Identity : pscyhological relationships between place and occupant informing Burmese refugee communal design

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


Place is an active participant in determining who we are; it becomes part of one's identity. People use space as a vehicle in which individual and social experiences are carried out and remembered, ultimately shaping who one is. An attachment to place is formed. Place becomes vital to one's mental being and survival because it is a piece of a whole in how one defines herself/himself and his purpose. But what happens when place attachment is broken? The consequences can be severe. For example, Burmese refugees responding to political persecution, persistent poverty, and most recently the ramifications of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, were forced to abandon their homes and communities---- their place. They lost part of their identity. In doing so, the already dire situation they experienced grew more grievous. This continues today. Now these refugees congregate in camps along the Burmese/Thai border looking for relief. Only tactile issues (food, shelter, water) are addressed by relief agencies, not psychological issues, such as the part of their identity they have lost. Because of this oversight , their recovery and survival lay in jeopardy. This thesis will seek to demonstrate how architecture can ascribe to various design considerations that acknowledge the importance of fundamental place attachment between occupant and place. I will illustrate these considerations by creating a community for Burmese refugees that recognizes not only the physical but the psychological factors that are imperative to recovery, such as self, social, and place identity. Ultimately this exploration hopes to instill identity back into the refugees by applying a design strategy when developing the community that is informed by the interactions of the aforementioned psychological factors. These issues of identity are pertinent to design today, when increasingly, many people like the Burmese refugee are in situations that demand thought and action for their recovery and survival.




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