Hillside sanctuary: reception centre for the urban refugee, Hillbrow Johannesburg

Mhlungu, Nontokozo
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Refugee camps are an example of ‘post crisis’ rehabilitative systems, which vainly attempt to restore stability in a state of disaster (Azmara, 2012). Uprooted from their homes and thrust into volatile and unfamiliar surroundings, civil conflict and natural disasters have left millions of refugees around the world destitute in their host countries, stripped of their identity and humanity and left with only the clothes on their backs. Unlike in rural settlements, the urban settlement patterns of refugees in Johannesburg have demonstrated a unique gravitational shift from reliance on local government assistance to a strong and long standing affiliation with various religious fraternities in the urban centres. This has then resulted in the inquisitorial search of how well have these urban churches served the needs of the urban displaced communities? By opening up their church buildings to refugees as a place sanctity and solace, how has this spiritual affiliation effected the reception, protection and rehabilitation of psychologically and physically traumatized refugees and asylum seekers? Subsequently has Johannesburg as a city, made provision for the sheltering and protecting of refugees, should there ever again be a crisis of violent xenophobic turmoil in the city’s townships? This thesis seeks to explore the underlying differences between designing a post crisis emergency shelter and specifically developing a transitory sanctuary tailored for urban refugees. By merging the dissimilar approaches assumed by secular refugee aiding organisations and the religious fraternities, the design starts to illustrate the symbolic connection between refuge and solace; spirituality and rehabilitation, as well as making note of the harmonies that exist within humanitarian architecture and sacred architecture. By understanding these fundamental parallels, a premise is formed for the development of a unique and prototypical urban refugee centre, located in Hillbrow, at the heart of Johannesburg’s eclectic foreign national communities. The centre is comprised of several emergency relief facilities, rehabilitative programmes as well as an adaptive form of transitional accommodation all encompasses within a spiritual, yet nondenominational Christian church establishment; a gesture which serves to highlight the ‘curative’ relationship between the spirituality, architecture and the user.