2017 Mellon Faculty Grant Recipient

Enhancing the cultural fabric of refugee camps with adaptive smart textiles

As a CAST Faculty Mellon Fellow for 2017, Akšamija will invent a new cultural fabric, Lightweaver. This adaptive smart textile will be created through a culturally sensitive and participatory design process, involving students from MIT and the German-Jordanian University, as well as Syrian refugees in Amman and the Zaatari camp. The project will explore how light can be integrated into textiles from artistic, technical, cultural and design perspectives, with the aim to address the emotional and cultural needs of communities affected by conflict and crisis.

Akšamija says, “Refugee camps should not be understood as makeshift shelters, but as civic spaces where critical social healing and cultural exchange take place in a fragile environment.” The Lightweaver project will expand the notion of shelter beyond physical protection: lighting becomes a means to preserve cultural memory and provide a sense of home and belonging for refugees. The process of making is aimed at fostering trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary exchange, while providing an alternative form of education for young people in the refugee camps.

Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).

CAST Fellow Azra Akšamija is an artist and architectural historian, the Class of 1922 Career Development Professor, Department of Architecture and an assistant professor in the Art, Culture and Technology Program. Akšamija investigates trans-cultural aesthetics, cultural mobility and how art and architecture can overcome cultural divisions. Akšamija’s recent academic research focuses on the relationship between culture and conflict, with emphasis on cultural memory and the aftermath of the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. Her book Mosque Manifesto, published in 2015 by Revolver Publishing, proposes that innovative forms of Islamic representation may foster better understanding between cultures and provides a critical response to the representation of Islam in the West.

“What I’m trying to do is offer a new aesthetic while moving beyond iconic language. I work on a sensory level and human scale to communicate and move people, which is something that art, architecture and culture can do.”

Akšamija holds master degrees from the Technical University Graz and Princeton University, and a Ph.D. from MIT (HTC / AKPIA). Her work has been shown in leading international venues, including the Generali Foundation Vienna, Valencia Biennial, Liverpool Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, Sculpture Center New York, Secession Vienna, Manifesta 7, the Royal Academy of Arts London, Queens Museum in New York and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini as a part of the 54th Art Biennale in Venice. She received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2013 for her design of the interior prayer space in the Islamic Cemetery in Altach, Austria.

More at the artist’s website: Azra Akšamija


Upcoming Events



Project Schedule

Project Launch
January 2017

Workshops at MIT
May 2017

Workshops in Jordan
Summer 2017

Implementation of the project in Zaatari Camp
Fall 2017


Past Events

Design for a Nomadic World,” part of Amman Design Week
October 6-14, 2017
Amman, Jordan

CAST Faculty Mellon Fellow Presentations and Active Matter Book Launch
Thursday, September 28, 2017 / 6:00pm
MIT Lecture Hall 10-250
222 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

London Biennale MANILA Pollination
September 15 – October 15, 2016
Manila, Philippines

Fitch Colloquium: Preservation and War
September 30, 2016
Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Qalandiya International Biennale
October 5-31, 2016

“Memory Matrix” at Amman Design Week
September 1-9, 2016
Amman, Jordan

The Jordan Times: Azraq refugees partner with designers to ‘invent solutions to their daily problems’

MIT Campus News: 3 Questions: Azra Akšamija’s multidisciplinary practice in art and architecture

Balkan magazine: Azra Aksamija: ‘La Diversidad Puede Ser El Cimiento de Grandes Naciones

Abler: Azra Aksamija’s Nomadic Mosque

Azra Akšamija. Credit Dietmar Offenhuber.
Azra Akšamija. Credit Dietmar Offenhuber.