Throughout the summer, mainstream media reported statistics on the European refugee crisis, as thousands of European Union citizens fled political and economic uncertainty, many by water, laying buoyant waste to the shorelines of Greece. It has been estimated more than 45,000 life vests have been recovered on the island of Lesbos alone. As images of discarded lifejackets reached iconic levels, 15-year-old SCI-Arc Design Immersion Days (DID) former student Achilleas Souras expanded the function of the life vest from flotation device to potential housing solution with his installation Save our Souls.
Souras’ architectural response to the refugee crisis is an igloo structure constructed of 35 fully functional life vests, Velcro, and six structural poles. The prototype, which was on view during his exhibition at the Barcelona Maritime Museum in Barcelona, was designed with dual purpose: As a practical housing solution for refugee camps, and a symbolic reminder to raise awareness.
“The refugee crisis was simply a set of numbers on the news, but when I picked a jacket up, it stopped being just material,” Souras tells SCI-Arc. “When you hold the jacket in your hand and you smell the sea, you look at things through a different prism and you realize that every jacket represents a human life.”
Souras credits part of his “can do” attitude to the summer he spent last year in SCI-Arc’s DID program, a four-week intensive designed to introduce high-school students to architecture and design, as well as to the work of alumnus Shigeru Ban (B. Arch ‘80). DID coordinator, SCI-Arc design faculty and Los Angeles-based architect Darin Johnstone describes his former summer school student and his work as creative, adventurous, and thoughtful—all at the age of 14.
“The refugees, the homeless, and the less privileged cannot be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ anymore,” Souras says. “These are global issues that affect us all, and we must try to solve them for everyone’s sake.”