arch-peace editorials

21 August 2016

Designing the Temporary

Continuing on the topic of home; Tahj Rosmarin discusses his proposal for the creation of a new typology of temporary asylum seeker housing in the Netherlands.

The phases and processes of constructing a village using scaffolding houses. ©TahjRosmarin
Earlier this year, in late February, I was lucky enough to be shortlisted in a Dutch design competition that called for the design of new housing solutions for asylum seekers in the Netherlands. The competition, organised by the COA (abbreviation for the ‘Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers’) in collaboration with Government Architect Floris Alkemade, attempted to provide creative alternatives to current typologies for temporary housing. The competition was set up with the intention of developing a prototype that could be implemented across current refugee centres in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the Netherlands had an unprecedented number of incoming refugees, which placed huge pressure on its existing asylum seeker reception infrastructure. According to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, 58,000 asylum seekers entered the Netherlands in 2015, with most of the population originating from Syria (a total of 27,000 people). As such, the competition appealed to designers- asking them to offer new possibilities in the way that asylum seekers could be housed.

My initial entry into the competition involved a material that is typically seen as an industrial building system: scaffolding. The proposal saw the huge potential that the system had in providing a flexible structural system for temporary and modular housing. Scaffolding is a system that is able to be assembled extremely quickly, be dis-assembled, be self-built and be incrementally added upon. From the very start of the process, it was my clear intention that the system of scaffolding could be used in a way that encouraged user-participation in all stages of the process. Refugees themselves would be able to build their own houses- with the possibility to appropriate and incrementally extend upon the dwelling as needed after the initial construction phase.

The design consisted of three simple elements: scaffolding, facade and roof panels and a ‘Smart Module’. These standardised and modular elements combined to create a house that was flexible, lightweight and easily assembled. The first element involved using a standardised scaffolding system (Layher’s AllRound SteigerSysteem®) to create 3 x 3 metre scaffolding modules. These ‘modules’ were designed in a way that encouraged incremental growth; they could be attached and dis-assembled extremely easily. An outer, transparent skin protected the whole house from the heavy Dutch rain, while still ensuring that the structural simplicity of the scaffolding was not hidden. The interior cladding of the house was left up to the user: offering a range of materials varying from cardboard to timber to polycarbonate. The final component of the design was a ‘Smart Module’- consisting of a pre-fabricated bathroom and kitchen unit. This unit acted as the spatial and functional ‘core’ of the house (a reference to B.V Doshi’s ‘Core Plus’ concept)- containing all the necessary electrical, sewerage and hydraulic components needed. The house itself aimed to be completely self-sufficient: generating electricity from the solar panels on its roof, collecting rainwater, and providing opportunity for urban agriculture. Prefabricated bathroom units were equipped with water saving toilets and showers, minimising the usage of water and electricity. Self-sufficiency ensured that the environmental footprint of the house was extremely minimal: it did not produce a lot of waste or consume excessive energy.

The biggest challenge when designing for a temporary use, was ensuring that once assembled, the houses could create a positive urban environment. In order to solve the complexities of bridging a formal urban structure with a participatory project, the system of a ’Tartan Grid’ was used. This ‘Tartan Grid’ was used as an urban tool to cater for the varying needs and demands of the incoming participants. Within an 11.5 metre grid, refugees were able to freely decide upon the placement of their own dwelling. Within this boundary, an offset of 2 metres ensured that the streetscape was always protected. The flexibility of the ‘Tartan Grid’ allows for each urban layout to be specific to its site and surroundings, but more importantly to the needs of each particular household. After testing the variety of design responses, it was discovered, that this ‘Tartan Grid’ almost simulated the spatial qualities of informal urban settlements, while still using a formal architectural language. It became clear that the spaces between the buildings became the most spatially vibrant- a phenomenon which is often the case in informal settlements.

The temporary nature of the project allowed for it be envisaged on a variety of sites within the city. The houses could be used to extend the capacity of existing refugee facilities. They could also be placed within open agricultural land, but also upon vacant urban blocks. Urban and semi-urban locations, where direct contact between newcomers and established immigrants and locals, were ideal sites as they provided many opportunities for social integration. The flexible tectonic nature of the system also meant that the houses could be used within existing abandoned buildings, such as factories or office towers. Besides housing, the potential of the scaffolding system also suggested potential in the creation of public or community buildings. These buildings could be built by the community and for the community- a social exercise in citizen collaboration.

In true Dutch fashion, the project was dissected and analysed by a range of professionals (including engineers and scaffolding fabricators), all to ensure that it was build-able and practically applicable. The whole experience was truly immersive, and as a soon to be graduate architect, I am grateful for the opportunity it allowed for me to further develop my own architectural thought processes. The project highlighted the complex design issues that arise when one tries to incorporate elements of informal architecture within a formal design framework. Despite this, it has allowed me to see the potential of an alternative model of architecture- one that combines the potential of the formal in exhibiting order and creating the boundaries of space, with the social conscious and humility of the informal in allowing the individual to play an equal role in the creation of his/her built environment. The challenge of merging these two approaches begins with the de-stigmatisation of informality as negative, whilst simultaneously re-thinking the regulatory control that formal systems enforce.

Project team
Tahj Rosmarin- Exchange student TU Delft, University of Melbourne
Bas Gremmen and Jos Lafeber - TU Delft
Doron Rosmarin - Parvenu Architectural
Ad van Meer - Layher Scaffolding
Mischa Andjelic - IMd Ingenieurs
Niek Brand - myCUBY


Left: Construction axonometric. Right: Floor plan of singular unit. ©TahjRosmarin

Tahj Rosmarin is a graduate of the Bachelor of Architectural Design from the University of Queensland and a current student of the Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, recently completing an exchange semester at TU Delft in the Netherlands. Since graduating in 2012, Tahj has gained experience working on a varied collection of design proposals; ranging from small- scale residential projects, to large scale urban design work. Through his many architectural and travel experiences abroad, Tahj has become keenly involved in the idea of a bottom up and participatory based architecture. He has recently been shortlisted in a nationwide Dutch competition, A Home Away from Home, run by the Chief Government Architect, and was named a Special Mention in an international design competition, Shelter Global Dencity. To find out more about Tahj visit:


Tulio Mateo said...

I really like two features of this project: its portability and the ample internal space.

Two questions:
1. For the 2-story unit, in your vision, can beneficiaries in the 2nd floor move without affecting the 1st floor dwellers?
2. What kind of building regulation applies to this sort transitional structures?

Unknown said...

nice post

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