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Achilleas Souras’s project illustrates the ‘awkward’ stage between when an immigrant arrives and when they finally immerse themselves into everyday life in their new country.Joao Gaudenzi

What were you doing at 15? Achilleas Souras was embarking on a project he calls Save Our Souls, which involved the recycling of life jackets discarded by refugees as portable architectural structures that offer a solution to human-rights violations, even if only in the form of shelter.

His installation, which has travelled the world, is currently showing at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Now 17 years old, the Athens-based, London-born Souras spoke to The Globe and Mail in advance of his talk at Toronto's EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology.

For your Save Our Souls installation, you use life jackets abandoned by refugees on the beaches island of Lesbos, Greece. Can you talk about that decision?

Using the life jackets was the best option. It was a good way to approach the refugee crisis with a memorable object. Also, because the refugee crisis is very controversial, I wanted the project to address it in the most objective way possible. For me, the best way was to address the human life transport of the people. I wanted to focus on two things. That there are people in the Mediterranean who are seeking refuge, and the fact that they did find it. They made it to the beaches, and they left their jackets behind, which creates an environmental problem, too.

The refashioning of life jackets as shelter, does that have something to do with the refugees needing a place to live, once they arrive?

That's a problem. But, no. My project aims at the stage between arriving and finally immersing into everyday life. It's the awkward in-between stage.

What do the life jackets represent exactly?

It's using everything the refugees have at their disposal to make a structure. It's very practical. It's igloo shaped, and like a normal igloo the people use what they have around them, which is ice. What do refugees have around them? They have the life jackets. It's a global issue. The structure represents that.

What about the use of life jackets, just on a practical or design level?

The shelters are modular. Every one can be deconstructed and reconstructed again, because I used Velcro to make the pieces. The shelters can travel around the world, in a rather portable manner. It's easy to build. It's a practical structure.

You began this at the age of 15. These seem like darker times now from when I was your age. As a young man, with your life ahead of you, are you optimistic?

I'm generally an optimistic person. My sense is that solutions will be arrived at. This project is a positive proposition, through an artistic lens. I'm not using something sinister. I'm not using something gruesome or evil. I'm taking something that's used in the refugee crisis and alluding toward a solution.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Achilleas Souras speaks in Toronto on Sept. 30, 3 p.m., at EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology (Sept. 28 to Oct. 8). Various passes available ($10 to $85). East Harbour (formerly Unilever soap factory), 21 Don Roadway, 647-643-5066 or

Hundreds of people rallied on Parliament Hill on Sunday, calling on Justin Trudeau to do more to end the atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. About 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh as refugees.

The Canadian Press