An Urban laboratory For The Sahrawi Refugee Camp

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Collage, Model, Students

An Urban laboratory For The Sahrawi Refugee Camp

Beatriz Villapecellin Villanueva @  KADK – The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation


The project addresses the Saharawi youth living in the refugee camp of Smara. The centre proposes youth retention initiatives to ensure that refugees are able to remain in the camps with a certain degree of self- sufficiency, giving them a new degree of dignity and security as well as a greater degree of control over their affairs.

The program outlines the urgent need to question assumptions regarding conditions and dynamics within the Sahrawi refugee camps, and to develop policy and programming responses accordingly. This is particularly significant given that idealized representation of life in the Sahrawi refugee camps potentially risk normalizing the status quo

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_6



KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_7



KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_8


Who influences you graphically?

It really varies depending on the project I am working on, but in most cases, it is rather an inspiration than an influence which ranges from architecture projects to film, photography, art or everyday life situations. With regards to this project, I found my main inspiration in nature itself. The importance of the colours for the Saharawi culture dictated the graphic character of the project, as did the different hues of the sand according to the time of the day that covered and surrounded everything.

When working on the visuals I looked into the work of artist and filmmakers such as Maria Svarbova, Edward Hopper, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Stanley Kubrick and their master ability to capture and stop time, blurring the line between reality and fiction.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_9

What role does the model play in exploring /representing the project?

Model making was a more comfortable medium for me to get absorbed into details but also helped me to go back and make large-scale decisions about the project. The model provided me with a lot of information to better understand the proposal arranged within the overall design in addition to allowing me to explore the spatial qualities of the project. In the end these were also used as a means to show the final design.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_11

In this sense I continuously worked with and through models, from the initial ones that were used to collect information about context (these were fundamental tools in the design process) to volume study models which were intended to check the consequences of choices or constraints given by the context, rules, or by the brief and program proposed. These models provided a better understanding of the overall design and helped to verify heights, proportions, relationships… The last interpretation of the model was thought more as a photographic set: a model designed for the sole purpose of being photographed.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_13

What was your work process in terms of project development and creation/production of images?

The production of images was strictly informed by the exploration of the model. I first used the model to frame and to understand the space I was proposing and how to inhabit it. This was followed by the construction of images to design details and to consider materiality.

No image I produced was intended not to be used, so I created and imagined possible situations at the same time I designed the project.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_5 

What were the main objectives when constructing the final views?

I wanted to show the arid and barren universe in which the Saharawi people live. The intention when constructing the final visuals was to emphasize the bicolour palette of the desert, where no matter wherever you look, the sand is always present and taints the atmosphere with this pinkish/orange colour in contrast to the pure and almost idyllic blue of the sky. The horizontal final views, for instance, show how the building merges with the context and the surroundings, how it appears to be growing from the ground as something deep-rooted in the site.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_4KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_3

What defined the use of plan and axonometric as main orthographic projections?

The axonometric drawings wanted to depict the pure clarity of the spatial arrangements and functional expressions, whilst the plan was an important design tool. The Fatehpur Sikri Palace complex in India, The Alhambra in Spain and The St.Benedictusberg Abbey in Vaals plan drawings were important references in a very traditional convention of storytelling in architecture. The importance of the plan, at least in this project, lies in the equalitarian representational depth of the species of spaces and uses, as it lies on its readability as a tool. The cohesion between the proposed spaces and the existing surroundings, as well as the connection between proposed volumes, and the portrayal of a society of interconnected places are the main reasons that drive the selection of the plan as the quintessential diagram of relationships.

/Users/beatrizvillapecellin/Desktop/KADK 2 /5. Final thesis/Draw/Users/beatrizvillapecellin/Desktop/KADK 2 /5. Final thesis/Draw

How important as the research to the development of the project- what role did the photographs taken play? 

The research done while visiting the site is what later on shaped and constantly informed the project. No design decisions were made that weren’t tested or seeing in the camps. We could say that the project ended up being a direct answer to the research. Taking into account the necessities and desires of the population in the camps.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_10


The project is completed as part of Master thesis in The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, where Beatriz has obtained her final qualifications in the summer of 2017.

KooZA:rch©Beatriz Villapecellin_14


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