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A-kamp47: Marseilles' 'barnacle' shelters

Published 4:56 AM ET, Thu December 12, 2013
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Architect and former graffiti artist Stéphane Malka seeks out neglected areas of cities' public space and transforms them into light, flexible, emergency housing.
He calls the process "architectural kama sutra" because of the unorthodox positioning of the structures above or below traditional buildings. A-kamp47, as the Marseilles project is called, will be included in a series of similar efforts for Malka's book, Le Petit Pari(s), coming out in February of next year.
Malka designed A-kamp47 -- the title is a nod to the city's drug-fueled gun violence problem -- in 2009, but it was erected in just 12 hours this past September. The domes, which resemble a group of camouflage spiders' eggs, feature thermal blankets and storage space, the simplest requirements for temporary stays.
Putting up the structure in September was also part of Malka's strategy. "In France, there's a rule saying in winter time, you can't take someone out of housing." Meant to protect low and middle income workers being pushed out of housing and into the suburbs by slumlords' rent increases, the rule guarantees that most renters won't end up on the streets during the coldest months.
According to Malka, the rule also applies to A-kamp47, which, because it's tacked to the side of the Marseilles train station, and not sitting horizontally on the property of the nearby cultural center, qualifies as public space.
Malka's work essentially turns French cities' housing crises into a living, breathing billboard year-round. "Homelessness is very important, but it's almost like a caricature of what's happened. People in the low class and even in the middle class don't have the power to afford to stay in decent houses, especially in France," Malka says.
"This is a failure of the housing system as we know it. We'll be facing in the year to come more climate refugees, more political refugees, and the city will have to stand massive amounts of people coming."
Oddly, though, the people using the A-kamp47 aren't native Marseillais. When Malka went back to visit the structure in October, it was mostly populated by young travelers.
Still, Malka hopes his project inspires other architects to work on more community-minded projects that take advantage of public space. "I really think that for architects now there are new ways, technical ways and methods, that would take us out of not only being the arm of the government," he says. "We can be more open to societal problems."