Written in collaboration with Jimmy Loizeau.
We have been visiting the Jungle camp in Calais over the past few months. For those that are not familiar, The Jungle is a camp just outside the ferry port in Calais that is now home to around 9000 people (though estimates seem to fluctuate almost daily).
I would like to start by saying we are not the experts. There are groups, charities and other volunteers that have done amazing amounts of work: Care4Calais, The Hummingbird Project, Help Refugees, Mapfugees, l’Auberge, Calais Builds, Worldwide tribe etc.
We didn’t want to go.
Ours have been a series of short visits that were somehow un-ignorable…. Our priority has been to help build, maintain and repair shelters, BUT as practitioners we felt that the site is so important and significant that something else existed and needed doing beyond the building that we went there for.
I would like to structure this talk around levels of resolution or zoom, where we have experienced the camp with different levels of understanding based on our position.
- First of all about the materiality and physical fabric of the camp itself
- How this fits into an emerging architectural vernacular
- The emergence of community spaces and making
- Then I’d like to look at the materiality of the government response to the space
- Finally, some of the work we’re doing and planning to do
We are called DUF, we’re an open collective/network of artists and designers working together that emerged from Goldsmiths via the Calais ‘Jungle’ while working as volunteer builders in the camp. Our aim is to collaboratively design alternative futures for capturing the social, political and physical fabric of the site and documenting the camp, as a space, an evolving community, a population locked in transit.
This is a photo of a boy wearing a cap that reads “DESIGN UNLIKELY FUTURES” taken in The Jungle camp two days before large parts of the camp were destroyed and it’s residents violently evicted.
The photograph was taken from the top of a shelter we were helping to repair on the north side of the camp.
The cap is actually a marketing slogan for a snowboarding clothing company that has gone out of business.
Here, the cap is awkwardly disjointed and decontextualised from its typical space of consumption and display, a hollow advertising slogan far removed from it’s comfortable position.
Read by someone who calls themselves a designer, who has come over to help fix a leaking, damp and wind swept shelter surrounded by sand and mud, it reads as a call for action.
The cap itself has made the short journey across the channel and met with a young man who has travelled over 5000km from Afghanistan.
This is a close zoom. Talking with the boy, where he was from, discussing the hat, asking if I can take his photo.
To start with a distant zoom – the official line and a google before visiting shows very little… according to the authority that we invest in Google, the camp did not exist.
The dominant government action is the construction of higher, more robust fences and increased security.
As we have all seen, the occupants of the Calais Jungle are increasingly depicted in both politics and mass media as a “swarm”, a “mass” or “wave.” The inhabitants are portrayed and increasingly understood as non-people in a non-space. ‘The Jungle’ is not recognised by British or French governments (or indeed by Google) as a place and its inhabitants are offered minimal aid from aid agencies because of this. Dehumanised as a mass, the camp is suffering with inadequate infrastructure, sanitation and is constantly under threat of partial or complete eradication with a population in a forced state of transition. It has therefore become necessary for people to make.
A less distant zoom – first arrival, driving into the camp. This is a pano-type photo, rather than a single subject it becomes a slow sweep of the camp.
This is what we arrived to in 2015. Any romance that we might have projected onto the situation on the way there evaporated. This is an area of the camp that was completely cleared shortly after we left.
There was Mud, Sand, Wet, piles of rubbish, armed Gendarmerie and unrelenting Wind.
This is a short movie that we shot in the camp – it was intended as a quick experiment to think about how you might experience the camp through a ‘street view’ – where we started to consider how an online, preserved, digital version of the space would change relationships to the camp and the people in it.
This is a sort of multi resolution… where a more detailed texture of the camp emerges… out of the mud, wind and flapping of tarps, the voices of the camps residents, singing, church services and conversation can be heard.
It also gives closer look at the materiality of the space, where the space is centre stage.
PALLETS AND 2×2 – a close, but cold/removed zoom.
Anyone who has built anything will be familiar with these… 2×2 – Cheap, but structural, 2×2 timber is all over the camp. It’s the thinnest you could go to build a solid structure. It forms most of the structure of the camp from the churches and other large structures to the smaller houses.
Its large enough for two screws per end, it can be nailed or screwed together and braced to give strength.
Pallets are the foundation – they go down before anything else. Typically they will form floors with sheet material fixed directly on top.
This is a very close zoom to the space – where you’re in someone’s home, working and building with them.
Insulation is key, it’s also expensive… in this shelter we were using space blanket type insulation wrapped in foil, pinned to the 2×2 overlapped and joined with gaffer tape.
Several just use blankets to keep the warmth in. Unfortunately these go mouldy. This is the downside of the DIY build – where on hand materials are used that birth many more problems down the line.
The outside skins are normally damp proofing membrane or tarpaulin. Often they have these lines in blue or black tracing all around the camp that almost become a motif of the space.
This is a pretty typical size, about 2m in both length and width. The luckier ones will have this to themselves but most will share. The most crowded shelter I saw had five young boys living in one shelter this size.
This shelter was on it’s own in the eviction zone. During the day with a group perhaps 10 other volunteers we lifted the top section from the pallet foundation and moved it to the other side of the camp.
We learned quickly about the scale of structures, and how they perform – scaling up is tricky… In this process rules of architecture and scale become clear very quickly.
This is a large shelter designed for around 18-20 people that we were frantically trying to repair – it had been designed and built without any cladding, without a roof pitch by a well meaning volunteer. Needless to say the shelters inside were soaking wet.
Going big is hard. It was at this resolution – crawling around the roof of the shelter, fighting the wind that kept wanting to rip the tarps off, we started to learn how you build and make in this environment.
There is also something here around thing being to hand – not needing lifting gear and heavy machinery.
The emerging vernacular of the site is instructed by this scale and materiality that is intrinsically linked with hands. Materials that can be carried and put together with hand tools.
There are some other things at play here too – a sort of informal planning system through conversation and the formation of groups, friends and communities.
The weather plays its part especially with the coastal winds, with each facing away from the prevailing wind.
The spaces are also dictated by where the people have come from… For example you find a number of shops in the predominantly Afghan area, whereas in other areas community spaces exist outside, and more open, around fires and so on.
The camp is relatively divided, with Afghan areas, Eritrean, Syrian etc as well as emerging areas of the camp that have been built by charities such as Medicine Sans Frontiers. For example a collection of large identical tents left abandoned, that lead in to their second effort – a collection of plywood boxes neatly laid out in a grid.
With the following we have attempted to alter the level of resolution, by cropping each structure from their Jungle environment, to be viewed as individual structures that, despite the conditions and lack of materials provide some resistance to the weather and represent this emerging vernacular.
At this level of resolution the buildings stand on their own as significant structures.
This is a six dwelling house.
Something in these crops started to remind us of other migrant or refugee cities by the sea.
They start to become strange disjointed, fetishised tourist objects that you mind find on a market stall in a tourist town.
They share something else…
Self made and designed structures, by victims of war and violence that once established become hugely significant cultural and trade centres.
The construction of not only shelter, but other structures… spaces for communities, worship, teaching, cultural buildings and so on.
This is a collection of community buildings that form a small square on the south side of the camp. One is the large Eritrean church, accompanied by a small school and the library called ‘Jungle Books’.
These community spaces have emerged partly as efforts by volunteers but also self organising.
With the emergence of shops and other community spaces, mobile phone charging points, wifi networks
This is the inside of a restaurant, with widescreen tv and communal mobile phone charging points.
The restaurants create a micro economy in the camp. With the nearest shops over a mile from the camp and most residents without a means of transport, these shops and restaurants are incredibly important. Where people working in them can make money, and others in the camp can be somewhere warm and dry to drink tea and charge a phone.
This is where another making culture becomes evident, the making of and serving of food. Here there is a sense of care-giving, where many of the shops will provide free food to those without the means to pay. This micro-economy also allows for a transfer from volunteers to the residents, where the volunteers are mostly able to afford to pay, a sort of off-setting occurs.
This is a shelter turned barbershop
… Chats over a beard trim
This is an amazing project called the refugee info bus – a converted horse truck equipped with solar panels and a wifi aerial on the roof. They drive into the camp everyday and broadcast a free wifi signal to provide free internet for refugees, free multilingual legal information, refugee rights work shops and facilitate refugee led journalism.
Connectivity is massively important in the camp – both to keep in touch with family and friends but also from a technical level – finding legal information they need, tracking legal status etc.
The infrastructures are delicate but do exist.
Another type of community architecture – a generator with a daisy chain of multi adapters and chargers.
Next I want to talk about containers and the formal side of the camp.
This is a model take from Logistic solutions website about the containers that they have installed in the camp.
In contrast to the architectural language, maker and DIY culture that I have talked about before, this is the state response to the space. The French Govt have employed a private contractor to build another camp separated from the main area that houses around 1500 people. Each Container is around 14m2 with 12 bunk beds.
They are surrounded by a fence that requires hand print scans to both enter and exit, with several cctv cameras and a regular patrol by the French gendarmerie.
This is a video still from a press movie by Logistic Solutions containers, complete with epic soundtrack.
This is the other making culture.
I think it’s important to say that I welcome any effort that attempts to help the people in the camp, and if this makes peoples lives better, that’s brilliant… but I would like to highlight some of the differences that these materialities highlight…
Containers (though entirely predictable) feel a problematic architecture to build a camp for a population that is already locked in transit. Whether or not the design decisions behind the camp are politically driven, the material and technological implications of constraint cannot be ignored.
Containers themselves are designed to travel, but here bolted to concrete foundations, wrapped in wire fences, they become about confinement and immobility. Containers, designed to transport goods (even indeed humanitarian aid in some cases) are repurposed to contain a population. Their material and neat modular design is as such that no additions are allowed if even possible. Where timber, tarp and pallets can be manipulated with very little, steel containers require a very different kind of equipment and knowledge to make any adjustments, or to build with.
They share a materiality with gentrifying projects and developments in Shoreditch, Williamsburg or Brixton. Where these same objects have been manipulated and altered in order to sell a certain vision, to suit the purposes of a population with means. In The Jungle they aim to fix and contain.
Where people have built their own shelters and community spaces with limited means they have been built and arranged in a way that represents a shared and open idea of humanity and society. Whereas, the containers hard, un-malleable steel shells and cold interiors force a way of being on a population without means.
The container once designed to carry goods, and objects with value are repurposed to contain a population with no legal status that is seen to hold no value.
It’s also hard to ignore other architectures in the space…
The £15m fence paid for by the UK govt. that separates the camp from the ferry port
The French riot police that circle the camp, searching vehicles and confiscating tools and materials as they enter and leave.
Walking through the camp you find several spent canisters of tear gas, launched into the camp as a moving smoke wall, designed to prevent people leaving, to manipulate the population into certain areas of the camp, to prevent them from exiting.
Tear gas becomes another materiality of containment. In this context it can appear that tear gas becomes structural and architectural.
We have been working on and discussing various projects…
I’d like like to share some of these, because they become the discussion for us, the way into a project.
How to capture the social, political and physical fabric of the site
How to document the camp, as a space and an evolving community
What can design/making offer a humanitarian crisis?
(not what a humanitarian crisis can do for a designer)
This one is extra tricky, in reality, the design is happening in the camp naturally. What is that we can offer it without just sitting back and observing and thinking about how ‘interesting’ it.
Which leads on to why is design failing? / is it?
Perhaps it’s simply that design is not there yet…
and as always, who are we to do this … ?
Yes, we should recognise the brilliance in the camp but but should not loose the sense of reality as to why the camp is there at all.
How is this participatory / How can it be?
How do you navigate giving hope in the camp? (in reality we are fairly powerless)
Any interventions have implications, people will read into them… but what they want is to be across the channel, there is little we can do to make that a reality.
As an experiment we started adding some of the 360º panos that I showed earlier as backgrounds onto Google maps as ways to experience the camp through a digital capturing.
The ‘Jungle’ now also exists as a place on Google maps with these geo-tagged to it.
Google keeps sending this these strange emails congratulating us on our many times the images have been viewed… but it appears people are searching for the camp and now finding evidence of it, all be it at a removed zoom.
Going beyond this, we started designing a ‘map-making’ bike.
The initial intention of this was a mobile recording device for documenting and mapping the architecture of the camp.
The Jungle is in a constant fragile state, with regular threats from the authorities to destroy it and remove it’s residents. It’s a space with a population, that needs to be acknowledged politically and empathetically.
If there is one thing that we can be absolutely sure of; it’s that there is a huge amount to be learnt from this autonomous, ‘multi-cultural’ space that soon may be lost forever.
The mapping of the space is a starting point.
Mapping of the space gives us only one view of the camp. In some ways an impersonal view where identities are respected but obliterated: This is the Google way. Legally required pixelation of the person. This is where we got to with the initial film I showed.
Going back to ‘distance’ and how all kinds of distancing are a part of the problem of the camp. There exists a political distance, media distance, cultural and humanitarian. This is a low-resolution view it keeps humanity at a distance.
So firstly we face cameras away from the bike to look at and record the space, being sure to keep anonymity in place.
Next we turn the cameras inward and ask a resident or representative of the camp to join us on a ride around the space so they can tell us their stories of the Jungle, what bought them there and where they are headed. It becomes an interview.
The tandem as an interactive machine then provides us with a new opportunity in this space. We swap positions on the bike. The interviewee takes control of the direction of the bike and the dynamic of the interview is traded. The residents are now interviewing us, and we temporarily become representatives of the UK, of people with a passport and country of residence.
The bike we imagine, captures the texture, real lived experience and architecture of the space, and provides a mouth piece to the people that live there. It is an object that reveals boundaries and borders, showing where it’s riders can and can’t go. An object that exposes privilege, borders, movement and travel.
The ‘pilot’ of the bike (and therefore the interview) will change as the bike moves, with residents able to take control of both the journey, the conversation and destination.
The bicycle will still be fitted with outward facing cameras, recording the architecture and infrastructure of the camp, providing a context for the interview material.
The residents of the camp have received both positive and negative media attention for many years. Through this documentary vehicle we want to challenge the traditional media relationship of interviewer and interviewee. We are committed to this being a joint movement where lives are compared and contrasted through an open dialogue and intend that this will create a platform to highlight both the connections and huge differences in people’s lives that have been formed by the geo-political conditions that they were born into.
The object aims to give voice and a platform for collaboration in the production of a piece of media.
We’re also looking at the other tendrils that go into giving a space recognition… Now we have maps, images, film etc. We’re looking at the architectural bureaucracy….
One is the legitimisation of St. Michaels Church as a Space of Architectural importance or as a heritage site.
Our intention is to look at how bringing a bureaucratic layer to the building moves it from a temporary, adhoc space, into one that is recognised legally.
There are several reasons for doing this:
Firstly the church is one of several valuable community buildings within the jungle.
Going beyond the basic emergency accommodation, the church is a space that caters for a religious community and acts as an important centre. It’s a space that goes beyond shelter and provides a valuable interactive space.
It’s where people worship and it’s a place where people sing.
The building itself was built by the residents and is created with limited access to materials. The Church’s materiality is ‘of the space.’ And represents part of the jungle vernacular.
Finally the recognition of the space bureaucratically complicates its destruction by the French authorities. Our intention is to try to get it listed, to try to get it preserved as a heritage site, to own it etc.
This is something that Clare is working on now.
Looking at other legal frameworks that give gravitas to this legal framework – how organisations and other infrastructures can build to produce recognition.
Where does this letter come from?
One of our students Arash has started making detailed scale models of the architectures in the camp, this is the church.
The models perform two functions – firstly they attempt to capture and preserve the structure, as a way of celebrating them.
They also inform a planning process… Models that are usually made before a building, to present it, or to sell it, here they are built afterwards but to fulfil similar motives…
Finally, St. Michael’s ladder.
The last time we visited the camp we borrowed a ladder from the church. Another volunteer who was working on a nearby shelter decided to cut it in half. This seemed to demonstrate a kind of divide in the camp, of status and lack of value in other peoples things that made us incredibly angry.
After the first time we came back i wanted to write something but also didn’t want to. In the end I wrote a list of things that I wished we had known before we went, an incomplete list of tools basically.
Maria got in touch through the blog – she had a ladder going spare.
We’re taking a new ladder back to the camp.