shelter: Arhipera Romania


August 2012

We arrive at the very edge of the village, next to the railway, where the wind has free spell along the new house that seems still alien to this place. Here, we meet Olguta, a woman with a beautiful face marked by a hard life, and Mitiça, her husband. A few children around them, but they say there are more.  A train passes by, countless wagons, the wind blows the dust around our feet. Here, one is exposed to heat and wind, rain, fast passing trains. How, we wonder, can this empty, windy place become a home for a family? It is a site and a family in need, in need of protection.

Some of the group members are in despair. There is nothing at this site which can inspire them, since there is nothing. What can they contribute here, when there is hardly anything positive to start with. Then, they turn to the family, and start to discover potential. Some group members take place on the bare concrete of the unfinished porch and talk for hours with Olguta and the young children. The others walk around with Mitiça and start envisioning yet invisible fences, a toilet shed, a water well and even trees. The  design proposal offers protective skins: the inner skin of the house, insulated and protected, the outside skin of a fence around the property to keep the children safe, and an in-between skin around the house. The veranda is made flexible panels to provide protection when needed, the rear facade is extended by a pergola under which wood and tools can be stored, while shadow is provided for those who can sit here and look at the passing trains, protected. Suddenly, the tide has turned: where there is nothing, great things can be made. Mitiça and his eldest son help some members of the group to make the pergola at the rear side, the others start building up the protective skin of insulation with high speed and within the very few days available, the house has been given a whole different character: this will be a safe and pleasant place, a house of shelter.



Late July 2012, I was one of the directors of the Arhipera Summer Schoolorganized by the Soros Foundation as part of a larger social and building program for a poor community in the village of Dor Marunt, Romania. Students of architecture and anthropology worked on the finishing of 4 houses for Roma families.  kh

photo's: klaske havik / sebas veldhuisen