"Refugee Camp Design" ARCH7277


In 1961, in opposition to the "war games" and cold war logic, the architect Buckminster Fuller proposed the "World Peace Game" and famously instructed players to “Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offence or the disadvantage of anyone.” (1)

In 2020 we have "At least 79.5 million people around the world (that) have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18." (2)

It is anticipated that by 2030 "climate change will transform more than 143 million people into “climate migrants” escaping crop failure, water scarcity, and sea-level rise, a new World Bank report concludes."(3)


Today, the world is not working for 100% of humanity. The existence of refugees should not be considered a "crisis" in the contemporary English meaning of "times of difficulty, insecurity, and suspense" but in its ancient Greek root meaning of "krísis" deriving itself from 'krínein', meaning 'to decide'. In our lifetimes, the number of refugees is going to grow exponentially. What will refugees decide?

Many refugees live in precarious conditions, cobbling together whatever they can find to survive. Some refugee camps that are supposed to be temporary, grow to become permanent unplanned cities. What will architects and designers decide and design?

Our field of study is the world’s largest refugee camp: Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh (4). It is estimated that about 1 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, was forced to flee genocide in Myanmar since 2017. In their new home in Bangladesh, they are not allowed to build permanent structures and have very limited access to essential amenities, yet there is no solution in sight for them to be relocated.

The traditional approach to humanitarian aid relies on flying in foreign supplies and experts which create dependencies causing a second crisis when the humanitarian resources run out. This approach also creates inequalities and tension between the refugees and host population who are often living in similar conditions.

Innovative approaches to humanitarian aid rely on maximizing the use of local resources, native knowledge as well as grassroots innovation to create ecological, social, and technological networks that can sustain themselves over the long term.

In Cox’s Bazar, the Rohingya face a complex number of challenges: access to drinking water, food, fragile shelter on land-slide prone terrain, sanitation, hygiene, and essential health and education services. Not to mention trauma from violence, ostracism, COVID19 and other tropical contagious diseases in extreme high density settings. Based on existing need studies, students will work on:

  1. Gardening,
  2. Composting,
  3. Sustainable Toilets,
  4. Aquaponics,
  5. Rainwater harvesting (and synergy with land sliding in refugee camps),
  6. Cartography.

A specific design or technology is not viable on its own; a sustainable solution needs to have maintenance instruments and clear educational instructions on how to implement and maintain the solution.

Working in small groups, students will produce 3 outputs: A. device prototype, B. instruments, C. educational material. It is not about solving refugees’ challenges, but bringing a new perspective and proposing ideas, design, and educational materials to try in the field and improve the current situation.

The course is being developed with actual refugees (in Hong Kong), refugee subject matter experts, local and international NGOs, Universities, social enterprises, and startups partners - many of which will engage in live dialog with the students. The final designs will be proposed to refugees, industry experts, and students will be supported to apply for grants to test the designs in Cox's Bazar during summer 2021 with our partners.

(2) "Figures at a Glance", UNHCR, June 18, 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/asia/figures-at-a-glance.html 

(3) "143 Million People May Soon Become Climate Migrants" Laura Parker, National Geographic, March 19, 2018 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/climate-migrants-report-world-bank-spd/ 

(4) "Cox’s Bazar: The world’s largest refugee settlement" Kristine Kolstad, Norwegian Refugee Council, Aug 24, 2018, https://www.nrc.no/news/2018/august/coxs-bazar-the-worlds-largest-refugee-settlement/ 



Thanks to Guest Speakers and Judges

Mouhsine Serrar, Daniel Rudolph, Mohammad Tauheed, Georg Hoehne, Nurul, Mike Zuckerman, Moury Rahman, Saiba Sahira, Bangladesh Rohingya Student Union, Gisa Zippert, Johann Annuar, Jessica Olney, Sam Bloch, Chris Tighe, Georg Hoehne, Tonee Ndungu, Eric Hersman, Eric Schuldenfrei, Kristof Crolla, Chris Webster, Eric James, Kuldeep Aryal.

Student's Projects