Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Faculty Fellow, Gallatin, New York University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2011
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History/Architecture, New York University (NYU)
Just Add Water? Instant Camps and an Architecture of Aid

Histories of refugee camps see architecture as utilitarian, and histories of architecture don’t see refugee camps at all. Yet, a global humanitarian complex has been responsible for frequent and radical urbanizations in the name of aiding refugees, and a global culture of architecture has colluded in the project. Through an archaeology that examines architectural artifacts from Ethiopian and Kenyan camp cities as well as Museum of Modern Art exhibits, this dissertation will argue that global regimes of humanitarianism and design developed in conversation since the end of the Cold War. As the aid-industrial complex mushroomed, professional architectural practices inside the camp fence mirrored an imaging of camp architecture in centers of excellence outside. The humanitarian regime co-opted this architectural register in the realization of “humanitarian space” in camps, in an inadvertent form of city planning. Conversely, contestations within the architectural discipline over the construction of design expertise outside of it drove a turn toward humanitarian projects. In a close examination of architectural objects and practices both within and related to the camp, this dissertation interrogates the assumption of a humanitarian and political role by architects, the collaboration of cultural and critical institutions, and the integration of design professionals and architectural models into humanitarian practice. This inquiry is critical to understanding tangible practices and culture at work during states of emergency—a dynamic mode of urbanism during a watershed period in global urbanization. It also sheds light on the nature and construction of expertise—in this case, around architectural design—as a historical and cultural phenomenon.