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Competition: Refugee housing for post-Isis Mosul, Iraq

Iraqi architectural awards initiative Tamayouz has launched an open international ideas contest to design housing for refugees returning to Mosul following its anticipated liberation from Isis (Deadline: 1 September)

The competition seeks ‘practical and inspiring’ residential prototypes for the city of 1.4 million, which has suffered a significant housing shortage for decades.

The historic northern Iraqi city was captured by Isis in the summer of 2014, and is currently being liberated by the Iraqi military. It is expected to face an even greater housing crisis after hostilities cease.

Mosul, Iraq

Mosul, Iraq

Contest site

According to the competition brief: ‘The question of how to support those who wish to return to their homeland will become extremely pressing. Limited resources in terms of finance and land mean that carefully considered material and spatial responses are needed.

‘Participants are asked to propose a solution for Mosul’s upcoming housing crisis, which will affect the city as more neighbourhoods will be freed and internally displaced persons and refugees will start to return.’

Located around 400 kilometres north of Baghdad, Mosul occupies the west bank of the River Tigris opposite the ancient Assyrian City of Nineveh. Dating back to 6000 BC, Nineveh was thought to be the largest city in the world when it was abandoned in 612 BC.

Mosul, Iraq

Mosul, Iraq

Contest site

Despite significant growth following the discovery of oil in the late 1920s, Mosul has suffered a chronic housing shortage in recent decades, with only one large new residential complex built since the 1980s when a mere three were completed.

The partially completed Al-Hadbaa project was confiscated by Isis and has now been abandoned as ruins. Large informal settlements also ring the city.

Around 500,000 people fled the city following the insurgents’ invasion, and up to 75 per cent of Mosul’s government and civic infrastructure has now been destroyed.

A small number of refugees have now returned following the liberation campaign, which started in October. A detailed report drawn up by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme exploring Mosul’s housing and other infrastructure is available on the competition website.

The competition is open to architects, students, engineers and designers. Multidisciplinary teams of up to four members are encouraged. Proposals should increase housing capacity, be flexible and easy to replicate, and may occupy any site in the city or be of any scale.

The overall winner will receive the inaugural Rifat Chadirji Prize worth $5,000 along with flights and accommodation to attend the annual Tamayouz awards ceremony. There will also be a second and third prize of $1,000 each, a sustainability prize of $500 and seven honourable mentions.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 1 September and submissions must be completed by 4 September.

Contact details

The Apex
2 Sheriffs Orchard
United Kingdom


Visit the competition website for more information

SURI case study: Q&A with Suricatta Systems

The Alicante-based studio discusses lessons learned designing a modular housing system for refugee camps and disaster relief

How does your modular SURI system respond to requirements such as refugee housing and disaster response around the world?

SURI (Shelter Units for Rapid Installation) has been designed as an accommodation solution for emergency situations (natural disasters, conflictive areas, migrant crisis). Together with the development of the product, new uses and therefore new markets have arisen, so the system is providing comfortable habitat for individuals and families. It is easy to transport and assemble, lightweight, foldable, self-sufficient, sustainable and resolves problems arising in these situations such as temporary or transitional, seasonal, workers or low-cost accommodation.

Following the recommendations given to us by NGOs like UNHCR and Medicins Sans Frontiers, as well as our own lessons learned while working in refugee camps set up after catastrophes, our shelters resolve the typical problems inherent with temporary emergency housing, such as insulation, hygiene and logistics.

SURI modular housing system

SURI modular housing system

SURI modular housing system

The provision of shelter is one of the main concerns of agencies dealing with refugees. The existing temporary structures that are used as emergency shelters – tents – do not meet the multiple cultural, environmental and programmatic needs that occur after a natural disaster, a war conflict or situation of crisis.

Tents do not provide minimum life conditions to refugees, forcing them to live under infrahuman conditions. The main problems of tents used as long-term shelters are: low thermal, acoustic and humidity insulation; low resistance to adverse climate conditions, fire or attacks; maintenance tasks needed; and unsuitability to be equipped with electricity or water facilities.

Unfortunately, most of the refugee camps that are planned to be temporary become long-term camps. The current solution for camps that become permanent is the substitution of tents with shipping or site containers which have been adapted. Those solutions are expensive, difficult to transport and install and require extra equipment to reach minimum quality of life conditions. They also require specialised personnel and terrain preparation; and have low habitability conditions (breathability and insulation).

An emergency shelter should provide security and a decent level of quality of life from the first moment. SURI is committed to achieving maximum comfort from several approaches, meeting the criteria, from the first moment to long term, of adequate housing recognised as fundamental human rights by the UN: safety; availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; affordability; habitability; accessibility; location and cultural adequacy.

Which architectural, material and other methods did you harness?

The system is quite simple and it is composed of one basic unit: SURI, conceived to accommodate one person, according to the specifications of “The Sphere Project” which includes the universal minimum standards in humanitarian aid. The units can be joined in two directions: sidewise or lengthwise in order to form larger structures and shelters depending on the number of people and their needs.

Each SURI unit consists of two structural frames connected by an origami-like folding piece enclosure that supports the ground structure and cover. These units can be folded down to 15 cm thanks to the origami concept, helping their transport and storage, and once deployed fold out to 130cm. The structure is light, foldable and easy to mount (only two hours by two people).

A technical ring surrounds the interior space, providing the SURI Shelter with optimal habitability conditions (configurable depending on location and climate). Finally, a refillable outside wall can be filled with materials found on site, which gives security, stability and strength, increasing at the same time the thermal and acoustic insulation. The Structural Design Department at the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the University of Alicante has collaborated in the conception, design and calculation. Each SURI Shelter is composed by four SURI units plus two SURI facades that enclose a 12.60m² space. This is the equivalent of a family tent or a metal container used in humanitarian aid.

The system improves issues such as insulation, logistics, assembly, and above all, it provides a more dignified temporary housing while improving habitability conditions. 

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing housing for refugees returning to Mosul?

Solutions should meet the UN criteria of adequate housing, recognised as a fundamental human right: safety; availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; affordability; habitability; accessibility; location and cultural adequacy.

They should also last for a period of at least five years. SURI solves the housing in an integral and replicable way. The structure allows you to customize the interior and exterior, achieving versatile, cultural and individual identity.

What the agencies and organisations are looking for is a whole-systems approach of lightweight construction that aims to address these multiple goals in a holistic way.