IMPACT
07/31/2015 09:16 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2015

Low-Cost Schools Are Being Built Out Of Sand In Jordan Refugee Camps

A team of architects is working to bring low-cost, durable homes to refugee camps in Jordan and other parts of the world by relying heavily on readily available materials like sand and soil.

The innovative Re:Build construction system is the product of a partnership between architects Cameron Sinclair and Pouya Khazaeli, nonprofits Save the Children and Relief International and Pilosio Building Peace, the nonprofit initiative connected to a scaffold company.

The system uses natural materials in combination with scaffolding tubes to create easy-to-assemble and modular structures that can serve as homes, schools or clinics in a refugee camp or other emergency situation.

How it works is that wall frames are filled with sand, gravel or stones, while the roof is topped off with soil to allow for insulation as well as the growth of micro crops to eat. The structures also have a container to channel and recover rainwater, are solar-powered and its floors are made of a durable plywood. 

As reported by ArchDaily, the system has already been put to the test with the construction of two schools in Jordan: one at the Za’atari camp -- the Middle East's largest refugee camp which marked its third anniversary this week -- and a second at Queen Rania Park in Amman. Because children represent a high percentage of the displaced Syrian refugee population in the region and many have been out of school for years in some cases, learning facilities were a high priority for the Re:Build team. 

The structures are unique not only because they are cost-effective and mobile -- similar to the Ikea Foundation shelters the U.N. is investing in -- but are also so easy to assemble so that individuals with no prior construction experience can, and do, help build them, and are paid to do so. According to Sinclair, parents of the students using the schools participated in their construction.

"We victimize refugees by treating them as second-class citizens instead of understanding that they are some of the most resilient and hardworking people on the planet,” Sinclair explained to FastCompany of their decision to make the system so intuitive. “By engaging the refugees as paid laborers ensures that they once again feel in charge of their own destiny and leave with the skills to reassemble the school back in their home country."

Though the structures come at a much lower cost when compared to traditional construction, the price tag is still notable: according to ArchDaily, the schools cost about $30,000 each. The concept development was supported by a Crowdrise campaign, while the construction was funded by Pilosio in partnership with local nonprofit groups.

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