Play Pockets, Nahr el Bared, Lebanon

Project Context

Project Brief

Political and social context:
Febrik’s Play Pocket Project plugs into and work with the current Nahr El Barid Reconstruction Commission (NBRC), a local committee working along side UNRWA on the design and reconstruction of Nahr el Barid Palestinian Refugee camp located in Tripoli, North of Lebanon. The central and ‘old’ part of the camp (set up in 1948) was destroyed completely during the conflict in May 2007- between an Islamic militant organisation (Fateh el Islam) under siege in the camp and the Lebanese Army fighting them from its outskirts. The surrounding extended ‘new’ part of the camp (growing gradually during further migrations in 1967 and 1978) was partially destroyed in the armed collisions; what is left is currently densely housing a large number of the displaced and temporarily homeless refugee community. The remaining are housed in Baddawi Refugee camp further north. A large number of national and international NGOs are working with this community on service delivery, protection and shelter. We worked directly with NBRC and UNRWA, on the design and implementation of a series of public spaces able to facilitate social and play spaces for both adults and children.
Date: August 2008 
Location: Nahr El Barid 
Research team: Children and youth from Beit Atfal Assoumoud, Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation and Association Najdeh, Dalal Abed El Rahman, Sahar Hafeda
Partners: NBRC & UNRWA
 
Play pockets: (mis)use/(multi)use/(re)use
 
The proposal drew from the findings and propositions of the Play Space Project, conducted with children from Borj El Barajni camp in 2006 which explored informal play practices invented by children in the camps in response to their physical and social structure and the absence of play fields within them. From the functional, to the social and poetic, the children revealed that the re-use or misuse of architectural element holds great possibilities of play. Grandmother’s washing transformed the roof’s washing lines into paper plane racing grounds; a power cut transformed the walls into theatre screens. The children drew inspiration from the adult’s use of spaces as they had access to them when they were vacant. Children take advantage of what is left behind using permanent elements and mobile ones like furniture or unwanted items and mis/re/multi use them to create coincidental games that re-interpret the original meaning and function.
 
This process of invention is continuous and synonymous with the Children’s inhabitation of spaces in their every day lives, it is both intentional and coincidental. In a context such as this adult’s are hesitant to allow children to wonder far from home, preferring them to play within hearing or visual proximity. As a response to their social and physical context, the children created a series of play pockets: the alternative playground and hidden play topography in the camp.
 
The findings questioned the physical and programmatic form of a playground; as it suggested a duality of function in the camp’s public realm, the first apparent and formal adult use (intentional use of elements such as streets, pubic courtyards and so on, and the second suggestive and informal, such as the coincidental and inventive misuse of elements: the play pockets). It called for the formalization of the informal structure already created by the children.
 
Febrik’s proposal focused primarily on integrating architectural elements of play directly into different part of the public realm. In turn and in response to the dense urban context, the ‘playground’ as a designated formal space was fragmented into play pockets, with multiple functions, to be discovered through the daily living in the camp. We took the available public spaces apart and examine their physical, spatial, poetic and social components, considering carefully the sharing or dual function of these elements between adults and children.
 
The resultant proto-types considered both the practical and functional as well as the playful and social, each could be used in at least two different ways, one for adult social activities and the second for children play practices. Each proto-type, once used, was altered and tailored to become site/user specific.
 
In the 2007 conflict destroyed the old camp completely, and a part of the new camp: 2030 buildings completely destroyed (in red), 120 partially destroyed. (source: www.albared.wordpress.com)
 
Like other Palestinian Camps in Lebanon, the space is densely populated, buildings are in poor condition, infrastructure, water, sanitation and electricity are badly maintained, spaces between buildings (as little as 1m in parts) obstruct natural light; in turn public space in all its forms (gardens/public squares/playground) are scarce, minimal and accidental.
 
What became critical in the early phases of research and planning was to decide on how to approach the design of a previously unplanned urban sprawl. Questions of ‘authenticity’ and ‘duplication’ were explored in relation to fundamental planning criteria for improving the camp’s structure. It was an unprecedented case of reconstruction, the camp’s residents, displaced yet again were distrustful and dismissive of any supporting efforts. The balance to ensure that they feel their already small dwelling and neighbourhoods will be returned in even better condition was at the core of conversations. The committee’s research worked with individual household, one by one, to build a picture of what was there before and how to re-imagine it within the same distributions and communities. The approach was to make as little adjustment to the current plan of the camp as possible, yet to introduce new healthier living conditions, including the re-thinking of public space and spaces of childhood.

Participatory Research

Participatory research with children at Borj El-Barajni camp, Beirut 
 
Febrik’s research looked at the size and types of open public spaces that were part of the old camp’s physical structure and researched social practice and group appropriation of space by using Burj El Barajneh camp as a case study due to its similarity in physical and social context.
 
Working with the same group of children and youths from Play and Dream Project, mapping of the life in the public pockets of Burj El Barajneh camp were conducted. 
Each child chose a space near his/her house and photographed its activities over a 24hour period. They photographed the space periodically every hour. Below is 2 of 8 spaces that were studies.The children also proposed a design for the space with ideas for a solidarity throne, a art studio, an indoor swimming pool and outdoor theatre amongst the ideas.
 
Participatory research conducted by NBRC and UNRWA to document the camp’s physical structure and family residencies to determine land rights in preparation for the improved camp master plan.
(source:UNRWA and NBRC exhibited work from  International Architecture Biennale “Open City: Designing Coexistence” Rotterdam, January 2010.  courtesy of  Ismae'l Sheikh Hassan) 
 
for more information visit:  www.albared.wordpress.com
 
 
20 June 2011 - A short film based on the story of a Palestinian refugee family returning to their ruined home in a Nahir El Barid camp in Lebanon was today declared the winner of a film competition organized by the United Nations to mark World Refugee Day. (source:  UN news centre)

Site Research

How are spaces used in the camp?
 
Working with the same group of children and youths from Play and Dream Project, Burj El Barajneh camp was used as proto-type of study due to its similarity in physical and social context. below and above are samples of studies conducted to build an understanding of the relationship between the physical environment (architectural elemnts) and the social one (activities/functions and practices). The diagrams look at relationships between elments and practices, activities taking place in different spatial conditions in the camp (pocket, transitional space…), possibilities of multi-use of architectural elements. 
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Play Pockets Proto Types

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