A Temporary Refugium
We rarely hear the acknowledgement that some walls are necessary: the walls that protect a person’s dignity.
by Priya Basil
The impulse to make a personal claim on space is deeply human. People do it, often subconsciously, even in public places: in restaurants we gravitate towards the corner table, at the yoga studio we try always to be in the same spot, in the office we mark our desk with plants or pictures. Such gestures affirm our right to be and to choose, they afford a sense of security.
In situations where people have been forced out of their familiar environment – their home, or even their country – and must be sheltered en masse, claiming a personal space becomes more difficult, yet the need to do so is more essential.
The newcomers in Europe have navigated all manner of borders and fences, literal and metaphorical, to get here. Amidst the talk of dismantling the barriers – national, international, legal, bureaucratic – that make refugee journeys such an ordeal, we rarely hear the acknowledgement that some walls are necessary: the walls that protect a person’s dignity.
Intimacy Partitions, designed by architect Michelle Howard, offer individuals a temporary refuge from the crowd. Made from recyclable flame retardant white cardboard, the partitions come flat-packed and are designed to be assembled without tools or fuss. A few cable ties and a length of rope help to hold the elegant construction in place, but its extraordinary stability comes from the unique way in which the material is folded.
The Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi once asserted that, “Architecture is basically a container of something.” The Intimacy Partitions provide a simple container for the self. Every unit offers neutral place of retreat amenable to personalization: each white wall invites you to pen a drawing or put up photos, different door hangings allow you a choice of colour.
Where status is uncertain, as it is for many asylum seekers, having some sense of boundaries, of a safe space, becomes all the more vital. The temporary nature of the Partitions intimates that things will change, you will move on – but until then you have a room of your own.