Grad student pitches a solution for a global crisis

RWU graduate student Amelia Tayeh is trying to raise awareness, to design a better refugee camp

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 12/13/18

Amelia Tayeh feels privileged to be a citizen of two nations — the United States and Lebanon.“I call two countries home; some people have no home,” said Mr. Tayeh, who will be …

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Grad student pitches a solution for a global crisis

RWU graduate student Amelia Tayeh is trying to raise awareness, to design a better refugee camp

Posted

Amelia Tayeh feels privileged to be a citizen of two nations — the United States and Lebanon.
“I call two countries home; some people have no home,” said Mr. Tayeh, who will be completing her master’s degree in architecture at Roger Williams University this month.

A first-generation American on her father’s side and second-generation on her mother’s, Ms. Tayeh was raised in West Bridgewater, Mass., and received her undergraduate degree from Roger Williams.

Her ties to her family’s homeland are very strong, and she visits the small Middle Eastern nation twice a year. In the past several years, since the neighboring country of Syria was consumed by civil war, Ms. Tayeh has witnessed the impact of the influx of more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon — and it has been huge. With only about 4 million native residents, the refugee crisis has swollen Lebanon’s population by nearly a quarter, putting a tremendous strain on the host country.

“It’s not the Syrians’ fault,” Ms. Tayeh said. “They have to go somewhere, and for many of them, that’s the Bekaa Valley, along the Syrian border. But they need jobs, and food, and it’s causing a lot of strain.”

So Ms. Tayeh designed her architectural thesis to focus on humanitarian efforts to bring better spaces and places for refugees to live. One of the first things she did was look into UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) standards for refugee housing.

It an effort to draw attention to this issue, she has set up eight tents (the tents themselves are small, but orange tape on the ground shows the true dimensions of UNHCR housing standards.) Each structure is placed within a couple of feet of its neighbor, and they are designed to house five to eight people.

“I’m not trying to redesign the tent,” said Ms. Tayeh. “That would be like trying to redesign the wheel. I am just trying to figure out how they could be best organized, and I’ve created a catalog of different ways they could be organized to create communal areas, and places for children to play.

“It would give more of humane life to these refugees.”

The tents will stand outside RWU’s School of Architecture, Art and Historic Preservation through Dec. 16. Visitors can look inside four of the tents to listen to a documentary about Syrian refugees, see montages capturing the hardships of refugee camps, and read statistics detailing the scope of the refugee crisis and the toll it is taking on displaced families. The term “refuge” is displayed on the sides of four other tents in languages including English, Arabic, French and Spanish.

“This is to bring awareness to all refugees,” she said. “This is not just about Syrians in Lebanon.”
Tayeh is undertaking the project, titled “Until We Return,” as part of the Graduate Thesis Design Studio, with Professor of Architecture Julian Bonder as her thesis adviser.

“An architectural thesis involves taking a position and testing the concept through space and design,” Professor Bonder said. “Amelia’s work stems from a profound understanding that architecture can serve to further human rights in the world. We celebrate and support wholeheartedly her intentions and approach.”

Ms. Tayeh said, “The two aspects — awareness and architecture — are equally important. I hope to create awareness and empathy for the people in need … (while) challenging the United Nations standard for refugee camps to provide playgrounds, gyms, schools, hospitals and community centers so they can live in a way that is not so hostile.”

Indeed, while the tents are raising awareness on campus and the project is part of Ms. Tayeh’s graduation requirements, the end goal would be to pitch her plan to the United Nations as a new solution; ideally exportable anywhere in the world.

Ms. Tayeh’s thesis defense is this Friday; she will technically be graduating at the end of the month, though she will return to walk in May at RWU’s graduation ceremony. She plans to go into urban planning, and hopes to find work with a humanitarian angle.

“I think this kind of architecture is something that I was meant to do,” Ms. Tayeh said. “Wearing the humanitarian hat, and the architectural hat and the planner hat, and just spreading the word about issues like this. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out, and I’ll work as much as I can to make this happen.”

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