Collaboration with Nicholas Zembashi
Aleppo: Microcosm of Syria’s struggles: If peace is declared on paper, it does not mean that all the battles are over. Rather, the cities of Syria will become the sites of subsequent struggles to rebuild infrastructure that lies in ruins, and to heal communities and economies fractured by violence. The bombed out streets of Aleppo hint at these challenges. ARENARIUM is a project for the city; for the people of Aleppo who lived in informal housing and are now dislocated or residing in foreign camps, their houses destroyed. ARENARIUM is a project of resilience. Named for the everlasting-flower that grows wildly across Syria; ARENARIUM aims to construct shelters, encourage communities, and foster economies, so that the people of Aleppo and beyond will, forevermore, have a place to call home.
Constructing Shelter: Physical and Emotional Comfort: The unit and the apartment-complex are structured around circulation paths and lines of site that delineate thresholds of privacy and allow different groups to move independently of each other. This recognises that many Syrians follow a conservation interpretation of Islam, which emphasises spatial partitioning. However, such considerations need not dominate the program of the unit. The moveable wall component enables families to repurpose spaces and draw their own boundaries of public engagement and seclusion. In this way, ARENARIUM recognises Syria’s ethno-religious diversity and pre-empts the western-centric design mentality that may otherwise dominate the reconstruction process.
ARENARIUM provides flexibility in the number of people each unit accommodates as not all interior spaces need be built at once. Crane-independent, handset exterior walls allow residents to expand the unit at will and accommodate multiple generations. ARENARIUM also recognises that after the war, governing authorities may take years to fully repair urban services. The proposal therefore includes services that allow the complex to exist off-grid for a month at a time. These infrastructural elements also create demand for new local industries, for example waste collection.
Encouraging Community: Interaction and Social Trust: ARENARIUM endeavours to develop relationships between residents through necessary, daily interaction. By passing each other in public circulation spaces, residents can build the familiarity that underlies social trust. This can develop into friendships through time spent together in the semi-public spaces at each level of the complex.
The market and grand stairway act as a natural meeting point and integrate the complex into the street and the wider community. With ARENARIUM, the construction of high density social housing catalyses social life on the street and expands community space, rather that detracting from it.
Fostering Economies: Entrepreneurship, Industry, and Financial Security : The ARENARIUM market space provides a secure, permanent and visible location for local entrepreneurship, long the backbone of Aleppo’s neighbourhoods. Additionally, constructing the complex from recycled concrete works as a subsidy scheme for the development of a local clearing, concrete, and construction industry. Funded by ODA, industries related to ARENARIUM could provide at least a decade of employment to young Syrians who have grown up in refugee camps and bunkers rather than schools.
Finally, ARENARIUM responds to the land and housing disputes likely to emerge after the conflict. As a solution for those families most at risk of homelessness, ARENARIUM is administered through an online registry system that allows those who lose their right to reside in one specific apartment, to move to another ARENARIUM complex. This system would be complemented by a closed ARENARIUM housing market, which buys and resells units at affordable prices, ensuring that families are protected from the inflationary housing market that exacerbated the pre-war housing crisis.