Header InResidence

Asylum and Shelter Provision in Torshov, Oslo

Intervention Strategy: OPEN transformation

Elisabeth Søiland, Silje Klepsvik, Åsne Hagen

Intervention Strategies speculate on the architectures associated to the particularities of each site, and can range from spatial strategies, typological variations, and material prototypes to digital platforms and legal propositions, among many others.

OPEN transformation explores alternative ways of meeting asylum seekers needs and new notions of adaptability and hospitality, in order to overcome the narrative of “us” and “them.” The project aims at intervening in the larger process of displacement derived from global migration, including real estate market forces and housing solutions, taking the transit center Torshov transittmottak in Oslo as a point of departure for a multiscalar and multilayered intervention.

The intervention strategy consists of three parts – bnbOPEN, OPENhouse and OPENhousing:

OPEN transformation will enable those who arrive to find ordinary housing as an alternative or supplement to reception centers. To test this out, the project will develop the app bnbOPEN, facilitating access to accommodation offers from the inhabitants of Oslo.

Simultaneously, OPEN transformation will construct shared arenas of encounter for locals and the newly arrived. The spatial prototype, called OPENhouse, will become a meeting point for them within Torshov.

Furthermore, with OPENhousing, the project will seek to challenge the hegemony of market forces in the housing provision processes in Norway by investigating alternatives to the current real estate dynamics. The project adds to the current public debate by presenting the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers as an opportunity to re-imagine housing policies and regulations in Norway.

Intervention Strategy: Modes of Movement

Ruimteveldwerk (Pieter Brosens,Brecht Van Duppen, Sander Van Duppen, Lene Beelen, Pieter Cloeckaert)

Modes of Movement explores the potential of asylum seekers to participate in the cultural, social and economic life of the city. The project invites refugees to find niches within Oslo’s public sphere which are useful or appealing to them. Through the collection and dissemination of these spaces and experiences, Modes of Movement aims to have asylum seekers occupy public space and make their presence visible within the city.

The intervention manifests in a series of ‘public spaces’ selected by asylum seekers: shelter/housing, health/administration and culture/sports. This array of spaces will be collected in a City Guide, a platform by refugees for refugees. This citizen’s manual will be an instrument for asylum seekers to find their way in Oslo and to help them find particular answers to short term or perennial questions. Norwegians and earlier generation migrants are also asked to contribute in complementary ways to the guide.

Furthermore, this City Guide should be adaptable throughout time and be able to provide alternatives for newcomers, long-term Torshov residents, and others. Above all, it should establish a dialogue among Oslo's citizens and facilitate their interaction, connection, and integration in the public sphere.

Site Brief:

Site Briefs provide the framework for the In Residence: Call for Intervention Strategies and Call for Associated Projects, and open up architectural questions associated to each site.

Asyluum Seeker’s Center in Oslo, “Moments of Freedom,” Javad Parsa (2013). Courtesy of the author.

The architectures of containment, reception, and transit of refugees, and those designated as asylum seekers, render visible the entanglements between social concerns, policies, and legislation, as well as the technologies that allow us to access and participate in certain spaces. In 2014, a total of 10,056 individuals sought asylum in Norway. [1] Within the country, the daily life of asylum seekers is hosted within the regulations of architecture, as the prevailing legal framework involves the provision of “shelter” to those waiting for the resolution of their applications. Defined as a “basic/sparse but safe” space, shelter is provided through all the phases of the asylum granting process in receiving, transit, and ordinary centers. [2] In a process managed by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), asylum seekers are constantly moved from center to center during this “temporary” period for the resolution of their applications, which can last for several years. While staying in these centers is voluntary throughout the whole process, this transitory condition can become a permanent residence.

The Torshov Transittmottak, located in the borough of Sagene in Oslo, is a transit center run by Norsk Folkehjelp. [3] Norsk Folkehjelp is the only NGO that currently runs asylum seeker centers. The facility has the capacity for 200 individuals, and hosts single adults and families within the premises, each asylum seeker assigned a bed and a locker distributed in rooms accommodating four to eight people. The shifting population is an index of current international conflicts which are often replicated in the frictions provoked by the tight spatial standards: inhabitants of the center coming from opposing factions can translate their territorial, political, religious, and cultural struggles to the center’s common spaces and shared bedrooms. In many cases, these conflicts are manifested in attempts to take control over broadcasts or internet bandwidth, as audiovisual content is able to subvert (with the environmental distribution of waves and the invisible materiality of bits of information) the condition of the center as neutral soil.

The privatization of these facilities with short term contracts on official bids to the Norwegian Government is changing the management policies, with clear architectural effects as well. Although the centers are always under the protection of the UDI, periodic reports are the only times when minimum material and environmental design standards are determined.[4] These facilities, mainly old institutions or former military camps, are mostly now operated by private commercial agents, which regulate the concept of shelter through spatial (efficiency) economies tied to the fluctuations of the market (with many of the centers reporting the decay of their buildings).[5] Some facilities, such as the one in Torshov, are planning their closures, with the relocation of their inhabitants and communities to more remote areas, far from the city center, due to the ongoing pressures of the real estate market. [6]

The case of asylum seeker centers—from the design of their distributions and the management of their common spaces, to their participation in the logics of the city—allows the questioning of how architecture mediates the provision of what is conceived of as temporary shelter for those in search of asylum.

Site Report (A Teaser):

Eriksen Skajaa Architects on Asylum and Shelter Provisions in Torshov, Oslo

Reports about the sites have been commissioned from a group of international architects, artists, journalists, and other professionals. The commission for these reports is intended to challenge ideas of ‘site’ solely concerned with geometric boundaries and contextual references. Intervention strategies and associated projects do not need to respond to these reports.

In Residence: Sites