Architecture as a Way of Seeing and Learning

The built environment as an added educator in East African refugee camps

Nerea Amorós Elorduy


ISBN: 9781800080126

Publication: August 16, 2021

Series: Design Research in Architecture

At the beginning of 2020, 66 long-term refugee camps existed along the East African Rift. Millions of young children have been born at the camps and have grown up there, yet it is unknown how their surrounding built environments affect their learning and development.

Architecture as a Way of Seeing and Learning presents an architect’s take on questions many academics and humanitarians ask. Is it relevant to look at camps through an urban lens and focus on their built environment? Which analytical benefits can architectural and design tools provide to refugee assistance and specifically to young children’s learning? And which advantages can assemblage thinking and situated knowledges bring about in analysing, understanding and transforming long-term refugee camps?

Responding to the extreme lack of information about East African camps, Nerea Amorós Elorduy has built contextualised knowledge – nuanced, situated and participatory – to describe, study and transform the East African long-term camps, and uncover hidden agencies in refugee assistance. She uses architecture as a means to create new knowledge collectively, include more local voices and speculate on how to improve the educational landscape for young children.

With this book, Amorós Elorduy brings nuance, contextualisation and empathy to the study and management of long-term refugee camps in East Africa. It is empathy, she argues, that will help change mindsets, decolonise humanitarian refugee assistance and its study. Crossing architecture, humanitarian aid and early childhood development, this book offers many practical learnings.

Nerea Amorós Elorduy is an architect and researcher with extensive experience in sustainable, educational and health projects in East Africa.

She is founder of the interdisciplinary design practice and think tank Creative Assemblages based in Kampala, and guest professor at the UIC in Barcelona. Her work has been internationally recognised with awards, publications and exhibitions.


The spatial and educational paradox of the long-term refugee camp 
Limited and biased knowledge 
Participation and decolonisation 
Study area and case studies 
Mapping and PAR 
Integrating theory, practice and research 

Chapter 1
The urban turn: informality, co-modification and assemblage 
The nascence of the urban turn 
Assemblage thinking 
East African urban turn, a way forward? 

Chapter 2
Ever-evolving assemblages: the built environment of seven East African long-term camps 
The beginning of refugee encampment policies in Eastern Africa 
The continuation of encampment and its effects on young children 
Complex, heterogeneous and ever-evolving encampment territories 
A multi-scalar spatio-temporal analysis 
Interactive and static characteristics of encampment assemblages 
Ever-changing, proto-urban learning assemblages 

Chapter 3
Refugee-led: observed, imagined and tested spatial Interventions 
The power of place-making 
Extracting from urban theory 
Observed quiet encroachment and everyday life practices 
Refugee-imagined radical incrementalism 
Tested transversal spatial appropriations 
Conscious radical incrementalism 

Through the eyes of an architect 
Research by architectural design 
Next steps 
Key concepts 

Format: Paperback

Size: 229 × 216 mm

218 Pages

65 colour illustrations

Copyright: © 2021

ISBN: 9781800080126

Publication: August 16, 2021

Series: Design Research in Architecture

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