Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Frame/Figure: Tools for Responding to Transitional Settlements

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posted on 2022-07-28, 03:55 authored by Sykes, Mackenzie

The planning of refugee camps raises unique challenges. Despite the time scale being the of an emergency, and resources likely to be insufficient, the globally administered, state-of-the-art design template is quickly pushed beyond its limits as camps develop into de facto cities. Moreover, the current template commonly administered by humanitarian organisations reveals an emphasis over short-term rather than long-term solutions, with more focus upon the camps being a delivered collection of shelter objects, and with little consideration for the relationship between those objects, or the social performance of the settlement as a whole.

Architectural or planning discourse rarely includes refugee camps, if at all, largely to exchange ideas about how to improve temporary emergency structures. However, the actuality of many hundreds of extant refugee settlements presents a much more complex reality, forcing us to reconsider our preconceptions. Instead of temporary, ordered tent cities, there are often streets, markets, shops and public buildings surrounded by makeshift buildings: an ambiguous environment, existing somewhere between emergency camp and urban space. Closer analysis of the morphology and development of a camp indicates that this ambiguity emerges virtually instantaneously.

This thesis looks at a recently formed refugee camp, Kutupalong, in southern Bangladesh, following an exodus in 2017; resulting in the rapid construction and development of a dense and widespread urban fabric. As a space produced largely by the arriving Rohingya refugee populations, the built fabric is representative of social relationships and responses to environmental factors.

This research-led design enquiry is interdisciplinary. It identifies, abstracts and links observations of the built environment as a self-organizing entity, engaging with concepts rooted in architectural theory such as urban sociology, spatial syntax, urban morphology and typology to extract spatial information from the case study. It analyses the growth patterns of the settlement, as well as justifying the origin of various spatial types and the relationships between particular types that have emerged following the camp’s influx period, recognizing the practices of refugee agency and the practices in which socio-cultural decisions have materialised into certain spaces.

This dissertation contends that, from thus knowledge gained, a richer, and context-specific design strategy can be generated to better support urban growth and social development in urbanised refugee camps. Furthermore, a better understanding of socio-physical networks could also contribute to response strategies that are more sensitive to human spatial relationships.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Potangaroa, Regan