble of “inflatable architecture” in Paris, which was meant to communicate openness and beauty as well as the benefits of ephemerality. The lessons of these projects can be summarised in two words: humility and autonomy. Projects like this only worked when they remembered the need to remain humble in their aims and when they took every opportunity to promote the participation and autonomy of the final recipients. The presentation draws out the lessons of these experiences for humanitarian design more broadly, building on findings that will appear in a book published by Stanford University Press later this year.



Tom Scott-Smith (University of Oxford)
Tom Scott-Smith is Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford and Associate Professor of Forced Migration. He has written two books on humanitarian design: On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief (published by Cornell University Press), and Fragments of Home: Refugee Housing and the Politics of Shelter (forthcoming with Stanford University Press). He is the general editor of the Berghahn book series in Forced Migration and his series of short documentaries about refugee shelter in Europe, Shelter Without Shelter, won the UK Arts and Humanities Research in Film Award in 2020.


This event is the first public keynote of the "What's the Future of Humanitarian Design Symposium", a part of the The Future of Humanitarian Design project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.



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