In 2015, nearly 60,000 refugees arrived in the Netherlands needing a place to live.
The Netherlands is a small country, just more than half the size of West Virginia, so housing all of them was going to be a challenge. As the worldwide refugee crisis continues, innovative solutions are needed so that the people fleeing civil war and sectarian violence have a safe place to live.
In this case, the solution involved, in part, opening up an old abandoned prison as temporary public housing. It was a less-than-ideal situation to say the least.
The country was determined to do better.
In January 2016, the Netherlands launched a design competition called “A Home Away From Home” in which entrants were tasked with designing temporary housing for refugees and disaster victims.
All of the winning designs rethought the idea of public housing, adding amenities and innovations to make the buildings more like fully functioning homes than simply a bed to sleep on.
The winners of the contest recently appeared on display in Amsterdam as part of Dutch Design Week and included things like solar power, water purification systems, and ingenious use of space and material.
This Farmyard shelter is designed to transform vacant farmland into mini villages.
The cube design of the Farmland means dozens can be stacked, placed together, and moved easily. The architects of this design imagined the miniature villages establishing a “DIY economy” with local towns.
Another designer created these styrofoam towers as perfect low-waste housing for refugees being processed at reception sites.
They’re insulated, waterproof, fire resistant, and very cost-efficient. They have all the amenities of an apartment — beds, a sink, a toilet, a shower, and a kitchen table — and can easily be rigged up with electricity.
Comfort City is one designer’s solution for cities that don’t have enough space to house a large number of refugees.
Every part of the Comfort City design is modular and adaptable, meaning it can be easily constructed in empty industrial buildings — or even abandoned prisons — while providing the homey comfort that abandoned prisons tend to lack.
Then there were designs like this modern Solar Cabin that can actually generate revenue and electricity.
Its solar paneled roof actually generates more energy than is needed to power the home, so the occupants can sell electricity back to the local grid to make a profit.
And finally, this sleek cube design actually comes with a built-in water purifier.
The cubes are Finch Evolutionary Wooden Buildings and are portable, easy to construct, and run on solar-powered batteries. They also have a vacuum toilet system that recycles water on site, making the whole thing self-sufficient.
We’re going to need more and more of this type of housing and way of thinking about the refugee crisis.
Home is a concept many of us take for granted, but it’s not a small thing. It makes us feel safe, comfortable, and human.
The current refugee crisis hasn’t showed signs of slowing down, and with climate change creating more and more dangerous weather systems, we’re likely to see climate refugee numbers grow sharply. All of those people are going to need places to live. Innovative solutions like these help them to not only live, but live with dignity and opportunity.