Hollywood designer applies film techniques to humanise refugee camps

A design technique used in Hollywood films such as Minority Report is set to be applied to refugee settlements to make them more accommodating for human needs.

Design Indaba which builds conceptual models of situations and then tests them by inserting human “characters” and observing their behaviour, could help to find ideas missed by governments, aid organisations, architects and designers,

Production designer Alex McDowell, who has also worked on the films Fight Club, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Man of Steel,  is exploring how the “World Building” technique he developed while working on Hollywood movies could be used to develop sustainable solutions to real-world problems including refugee housing.

The project has attracted the attention of US president Barack Obama, who wants to make developing solutions to the displaced persons crisis a priority.

With the World Building approach, “you start with the world and the conditions of the world, and then you get a broad overview and then you run the human narratives through that,” McDowell said.

He said the traditional approach to building refugee camps follows a generic model, which has proven unsuccessful, adding: “You get massive UN initiatives, hundreds of people in a room talking about it, from a political standpoint, or from a social, or health [point of view].

“You don’t hear people actually trying to focus on how do you get [the solution] right.”