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Baitk Althany – an Arabic saying of “home away from home”

Rolling out the next generation of refugee constructed, environmentally sustainable structures in the largest Syrian refugee camp.

Photo of Jon Hanson

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Oxfam's feedback sessions confirmed interest in using the technique for new houses/extensions as well as some suggestions for needed public spaces that could be built with it. It showed the high level of interest in learning the technique, which shows the potential that exists for training.Syrian refugees see the potential of using this technique when they return home as they are aware that they would most likely find their homes completely destroyed. The attached report shows the full findings.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

99% of Za’atari inhabitants are living in caravans of varying quality made from pre-fabricated aluminium walls. Beneficiaries explained they are uncomfortably hot in the summer, and poorly insulated in winter and research from the University of Bath confirms this. Coping mechanisms include costly air coolers in summer and gas heaters in winter (poor ventilation then leads to elevated Co2 levels.) The population is rapidly increasing (aprox 80 births per week) so a new semi-permanent, safe and thermally efficient solution is needed. The project would leverage the existing community assets of skilled and willing families/community members who are unable to access work but want to improve their living conditions & learn new skills, as well as the readily available materials (sand & bags) in order to allow refugees to create their own homes and public spaces, providing improved and dignified shelter solutions that refugees can take ownership of & be proud of while taking these skills home.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

There are 1.3million refugees in Jordan, 80,000 of which live in Za’atari Camp. What was initially a temporary solution in 2012 now needs to be revised as the crisis continues. Za’atari is a closed refugee camp which means that everything is carefully managed and monitored, affecting the ability of the ecosystem to sustain itself. The Jordanian government remains resistant to any move towards permanency both for shelter or public spaces, leaving Syrian refugees in a state of limbo.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

It is a key step in advocating for a more dignified, empowered life for refugees in the camp. Along with other developments such as a water network currently being installed, it would show to the government that there are temporary solutions that are environmentally friendly, durable, low cost, and mindful of human dignity, and encourage them to start thinking towards medium term solutions. In the larger humanitarian ecosystem, it would serve as a pilot for other refugee camps.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

The project would provide refugees with valuable skills and empower communities to build their own structures, providing positive psychosocial benefits. If government and community acceptance takes place the scope is huge for it to be used widely across the refugee camp but also for the refugees to use when they return home. It is likely to take 2 years to gain acceptance and model the process. In the future, it would be sustained by the refugees themselves, with support from local NGOs/INGOs.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

The beneficiary feedback provided suggestions of scaling up the project camp wide to increase the visibility/promotion of the technique. This can be done by erecting information boards and distributing promotional materials to ensure that all refugees from the camp are aware of the technique and the existing prototype. This will facilitate receiving feedback from refugees of all backgrounds throughout the camp. During the improvement phase we noticed the need for building coding (specifications and site limits) in the camp, since up to now there is no standard regulations for land use. This will ensure construction is done in a safe and controlled manner. We will also address the questions about SuperAdobe versus traditional Syrian building techniques by looking at the pros/cons of each with the community during the training phase to inform their future decision making.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

See attached GANTT chart. The first step is to gain the necessary permissions including government approval. The next step would be the creation of a user manual and training of trainer sessions for refugees to create a team of trained and skilled members of the community. Depending on approvals the project would continue as either a pilot for new homes/home extensions or to be adjusted to the construction of public spaces and communal buildings only which is another area that sorely needs investment and is more likely to gain government approval. This would also be a good way to showcase the Super Adobe technique and train refugees in the building technique. In either scenario, the development of the manual and training of trainer sessions help to disseminate valuable building skills, that can be used by refugees on their return to Syria. Oxfam will also work with UNCHR & local engineers/ architects to establish building codes for the technique to ensure it meets agreed standards.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

The team will be lead by Oxfam's SuperAdobe Project Manager who is a trained architect, along with a team of engineers. She will be supported by Oxfam's extensive resources, including Monitoring & Evaluation, Funding, Finance, HR, and Logistics teams. Other partners include; UNHCR (camp management), academic partners e.g. University of Bath, who are measuring conditions inside SuperAdobe, volunteer architects to help supervise and local Engineer/Architect associations to help with regulations.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

The funds would initially support the development of the training manual, and ToT sessions, empowering the community to take on the building work. Depending on size of the grant and govt. approval, we will support the community with further piloting of the technique, either for housing or public spaces/communal buildings. This would take aprox 2 years, with the key aim of gaining acceptance & modelling the process as a viable technique. The process will be iterative and evolve through feedback.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

How could we reduce costs of SuperAdobe in innovative ways? What other innovations could be used within SuperAdobe to make the spaces more like home? How could we ensure SuperAdobe is in line with Shelter specific standards? In other areas in the world (especially in a refugee crises) how has SuperAdobe gained acceptance and approval by government?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

The Beneficiary feedback phase showed the need for greater visibility and explanation of the technique, as the users of the prototype centre had some doubts as compared with those who had actually built using it - they rated it very highly. We will build this into the ideation phase by creating communication materials in Arabic to encourage people to come and see the prototype, and comparing the technique with traditional ones during the training so they can assess the pros and cons themselves. It confirmed the enthusiasm for the prototype community building and using the technique for future housing or community needs, as well as revealing the community's preferences for public buildings. The team will use these learnings, in addition to the lessons already learned from our community centre prototype, when designing and implementing future building projects and continue to test and improve, integrating feedback and iterating.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

We have added an updated Gantt chart, that takes into account the need for developing coding for the buildings. We have also added a budget (please see attached). A more detailed budget can be provided at the final stage if needed. Throughout we have received very positive interactions with other members of the OpenIdeo community, including expert feedback on our questions. Some of the suggestions from the community that we will be looking into is 1) partnering with local organisations focused on health/children, either when we hand over the project or if we construct public spaces such as schools or hospitals. 2) We also had a great suggestion about using this to increase dialogue with the host community. We will look further into whether there is interest in having the refugees who have learnt the technique, teaching it to people in the host community - in order to facilitate skills sharing, open dialogue and better integration. Oxfam in Jordan is also initiating collaboration with our colleagues at Oxfam in Syria to explore how Syrian refugees trained in the SuperAdobe technique in Jordan can be incorporated in reconstruction and rebuilding of Syria once complete ceasefire happens and peace returns to the war torn country. We know that large swathes of cities have been destroyed in the war and refugees also inform us that they have no homes to go back to. The SuperAdobe technique provides a potential solution to a massive shelter crisis when millions of refugees come home.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

The big change is we have scaled down the numbers of units to a budget of USD 375,000 which will allow us to support refugees in camp with learning the technique and using it to build. Depending on our success in gaining approval for building new housing with SuperAdobe this will either take the form of new houses or much needed extensions to existing housing, or else the building of public structures only for the community. We feel that a smaller pilot is more feasible, as a testing ground for further implementing this technique, and it may increase the likelihood of gaining approval from camp authorities. The community feedback confirmed a lot of what we had already learned and experienced when we developed our initial community centre prototype - that there is an interest and desire for learning and using the SuperAdobe technique. It has also confirmed the community interest in public spaces and given us an insight into what they prioritise. It was interesting to find out what the community felt about the centre once it was finished and any concerns that they had and we have worked this feedback into the proposal above. As mentioned previously, we will now work on developing greater visibility of the project so that community members can come and see and experience the prototype. We will also amend our training curriculum to cover the benefits of this technique versus other traditional building techniques, in order to answer any questions or concerns the community might have. We also developed a new iteration of our GANTT chart to take into account the need for developing building codes for the structures built with SuperAdobe.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

The idea is to roll out the next generation of refugee constructed, environmentally sustainable structures in the largest Syrian refugee camp in the Middle East by developing an easy to follow user manual, create a cadre of trained trainers and at the same time support refugees to design and build their own SuperAdobe structures in Za'atari refugee camp SuperAdobe is an innovative construction technique that can be led by refugees. It is made by filling plastic bags with earth from the surroundings mixed with a small amount of water and cementation material. The bags are manufactured on site to be used immediately. The technique provides improved living conditions with better thermal insulation from natural materials. In the long run it does not leave an environmental footprint by minimizing generation of waste. Oxfam will engage with the Shelter working group and directly through its community mobilization team (inc focus groups discussions) to get refugee inputs regarding needs to co-design this initiative. Refugee camps last on average for 11 years, they are often constructed in difficult environments and constrained by the principle of permanence which is seen negatively by refugees, host communities and by host governments. The caravans and tents provided in the emergency phase of a response often wear out, do not offer sound protection against natural elements, are not sourced locally and generate a large volume of waste. Refugees in Za’atari Camp asked Oxfam to come up with alternatives to their caravans; SuperAdobe allows refugees to design and construct their homes giving them a greater sense of control and identity which is severely lacking in a refugee camp, particularly in a protracted crisis setting. The construction of SuperAdobe structures also offers skills and cash for work opportunities.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Currently there are 80,000 refugees in Za’atari Camp, the 4th largest urban centre in Jordan. There are approximately 24,000 households consisting of 2/3 caravans. These caravans will not be replaced. The need for extra space is increasing regularly as family sizes increase. Oxfam is therefore looking to use this technique for cases which have new or increased private /public shelter needs,. The user manual and training of trainers aim to reach many more indirect beneficiaries who will be encouraged to take on the construction. SuperAdobe allows refugees to create their own sense of identity by constructing or adapting their living spaces/public spaces to better meet their family, business and community needs. The concept of implementation will be owned and led by the community, and the refugees will learn valuable skills that can also be used once they return to Syria.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

SuperAdobe is a traditional method dating back centuries; the construction design incorporates locally available material that is affordable and reflects traditions on both sides of the Jordan-Syria border. It is able to eliminate supply-chain requirements, import-export procedures, and construction contractors, which are challenging in a humanitarian setting, and also offers a solution for refugees when they return to Syria. Uniqueness: 1) user-centered design and construction, based on the principle of vernacular architecture 2) creates living conditions that integrate into the local environment without leaving permanent impacts 3) the construction methodology and design will be adapted to the skills of refugees who do not require construction or engineering expertise 4) there are many innovative options such as the IKEA “Better Shelter”, but SuperAdobe has already received approval from UNHCR and the government and has been successfully piloted in the camp by Oxfam.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Oxfam began working in Jordan in 1990 through national partners and registered its operations in Jordan in 2013 to respond to the influx of Syrian refugees at the start of the Syria conflict. Oxfam has an office in Amman and has been present in Za’atari Camp, the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, since 2013. Oxfam has a team of Jordanian architects and engineers embedded in the local camp communities.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The pilot demonstrated how strongly the home – both as a physical space and an emotional location- is tied to a person’s sense of control, security and identity. Despite being forced to live as a refugee, subsisting on aid , the act of constructing their own space shows the indomitable human spirit to hope and continue to learn. Refugees who have worked on the pilot structure tell us how they will use the new skills to build their homes when they go back to Syria, offering hope for the future.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

The key idea of this project is to "help more, with less". As a result of the increasing number of protracted crises around the world, there is an urgent need to create a shelter solution that allows refugees to take more control of their lives and to better respect the long-term environmental impact of displacement on local surroundings, using a low-cost model in a low resource setting.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Ongoing design and testing is done in partnership with the University of Bath (UK) and Jordanian architects and urban planning experts. Oxfam also works closely with UNHCR, the agency responsible for managing the camp and all site planning matters, and through this partnership Oxfam is looking to address how the SuperAdobe design can replace caravans as the standard approach for the future of the camp.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The Syrian refugees of Za'atari camp are incredibly resourceful, determined and skilled. The restrictions on working outside of the camp mean that there are a large number of refugees of working age who work a few hours a day in cash for work initiatives or not at all - there are therefore a large number of able and willing people who are ready to be engaged and improve their way of life.

Geographic Focus

Jordan, Za'atari Refugee Camp - Syrian Refugees

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

24 months - whilst the structures themselves only take a few weeks to construct, Oxfam is well aware of the importance of community design and buy in. Therefore there will be a well thought through community engagement plan working closely with refugees to sensitize them to the idea of building their own homes/public structures at the start of the project. There will also be time in the workplan to consult and assess beneficiary needs and to support in design and construction

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Attachments (5)

Oxfam - Diaa - SuperAdobe CFW - Case Study.pdf

2 case studies with 2 of the refugees who participated in the SuperAdobe pilot project in Za'atari Camp.

Oxfam SuperAdobe - Video and Photo Case Study.docx

Unable to upload as links above so please find a video and photo case study attached

Oxfam - Hasan - SuperAdobe CFW - Case Study.pdf

2 case studies with 2 of the refugees who participated in the SuperAdobe pilot project in Za'atari Camp.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Celia Jaber

Hello Jon, congratulations on your idea making it through thus far and good luck for the next phase! You provide a compelling solution which solves for safety, dignity and a hope for a future functional community. I had similar questions of water systems and drainage and happy to see those are being considered and solved. As we know, in most refugee camps, settlements happen urgently and rapidly resulting with poor infrastructure which become hard to correct as the camps grow in size. However, your team seems to be getting closer to a grass roots solution that is resourceful and community engaging. I encourage you guys to think of ways to streamline this infrastructure and habitat methodology and distribute it online so that it could be picked up in other parts of the world and applied as the need arises ( which I hope would never happen ) . It would be fantastic to raise awareness on the Super Adobe method and have it be an educational booklet that circulates around.

Photo of Jon Hanson

Hi Celia, thanks for your feedback. There is some good information on the SuperAdobe method to be found here: If we are successful in piloting it further in Za'atari we will definitely make sure we further raise awareness through Oxfam's social media, local media, cluster groups etc. One of our outputs is the development of a training manual which would be a great resource to share with others. Thanks again and all the best

Photo of Aline Sara

Hi Jon,
Great work and interesting project for you and the Oxfam team! Definitely seems like there is tremendous potential if all goes smoothly with funding and with the Jordanian authorities. It’s great to show that there are indeed temporary solutions that are also durable, low cost, and mindful of human dignity. And if it doesn’t work in Jordan it might be an option that can be implemented in other regions and even with non-refugee communities but simply populations who are struggling with adequate housing worldwide!
Regarding your questions-
1-How could we reduce costs of SuperAdobe in innovative ways? What other innovations could be used within SuperAdobe to make the spaces more like home?
I have no architecture background, so a bit of a tough question for me, however potentially constructing community centers as part of the homes might be a nice way to foster community feelings and support other activities in the camp? I do think that the fact that these homes are built by the individuals living in them themselves will naturally lead to them giving the most relevant suggestions!

How could we ensure SuperAdobe is in line with Shelter specific standards? I would say it’s best to check with international organizations’ standards such as the UN.

In other areas in the world (especially in a refugee crises) how has SuperAdobe gained acceptance and approval by government?
I am not sure whether you’re asking how it can or how it has…I think SuperAdobe might best be piloted in other regions, where governments are less concerned with the massive numbers of refugees in their county and more open to exploring solutions to helping them live decently. It might also be worth showing the benefits for Jordanians themselves and exploring whether these homes can support a certain part of the Jordanian population too.

Photo of Anubha Sharma

Hi Jon,
what you have said about needing control is so relevant especially when it comes to refugees who have actually lost all control over their lives, giving it back to them in the smallest of ways will indeed immeasurably add to their sense of well being. Good luck for your project.

Photo of Jon Hanson

Thanks so much for your positive feedback!

Photo of Auden McKernan

What a great idea, congratulations. Please see some suggested answers to your questions:

How could we reduce costs of SuperAdobe in innovative ways? What other innovations could be used within SuperAdobe to make the spaces more like home?

Seek volunteer architects and interior designers to help assist in the design process. There are many talented people who would contribute their ideas and skills to help those in need through probono work.

How could we ensure SuperAdobe is in line with Shelter specific standards?

I would work with UNHRC to answer this question.

In other areas in the world (especially in a refugee crises) how has SuperAdobe gained acceptance and approval by government?

Present your ideas and concepts to government relief agency officials so they develop a better understanding of what your work will achieve. Best of luck!

Photo of Z Abed

I believe this kind of project would be of a significant value for the refugee camps. It gives a solution for a dignified home while having the minimum impact on the environment.
I like the idea that if refugees where to return to their homes in their countries, demolishing these structures would leave us with earth, witch goes back to earth, and earth bags, witch decompose after being exposed to the sun, and barbed wire, which is a recyclable material.
I hope for this proposal to find its way to the light.

Photo of Jon Hanson

Thanks so much for your kind words !

Photo of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO)

This is a fantastic project that is super appropriate for everything that is occurring in the world today! After the initial building of the structures, how do you keep the community members involved in the project to ensure that they grow with it?

Photo of Jon Hanson

Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) Thank you so much for your message! We believe so too. That's a good question, the main aim is to engage the refugees to lead from the start so that the building projects will be designed and owned by them, with only supervision and guidance from Oxfam. Therefore the structures (houses or community centres / public spaces) will be theirs. Oxfam would also look to create a set of trained trainers (refugees) who could lead on training themselves, to grow to a point where Oxfam's presence is no longer needed in this initiative and its future is sustainable within the refugee community.

Photo of Marnie Glazier

Your visuals really help illustrate the beauty and simplicity of the structure and the efficacy of the project idea! Well done and very timely!

Photo of Jon Hanson

Thanks so much :)

Photo of Jaskeerat Bedi

Hi Jon, Congratulations on being selected to the Refinement Phase. Really enjoyed reading through the material and going through the attachments that you added. I must say, the real impact of SuperAdobe is only visible on going through the CaseStudies. Is it possible for you to add some of images and videos in your post as well? In addition, I am curious to learn if your team has done some brainstorming around different types of structures that can be constructed? How much time and people does it take to build a house using SuperAdobe? I also came across in one of the videos that this technique was initially designed by an Iranian Architect to be used in Mars... that sounds like an interesting story. Would love to learn more about how the idea transformed to this pilot.

Additionally, also curious to learn about drainage systems, considerations for powers, etc.

Photo of Jon Hanson

Dear Jaskeerat, thanks so much for your comment and suggestions. We will work on improving the visuals of the post as well as trying to add the video (I tried and failed last time!) I will also discuss with the team and come back to you with some more information on your questions. Thanks again, we appreciate it.

Photo of Jon Hanson

Hi Jaskeerat, in answer to your questions, yes the team did look at other options such as steel pre fabricated/flat pack refugee shelters (e.g IKEA's) but as its manufactured in other countries, there are supply chain issues and it would have a greater environmental impact, and would not work well in the high temperatures of Jordan. For concrete structures these would be seen as too permanent by the govt. so unlikely to get approval, also a negative enviromental impact. For mud based shelters, these require a high level of skill, large quantities of water and take a long time to build.
In terms of time/ manpower for Super Adobe, it depends on the size of the structure - for a small dome (i.e toilet size) it could take 5 people one week , for a larger structure like the one we piloted it would take 10 people around 2 months.
The Super Adobe back story, is our Project Manager (who is a trained Architect) became aware of it when she was a student but then when she joined Oxfam she happened to see a video on Youtube about alternative building techniques such as mud - how it was used in post earthquake emergencies and she thought back to Super Adobe and how that would be a great solution in Humanitarian contexts. She then spoke with the rest of the Public Health Engineering team about piloting it it, attended a training on the technique in Belgium and then we started the pilot!
Drainage and electrical powers is built into the pilot building - the camp is in the process of building a water network so future building can easily be connected up to the system.