Cover of the Competition

‘Shifting Horizons’: Architecture Design Competition for refugee housing — Competition hosted by (2021)

Fig: 1 — Refugee camps inside the urban limits — Misfit that’s far from being solved — An impression

The global refugee crisis

Every 2 seconds, one person in the world is put in a situation, where they would have to find refuge outside their country due to conflicts or fear of persecution. These numbers have only been increasing over the years, ever since the 1960s, when the refugee crisis started in South Africa.

Most of the refugees from countries in the Asian continent try to take refuge in Europe and if they did not already have a ‘housing crisis, they would not have to bear the additional load that comes with ‘refugee housing crises’.

UNHCR is responsible for handling the global refugee crisis and sets up camps in places where needed. But even with 89% of their staff employed on the field, the situation is out of hand.

With more than half of the refugee population under 18 and with no support, UN peacekeepers help manage camps that are set up temporarily on vacant grounds, airports, and other public spaces. But these camps are temporary and most of these people are in search of a permanent solution for provisions and even nationalization.

Fig: 2 — A considerable amount of citizens in urban areas who acknowledge rights of refugees in our countries — An impression

The need to create better refugee shelters

Housing for refugees is mostly in camps, set up by the UN, but refugees who seek citizenship have very few options to do so. The few that exist, come with challenges of their own. To accommodate refugees within city limits, commercial or free spaces are to be converted to residential plots. This increases the density in the area, putting a strain on the land, resources, and infrastructure of the region. It ultimately creates tension between refugees and residents.

Since the influx of these refugees is estimated to increase throughout the years, there will be a soon need for permanent housing that will require answering real questions of migrant issues.

This displaced population who are losing years away from their homes, at the same time completely detached ties from their origin may impair their connection with any economy in the future. With some degree of efficient housing, this vulnerable population can be brought back into the economy while giving them the required dignity to live on.

How do we negotiate urban environments to accommodate the placeless?

Fig: 3 — A protest sign trying to fight for an inclusive future — An impression

Brief of the competition

What if we could use compact and affordable housing technologies to house refugees inflowing into the city to give them a transient shelter until the chaos is stabilized? What if we could make use of sustainable technologies that can help us achieve efficient habitats that can be economically and socially sustainable in the long run?

Brief: The challenge of the competition is to create a community of tiny homes that can be inhabited by refugees from different regions around the world.

.A point to be kept in mind is that these spaces will be occupied by people with diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, so the design must generate a neutral living space. Although architecture and design cannot nullify the prejudices that refugees will face as they go through their everyday life, the community they live in must be a safe and secure haven for them, to live in with comfort.

Isolation, post-trauma depression, home-sickness are just some of the issues that refugees struggle with as they make the move from their homeland to a new place. Social interaction and communal gatherings can help alleviate this feeling of loneliness and foster unity among these people.

Competition objectives

  • Self-sufficient — The community and its tiny home unit must be independent of city infrastructure to the maximum extent, with amenities requiring labor.
  • Layout — The access and layout must be planned carefully to enable easy navigation. A balance between private and communal spaces must be achieved.
  • Community — Spaces for social activities must be provided to foster a sense of community and outdoor experiences.
  • Sustainable — The design must not negatively impact the surrounding site. Local materials and resources must be used to ensure well-being.
  • Harmony — The design must take the conditions of the site into design consideration and this housing must be in harmony with other local developments.


Fig: 4 — Site image

Utrecht is a city, centrally located in the Netherlands and has an ancient core. It is supporting a population of more than 3.5 million on a land area of 90 square kilometers (approx.). The inflow of refugees in this part of Europe is one among the highest and they currently house about 400,000 from the central, southern and eastern parts of Europe itself. The city has always been associated with a religious and exclusive background, hence the diversity of the population here is faced by discrimination and polarization.

The site is around 2.5 kilometers outside the city of Utrecht. It is surrounded by industrial companies and offices that can aid in the employment of these refugees. The total area of the site is 32000 square meters and it will be developed in 4 housing modules of 8000 square meters each.

Site area — Phase 1 (8000sqm.)

The design challenge looks at building 100 x G+1 compact housing units which are easily replicable and manufactured off-site. One unit should house two families (2Adults+2Children) in two different levels.

The total built-up area of one dwelling inclusive of upper, lower, toilets and ancillary elements like balconies/staircases should not exceed more than 1500sqft. Shafts and terraces do not count under this regulation.

This particular module should be replicated around the Phase 1 site based on your planning. You can change or develop combinations of this single module to invent different uses. The remaining area for expansion does not require to be designed in detail but represented conceptually how the remaining site will be used in the future.

Height restrictions — 7m
Coordinates — Maps

Area Programme

The housing should have basic facilities such as a living, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and other spaces that can be added creatively within limits.

Find all the competition brief, terms, and other registration guidelines on this page: Shifting Horizons | Housing Competition on UNI |About

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