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Shelter Solutions

Shelter SolutionsThis fall, Tufts will exhibit a collection of refugee shelter designs, intended to highlight the humanitarian potential of art.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.04.07] It has four walls and a roof. While the 67-square-foot, cardboard abodes built by Global Village Shelters may seem modest, to refugees around the world, the simple practical structures are a welcome, and even life-saving, relief.

After securing a permanent exhibition spot at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and stints at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, thisexhibit of refugee home designs is making a stop at Tufts' Remis Sculpture Court. The exhibit will run from Sept. 6 through Dec. 23.

Despite the impressive list of museum exhibitions, the homes made more important stops in 2005 where they were needed the most: in Grenada after Hurricane Emily and in Pakistan after a series of earthquakes.

Amy Ingrid Schlegel, director of the Tufts University Art Gallery, recognizes both the practicality and the creativity of the shelters' design. "We see first-aid volunteers on the ground, but we rarely recognize the people behind the products they use," she told The Boston Globe. "Designers are engaged in this problem solving, and this is one example of that."

According to the Globe, "the installation is intended to heighten awareness of refugee crises around the world and foster Tufts' mission of active citizenship through, in this case, design." Schlegel, too, sees the connection to Tufts' core principles. "Certainly the Tufts community will make a connection between form and design and its larger applications," she told the Globe. "It's important to let people know that designers can play a role in humanitarian work."

The brains behind Global Village Shelters belong to the father/daughter team of Daniel Ferrara and Mia Ferrara Pelosi. The pair, making use of Daniel's 30 years of design experience, spent four years creating their shelters, the Globe reported.

The units boast some impressive attributes. The sturdy triple-wall corrugated cardboard is wind- and fire- resistant and biodegradable. The structures cost only $500 each, can be packed and shipped flat, and assemble in just 15 minutes. Their modular design even allows two or more shelters to interlock, creating larger structures such as clinics.

Also important is the structure's universality. Its construction instructions are written in images, not words, eliminating potential language barriers. Cultural differences were also considered. "We tried to make the look of it as simple as possible," Ferrara Pelosi explained to the Globe. "The design needed to be culturally accepted throughout the world. We created a neutral, straightforward house that can be easily adapted to any culture. There are no bells and whistles;keep it clean.

"This is a viable solution to a problem," Ferrara Pelosi told the newspaper.

The Tufts exhibit will feature a few of the houses themselves, along with photographs and stories from some of the refugees' firsthand experience of them. "I hope visitors understand that people receive these houses and that's their home," Ferrara Pelosi told the Globe. "That's where they house their families and their children for long periods of time."

Echoing one of Tufts' most important beliefs, she added: "We are very fortunate in this country, and we use that fortune to help others."

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