Author Archives: Manuel Herz

About Manuel Herz

Visiting professor of architectural design at the ETH Zurich and a practicing architect based in Basel, Switzerland. He researches and writes on planning aspects of refugee camps. His recent book From Camp to City: Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara (Muller, 2012) is an urbanistic and architectural study of Sahrawi refugee camps established 35 years ago, focusing on the spaces of everyday activities and their political dimension. Where his architectural practice is concerned, his recent buildings include the Synagogue and Jewish Community Center of Mainz, Germany.

Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara

The Sahrawi refugee camps, located in southern Algeria close to the border with the Western Sahara, give us an opportunity to question the predominant notions connected to refugee camps. This article builds up an urbanistic and architectural reading of these camps—established more than 35 years ago in the middle of the Sahara—and shows how these spaces have developed into a political project of the refugees. Instead of seeing the camps as a spatial manifestation of the state of exception, this article analyzes the Sahrawi camps through the everyday activities taking place there, showing their political and strategic dimensions. The camps, governed by the refugees themselves, not only allow for a process of social emancipation, but they also prefigure the state still denied them.