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Competition: Refugee settlement marketplace

An open international contest has been launched to design a $100,000 marketplace structure for refugee camps in Africa, the Middle East and Europe (Deadline: 1 February)

Organised by International Development in Action, the two-stage competition seeks proposals for a functional and semi-permanent marketplace structure for refugee communities in Kakuma, Kenya; Zaatari, Jordan; and in the German capital of Berlin.

Three finalist teams will develop their designs through collaboration with experts from the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) alongside other NGOs and professionals, as well as drawing on demographic research.



Source: Image by US Department of State

Zaatri Refugee Camp

International Development in Action’s brief says: ‘We challenge the innovative minds around the globe to design a marketplace with an operational plan for a vulnerable population in one of the refugee settlements in Kenya, Jordan and Germany.

‘As more policy makers, social workers and architects engage in the discourse surrounding refugee livelihoods, we are proposing a competition to formulate an interdisciplinary architecture and public administration proposal for a marketplace in refugee settlements.’

The Kakuma Refugee Camp in north-west Kenya was set up 24 years ago and is now home to around 160,000 people in self-built buildings erected from mud bricks, timber and metal sheets. The Zaatari camp, close to Jordan’s border with Syria, opened four years ago and is home to around 80,000 people in temporary tents and caravans. Both sites have limited trading and enterprise facilities for vulnerable people, according to the contest organiser.

The third contest site, Berlin, is the final destination for many of the 1.1 million refugees who have arrived in Germany in recent years. Existing marketplaces in the city have the potential to bring refugee communities together, according to the contest brief, but barriers to participation – such as the citizenship status of newly arrived refugees – must be overcome.



Source: Image by UKDFID

Dadaab Refugee Camp

Currently many people in transitional settlements rely on humanitarian aid and, the competition organisers’ argue, may therefore lack opportunities to participate in marketplaces and develop new skillsets. The project aims to promote ’autonomy, creativity, dignity and resilience’ by engaging female, adolescent and vulnerable refugees in trading activities.

Proposals for each location should meet a cost and operation budget of $100,000 and be able to run for up to five years. The competition language is English and submissions must include two ARCH D-sized presentation boards featuring drawings and with three pages of textual description.

The competition jury features more than 30 members – including architects, United Nations representatives and directors, academics and NGO leaders.

Three finalist teams will be invited to participate in a 24-hour workshop in New York City where they will present their final schemes to policy-makers, architects, academics, NGOs, and philanthropists. Each team will receive a cash prize of $3,000 and a further $4,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs.

An overall winning team, selected by the audience during a symposium, will receive an additional $3,000 prize. A further six honourable mention prizes worth $1,000 each will also be handed out.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is at 23:00 on 1 February.


Regular registration from 4 December to 31 December: $50
Late registration from 1 January to 1 February: $70

Contact details


View the competition website for more information

The Calais Builds case study: Q&A with Grainne Hassett

The founder of Hassett Ducatez Architects discusses lessons learned creating a series of community structures for the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, France

What role has the architecture industry played in delivering appropriate accommodation and social spaces for refugee settlements so far?

After over a year of intense involvement in the Calais refugee camp, building and seeing systems built, and those same systems subsequently destroyed, many aspects of a wide array of fields have been thrown into question. At Calais the interplay of legal, economic and political processes gave rise to a great lacuna in human rights.

Calais, France

Calais, France

Working with FabLab components in the Calais camp

Architecture is part of this set of processes, and no less complicit in the abuse. It seems that the motivations of the architecture industry and the processes it interacts with hinder its potential for social good.

Simply put, the architecture industry fails to provide humane accommodation and social spaces for the thousands of stateless people waiting in refugee settlements all over Europe. People are living under tarpaulins on farms in Turkey, in squats in Athens and Brussels, in tents in ditches in Northern France and on Paris streets. They are evicted routinely by police, with no alternative provided.

There has been no response from international architectural institutions, and virtually none from constructors, civil engineers, structural and mechanical engineers. The grassroots volunteer response has not been staffed by professionals who could build, or set up local energy or community water systems.

What was your experience of creating accommodation and social spaces for the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, France?

At Calais we built a number of public community buildings. They were insulated and became important hubs. The first three used an adaptation of Shigeru Ban’s cardboard tube systems joined with plywood connectors made in our Limerick School of Architecture FabLab (SAUL). But cardboard tube structures do not work under human factors (condensation, climbing, loading, break-ins) or in storm damage. Neither do over-precise Fablab components, which feel non-robust and dilletantish. When these failed, we switched to using a SIPS sustainable insulated panel system, also with shortcomings. Our build crews were refugee, English or Irish, many inexperienced.

What skill sets will an architect need to deploy?

First is an enormous capacity to adapt. Build times are limited. If they do not happen when planned they may never happen as these environments are very unstable. Conditions of a build can be halted by police violence. We were often tear gassed as we built, though never as much as refugees were. Acting arbitrarily, police prevented materials and tools being brought into camp, completely jeopardising a build in an environment where the crew is on a limited borrowed timeframe. We frequently saw a change of site at the last minute. Your building may need to be turned 180 degrees, and your plan for public space reconfigured. We usually experienced loss of materials to damage or theft. We often had to redesign a whole structural system because of unavailability of material. We had to rethink construction and jettison parts due to plant, or transport breakdowns.

Calais, France

Calais, France

Therapy and Community Centre under construction

The architect needs to be literate in the whole supply chain of building supply from transport, to (in particular) plant, electricity, the time/labour equation and labour skill-sets type, capacity, burning out, tool availability and the possibility of skilled operators of tools. Design need to reflect this. They need to be possible to construct.

The architect needs to have leadership in a very uncertain context. Usually the architect has no mandate, insufficient skills and is relying on goodwill to lead a team and procure a building.

She needs to have vision under fire. In a situation where the architect must protect or reformulate important values, we must go beyond providing basic shelter, for example making public space, public buildings, considering solar gain, providing ventilation, avoiding condensation, avoiding fire and crime hazards, providing insulation and building robustly. There are few responders who understand these issues.

The architect has to have an ability to negotiate and lead and persuade on these issues in a fluid power structure. The architect is presumed to have an excellent construction knowledge and sound structural knowledge. However, mechanics and mechanical engineering knowledge need to be developed in order to be effective in and around the provision of needed services – showers, hot water, solar panels, WiFi, water pressure and gas.

And of course beauty. This is important. In Calais people made art, theatre, enterprises and religious settings at the same time as they made their shelters. The architect needs a capacity to develop a (new) aesthetic and architectural detail that is appropriate.

In all of this, it is presumed that the architect has sound budgeting skills and is able to fundraise or access fundraisers in a competitive and unregulated environment. The architect needs to understand shipping and trucking costs and local materials supply. There will not be a 3D printer in the camp. Nor would it solve much if there were.

The architect will be most likely unsupported by local building code knowledge, by structural engineers or by her professional indemnity insurance policy. How then, to act? What are the ethics of the situation? It is in this area of ethical response some facts are worth airing.

Calais, France

Calais, France

Baloos Youth Centre under construction

How would you like to see architects and the architecture industry adapt to meet these challenges? Do you have concerns about contests held at a distance calling for a single idea or solution?

Let us remember that this is the context of the greatest migration of people in Western Europe since the Second World War. Everywhere in the media we hear reports of the inadequacy of shelter. Despite these simple two facts the range, reach and effectiveness of architects in this situation is not good enough.

This is exacerbated by two further factors. The first is a belief in the single solution, the single master-idea. We saw this propaganda abound in the First World War too, with Nissen for instance. Nowadays, it is fuelled by news industries – the daily social media digest publications (Designboom/Dezeen/Archdaily) industry and various digital fabrication industries. The second was a strong Biennale industry and academic industry in migration themed art and architectural projects, not intended for deployment. All of the new ‘solutions’ I encountered in 2015/16 proposed by architects and product designers, and architectural competitions for refugee housing were poorly conceived. I exclude from this some excellent proposals by thoughtful and humble groups like Mass Architecture, for instance, and there are others.

Calais, France

Calais, France

Baloos Youth Centre

So this competition is puzzling, and so is the idea that there will be prizes, prize-money and awards ceremonies in New York. This adherence to the single master-idea, an idea that there is a perfect solution makes no sense. The celebrations of architects in salons in New York and the spending of prize money seems grossly at odds with the reality humanity faces.

People living as refugees are dwelling in very varied conditions in Europe, Yemen, Lebanon and Kenya to name but four geographical situations. Varying from Northern European to desert climates, and from farmland in Turkey to squats in Belgium the range, climates, histories and cultures are immense. The idea that a single architectural solution might fit is plain wrong.

In the different situations there are vastly varied relationships between the habitats that refugees find themselves in and the host environment. The presumption that the underlying systems of procurement, agency and authority still apply to deliver shelter is not borne out on the ground.

On a positive note, after a year of such lessons, I looked afresh at Jean Prouvé’s prefabricated house prototypes. Setting aside the inadequacy of their non-insulation, which was of its time, I was amused that they provided many of the solutions to problems I see in the field today: small sized components, nothing more than a ladder needed, cover strips to joints, smart windows, largish span, clever structure and so on.