Red Cross Museum: Humanitarian Aid and Creativity

Between the multiple geopolitical conflicts, the slew of natural disasters, and continued health crises scattered throughout the globe, providing humanitarian relief can be quite a challenging task. How then to then raise awareness, engage and offer hope to tackle such challenges? At Geneva’s International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum the answer is through that essential human trait: creativity!

For its current permanent exhibit “The Humanitarian Adventure” the organization invited several architects worldwide to submit stenographic proposals to fill up the museum’s masterplan designed by Swiss studio Atelier OI. The winning designers span the globe, bringing together diverse backgrounds and style concepts, with each designer addressing a specific theme central to the Red Cross mission: Brazilian architect Gringo Cardia ( “Defending Human Dignity”) , Japanese architect Shigeru Ban ( “Reducing Natural Risks”) and Burkinabé-German Francis Kéré ( “Restoring Family Links”).

Renowned for his high-profile creations that include projects with Cirque du Soleil and the Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympics, Gringo Cardia’s session “invites us to reflect on the humanity and principles that determine international humanitarian law.” Through colorful and immersive installations, Cardia highlights the cultural and human side of the history of the Red Cross. Speaking of his design, Cardia mentions that his idea is that through the interactive aspect of the presentations, the visitors are stimulated to discover the history, rather than just having it shown in an obvious way – a visual game where the visitor is invited to connect the different points.

At the “Restoring Family Links” session, the designs by Pritzker laureate Francis Kéré help bring attention to family separations which are the often overlooked  yet deeply felt and consequential side of disasters and conflicts. A towering wall, made of hemp concrete, serves as a backdrop for photos of Rwandan children separated from their families during the 1994 genocide. Nearby, a capsule like wooden structure (“Chamber of Witness”) features life size projections of victims sharing their separation, emphasizing the relevance of eyewitness testimony in humanitarian efforts.  

To delineate the space at his session focused on “Reducing Natural Risks,” architect Shigeru Ban (another Pritzker laureate) relied on the same recycled paper tubes concept he has used to build shelters in refugee camps and areas stricken by natural disasters. The curvilinear, organic shaped walls enclose a screening room, a gallery space featuring Red Cross posters (highlighting the importance of communication as a tool) and a large interactive table designed to test visitors hurricane related knowledge.

Although the exhibits are not new, the designs remain as current as the issues addressed are still present in the world. Clearly, these are not easy issues – a tough history, with myriads physical and emotional suffering in every corner. However, through these ingenious and insightful presentations, they convey the overall spirit of resilience, and one leaves the museum with a sense of renewed hope and determination to act in whatever way possible to help the world and reduce human suffering.

By Paul Clemence

Featured image: The museum is located at the base of the  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, Switzerland by Paul Clemence

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