The first move: A home for asylum seekers on the far side of paradise
Since the turn of the twenty-first century Australia and New Zealand have become an increasingly popular destination for asylum seekers and refugees in search of a better life. Many of these people do not reach this new life so easily, with thousands trapped both literally and metaphorically somewhere between their homeland and their future home, but belonging to neither. Nauru, an isolated island in the Central Pacific, is host to a prison-like Australian offshore processing centre that currently detains people in inhumane conditions. Amnesty International cites the Regional Processing Centre situation as: “...a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions...the facility totally inappropriate and ill-equipped, with 387 men cramped into 5 rows of leaking tents, suffering from physical and mental ailments.” This thesis is centred on the following research question: How can architecture be perceived as a temporary ‘home’ to asylum seekers from disparate backgrounds all brought together in one place for an unknown period of time? The aim of this design-led research is to critically consider how architecture can play a significant role in remediating the authoritarian, prison-like conditions of processing centres while assisting the transition for asylum seekers to their future home. This thesis proposes a sense of worth and belonging can be established through developing an architecture that is connected intrinsically to the landscape and cultural context in which it sits. The objectives of this thesis are to investigate how the architectural design of a large asylum seeker processing facility can: 1) provide a sense of place to a wide range of asylum seekers from differing ethnicities, cultures, and social backgrounds; 2) improve their sense of individuality, self-worth, belonging, and community; 3)prepare them for entering a new Western culture where they can more readily assimilate; 4) mitigate the appearance of power and authority in a large processing facility; 5) provide a sense of human-scale, order and orientation within a large processing facility; 6) and engage with, and contribute to, the local host indigenous community. This thesis also argues that through architecture, an asylum seeker’s temporary home can be symbolically interpreted as a gateway or threshold to their future home, providing a sense of place, belonging and hope.