In the dark and cold days around Christmas we tend to think a little more about the homeless, whose plight generally remains invisible. Malka Architecture in Paris recently designed a way to draw attention to the problem. Their vertical campsite is an eye-catcher that provokes discussion.

Hooked onto scaffolding against a blind wall under railroad tracks in Marseille are 23 so-called Stealth Shelters: vertical tents in camouflage print that offer protection to the outcasts of society. To add to the military connotation, the campsite is provokingly named A-Kamp47, referring to drug-related violence in the city.

The contrast with the location couldn’t be bigger, as the campsite is built facing la Friche la Belle de Mai. This cultural breeding ground on the site of an old tobacco plant houses around 500 artists, exhibition spaces, theatre halls, cinemas and other cultural venues.

Malka’s vertical campsite on such a well-visited spot offers more protection against the cold, theft and police raids than individual tents on remote sites hidden from the inhabited world would do.

‘Stealth Shelters respond to the immediate constraints of precarious social and intellectual systems,’ the designers claim. ‘The proximity of the situation allows for a collective response that can be heard. The blind walls now have eyes, and they are watching us.’

Inside the pods, a kind of hammock made of elastic textile offers the dweller a comfortable place to rest. Thermal blankets keep out the cold and there is some storage room. Whether the tents are much in use by homeless people may be questioned. When Stéphane Malka visited the camp some time after the opening, he found the tents were mostly in use by young travellers.

However, the design of the structure, depicted in crafty photography, has drawn the attention of the press to the much-neglected situation of the homeless. Last week the story even reached the United States and featured on CNN. A good example of what design can do, we say.

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