Helen Avery, Researcher, Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University
Nihal Halimeh, Co-founder of Collective Architects in Burj El Barajneh Palestinian Camp, Lebanese American University graduate
The initiative at the Bourj El Barajneh camp is run by a network of local associations and aims at improving living conditions, services, infrastructure and livelihoods for the inhabitants. Bourj el Barajneh has a large number of active associations and many highly educated professionals. However, in this kind of complex hyperdense context, any kind of change needs to be carefully considered, there are no simple recipes, and existing professional expertise does not necessarily match the specific conditions of the locality.
By working with collective design and collaboration between the camp’s inhabitants, it becomes possible to envisage larger coordinated efforts and to solve issues that remain blocked at an individual level. Thus work can be undertaken with the maintenance of infrastructure but also looking for new and more sustainable solutions to serve the needs of the camp as a whole. Knowledge and know-how can be developed that are better suited to the context. Beyond technical problem-solving, the lives and aspirations of the inhabitants become central to the way issues are addressed. At the same time, networking with other camps, as well as with academics, professionals and organisations in Lebanon and abroad creates opportunities to share experiences, thereby opening up alternative ways of approaching the local issues. Systemic design methodologies can here provide powerful tools for collective reflection and action, involving multiple actors. Not only do these methodologies allow participants from diverse backgrounds to grasp interconnections between issues and identify points of entry, but they accelerate processes both of developing new ideas and evaluating possible consequences.