Master’s students Meriç Kessaf and Meriam Sehimi  lachend op een bankje.
Master’s students Meriç Kessaf (left) and Meriam Sehimi: “We still need people for the realisation phase.” (Photo: Heather Montague)

Who are the people who study or work at TU Delft? We meet them in Humans of TU Delft. This time: Meriç and Meriam want to create housing solutions for earthquake victims.

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With a shared passion for humanitarian architecture, master’s students Meriç Kessaf and Meriam Sehimi were inspired to do something after the recent earthquake in Syria and Turkey. They launched START (Syrian Turkish Architectural Recovery Team) to use the knowledge of students at TU Delft and experts from different fields to create residential solutions for people impacted by the quake.

Meriç: “I was born and raised in Amsterdam but my parents are from Turkey. Before I came to TU Delft, I studied earth science in Amsterdam and saw that Antakya is literally on a fault zone. People knew that this earthquake would happen at some point and that the houses there weren’t prepared for it. I started studying architecture specifically because of the earthquakes happening there. I was going to start my master’s graduation project with Explore Lab and I wanted to investigate and make a prototype system for existing buildings to make them more earthquake proof in a sustainable, cheap, and safe way. Then the earthquake happened and all the houses that I wanted to work on collapsed. It really made me think we need to fix things. For me it is very personal because my family is from that area.”

Meriam: “I have a multicultural background. My father is French and my mother is Saharan. I grew up in Germany, studied there and later worked in Berlin for an architect doing humanitarian architecture, which has become my main interest. I got the chance to study one year in Istanbul and volunteer on the exact same site where the earthquake just happened. It is important to know that the situation was already immensely in need of humanitarian assistance. Meriç and I didn’t know each other before we started this project, but we are both students with a particular interest in humanitarian architecture. It really is a passion for us. When the earthquake happened, we thought that as students we would be able to reach out to people to try to gather solutions and raise knowledge about it. That was our main intention and that’s why we initiated START together.”

Meriç: “When we first came together, we were thinking about what we could do. We thought about raising money, or sending warm sweaters and blankets. But then we thought, this is TU Delft Architecture, we need to use the knowledge that we have here to do something. The earthquake caused all the houses to collapse on people and we have knowledge about this and can use it.”

‘We want to share the design idea so that people can build it onsite’

Meriam: “We think that as students at TU Delft we have the ability and the possibility to find the right people, to start a discussion and find solutions that we can implement. We had this idea, we started talking to different people and within a couple of days other students joined us. The first part of our initiative is a workshop where we will give, get and create solutions together. It is meant to create a dialogue, for students to discuss with experts, to put everyone at the same table. For example, there will be an expert who knows how to build earthquake-proof buildings, but maybe they don’t know anything about the social or cultural situation in Turkey and Syria, so there will be experts who can share their knowledge about that. It’s really a multidisciplinary encounter of all these different people. We want to trigger them to use the knowledge that they have and expand in other areas of knowledge. The time has come to truly shift the debate and see new perspectives emerge from that.”

Meriç: “It’s about bringing different disciplines together because finding a solution to a problem like this doesn’t come from only from one area. We are bringing all different kinds of knowledge together. The student groups that will work together are not only from Architecture, but we really want people from other faculties to join. And during the workshop we also want to have a psychologist to give feedback about how you can create a space for people that makes them feel safe and gives them their humanity back. We want students to come up with different ideas so we can take the best aspects of each one and bring those together in a concrete design. Then we want to be able to share the design idea so that people can build it onsite.”

Meriam: “The next phase of the project will be realisation. We truly want to come up with genuine solutions using the knowledge and power that we have as students. I think that’s special. We’re still young, we still need experience, and we need help to get materials and to organise these types of events. Any type of help is very welcome. For the realisation phase, we want to implement building structures and sanitary facilities, but we need the right resources to do that. We want to act and not just talk. We will go onsite, we hope it will be something great, and we hope that this is just the start.”

Meriç: “If people want to join us at any point they can. They can think along with us - not only companies, but students, experts, anyone. We still need people for the realisation phase. We have an amazing international team and this wouldn’t be possible without so many people getting involved.”

  • The START team is raising financial support through a crowdfunding campaign. Find out more here.
  • There will also be an interactive exhibition during the week of 20-24 March at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. “It will be a place of gathering, where we imagine breaking down borders by celebrating the identity and life of the people affected by the earthquake.”
  • Meriç and Meriam wish to give a special thanks to Professor Job Schroën, head of the Extreme Architecture department, who has been instrumental in getting this project started.

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