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German Architecture Students Design Wooden Community Shelter for Refugees in Mannheim

Architecture students from the University of Kaiserslautern, in Germany, have built a wooden community center with a latticed screen for a refugee camp, located on the former US Army’s Spinelli Barracks in Mannheim. The three students Sandra Gressung, Sascha Ritschel, and Tobias Vogel designed the community center, while 18 students took part in the building process, which continued for 3 months, in collaboration with 25 refugees. “Due to bureaucratic procedures, refugees arriving in Germany are condemned to sustain a long period of passiveness. They are well provided with the bare essentials but the immediate area is quite desolate and lacking quality common spaces,” said the students.

Photography: Yannick Wegner

The team working on the project did not only provide the refugees with shelter but also with sufficient building skills. “The residents at the preliminary reception center had the opportunity to actively shape their environment and create a quality place for common or individual use,” said the students. They added, “The refugees improved their knowledge of the German language, experienced conditions and working standards in Germany and acquired new skills which will be useful even if they can’t stay in Germany on a permanent basis.”

Photography: Yannick Wegner

The community center is designed in the form of a series of courtyards and sheltered spaces directed towards the road and the open fields on the west. The main walls of the shelters are built from cross-laminated timber, clad in Douglas fir lumber. The latticed screens give structural supports and let in the light with a playful pleasant effect. “Structural elements, wall and ceiling surfaces, flooring and furnishings are made of untreated timber; its intimate warmth, aesthetics, and haptics act as an invitation,” said the students. “The ornamental structure with its varied play of light is recognized by the refugees as a reminder of oriental ornaments, and as an inviting gesture of identification in a foreign place.”

Photography: Yannick Wegner

The community center provides refugees with a space for outdoor activities. It has built-in seats inside the niches facing the south, which are protected from the rain by a 2-meter-wide canopy and the partitions between niches. Additionally, the common room has a raised platform, with latticed screen hanging from above, which can be used as a performance stage, viewable from the built-in seats lining the opposite and adjacent solid walls.

Photography: Yannick Wegner

The structure could be accomplished in such a short time due to the use of pre-fabricated parts, which were manufactured in an abandoned hangar that belonged to the military facility which occupied the site previously.

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