UN Habitat and United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees have agreed to put up 2,000 permanent houses for refugees at the Kalobeiyie settlement in Kakuma, Turkana West.
The UN Habitat last year reached an agreement with renowned Japanese architect and 2014 Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban to come up with new designs to replace the current shelters.
Shigeru came up with five different designs and constructed a unit for each. Among the designs is one made from 'mathenge' branches, which was motivated by the Turkana manyattas technique.
"I love the look and it's easy to make, but the house lacks privacy," Shigeru said. The house is made using branches, hence leaving spaces in between. "The design can, however, be good for classrooms or a public setup," Shigeru said.
His second design was made of paper tubes, which he said was not appropriate for the area due to the costs involved. "The material can only be brought from Nairobi, and that would be very expensive," he said.
The third design was made from interlocking soil stabilised blocks. "Honestly speaking, I don't like that one because it has to be done by experienced people," he said.
The fourth design was made of burnt mud bricks, which Shigeru noted was not good for mass production.
His best design was a combination of mathenge branches, wood frame and bricks, which he said has already been tested in Napal and cannot be brought down by earthquakes.
Kakuma is, however, not an earthquake-prone area. He said the only problem with the design will be protecting the wood frames from termites. "I am very impressed with what I have seen with this design," Shigeru said.
The unit made from this design has two big rooms and a ventilation area made from mathenge branches. It also has an in-house latrine, which is elevated, and a container put underneath to collect the waste.
"I don't like community latrines, and this will help move towards individual toilets, and it's cheap to make," Shigeru said.
Shigeru said despite him being biased on one design, there will be a team who will be deciding on the best among the five, which will then be rolled out.
The five designs took a year to complete, with lead architect Phillipe Monteil overseeing the project. "We took long to do the five structures due to lack of skills. Manpower was from the refugees," Phillipe said.
He said they decided to do different pilots since they were not sure which would work in that area and which wouldn't work. "It was a good idea since we ended up liking some which we were not sure of at the beginning," Phillipe said.
The chosen design will be tested on 20 shelters first, and, if successful, will be rolled out to replace existing structures.
UNHCR head of Kenya office Sukru Cansizoglu said the refugees will be allowed to choose the type of house they prefer. "The refugees will be involved and will get funds to construct the houses through cash-based intervention," Sukru said.
The Kalobeyei Settlement was established in 2015 between the Turkana government, UNHCR and other partners to provide integrated services to refugees and local host communities.
The project will be fully funded by the Japanese government, with construction starting as soon as a decision is reached.