A Concept Space to provide Ambassadorial Status to a Humanitarian Issue
The Embassy for Refugees is project initiated by Natasha Reid which aims to provide ambassadorial status to a humanitarian issue. It hosted the UN High Commission for Refugees and was the central focus of Refugee Week 2013, hosting a programme of talks on the subject of sanctuary, performances and debate.
“Natasha’s Embassy is a beautifully imagined concept that plays with the idea of providing diplomatic status and ambassadorial protection to asylum seekers and refugees - the one group of people who are mostly excluded from such national and political privileges. Its aesthetic alludes to a cocoon-like space of sanctuary or refuge that is at the same time open, porous and encourages dialogue.”
Almir Koldzic, Co-Director, Counterpoints Art
The Embassy for Refugees claims a territory for those that seek refuge in our city. It is a space of representation and sanctuary at the very heart of London and seeks to give ambassadorial status to a humanitarian issue. Can diplomacy be employed for the marginalised rather than the powerful? Representation for the misrepresented?
The Embassy project is at once celebratory and provocative, an intimate space of sanctuary but also a platform for humanitarian advocacy in its use. The project explores whether art, design and architecture can extend the boundaries of the discussion about refuge. Can the concept of sanctuary be re-framed as an architectural value and spatial ethic? The project was part conceptual art intervention, part architectural space, to form not only a reflection on the status quo but also a tangible proposition.
SPACE OF SANCTUARY
The form of the “embassy” was defined through participatory sculpture workshops with refugee children - making “secret dens” and also inspired by the natural refuges of tree canopies, caves and cocoons. The playfulness of the pavilions resonates with childhood memories and imaginations of enchanting hideaways and natural shelters.
Made from slender timber sheets, the pavilions’ forms fluctuate in response to changing light and viewpoint. On approach they appear solid and substantial but reveal themselves to be simultaneously delicate and fragile. By juxtaposing the opposing spatial characteristics, the design explores the spatial expression of refuge and sanctuary by concurrently embodying the precariousness and instability which arise from the condition of displacement.
The pavilions were realised in close collaboration with engineers at Arup who used complex 3D modelling to realise a low-tech solution crafted from ordinary OSB timber sheet which could be rapidly constructed and deconstructed by hand in a day. Whilst appearing highly bespoke and sculptural, the pavilions strike a balance between modular efficiency and visual delight, economy of materials and thoughtful architecture. The innovative “flat pack” design allowed the pavilions to be easily transported and reconstructed in locations across London and the UK.
The cross-disciplinary and participatory methods which Natasha developed for the project were the subject of a British Council “Learning Lab”. She was invited to present the project as a case study on “Boundaries of collaborative and participatory techniques, Communities of Place and Social Change.”
"Natasha Reid weaves architecture,art practice, design, human rights advocacy and participatory methods in this deliberate re-construction of the ‘typology’ of the Embassy building. Constructed and curated in the style of the public ‘pavilion’, ‘The Embassy for Refugees’ acts as both catalyst and mediator for a range of cross-community dialogues and happenings - functioning as both participatory learning site and public provocation."
Dr. Áine O'Brien, Co-Director, Counterpoints Art