Community House Refugee Camp Spinelli, Mannheim
Upon their arrival in Germany, refugees are finding themselves in a long and frustrating period of inactivity while waiting for bureaucratic procedures. Challenging this problem, the refugees were involved in the construction of a community centre. The project is about creating a pleasant place within the sadness of the refugee camp and activating the potential of the inhabitants at the same time.
It was designed and planned by a group of 18 students of the Faculty of Architecture of Technische Universität Kaiserslautern from April to August 2016 under supervision of the departments of Timber Construction (Prof. Stefan Krötsch), Structural Engineering (Prof. Jürgen Graf) and Digital Tools (Prof. Andreas Kretzer) and constructed by the students and a group of 24 refugees from August to October 2016. The project was funded by the state of Baden-Württemberg (Regierungspräsidium Karlsruhe), the city of Mannheim and private donators.
The design combines two very different spatial qualities – aacording to the very different needs of the camp inhabitants: enclosure and quietness in an introverted room with an intimate and enclosed garden is contrasted by a communal space and an open courtyard for gatherings, celebrations and events.
Weather-protected alcoves along the exterior walls facing south and east allow comfortable use of the exterior spaces all year long.
During the construction phase the students lived in the refugee camp – eating, sleeping and working under the same condition as the refugees. This way the refugees felt accepted and a strong team spirit inspired the construction team.
The refugees had the chance to not only learn new technical skills, but also learn about habits and conditions in Germany and to improve their language.
The students were able to play a positive role in one of the mayor social challenges Germany is facing at present.
Main parts of the structure combine simplicity in construction as well as a strong ornamental expression: Two big trusses and three wall elements are made from simple battens 3/5 cm. Combined to a multi-layer grid, they form capable and efficient structural elements spanning up to 15 meters. The various light and shading effects thru the grid of battens characterize the architectural expression of the building and allow the refugees to identify well-known with ornaments that resemble oriental patterns. While the structure is made of very simple and cheap material, it is very labor-intensive and thus makes use of the many helping hands available.
Except for the foundations and roofing, the building is completely made of local timber – the most sustainable building material available in Germany. In order to reduce costs and for ecological reasons, the amount of concrete needed for the foundations is reduced to a possible minimum, all wall elements work as trusses supported only by punctual foundations. The exterior wall elements together with the roofs even work as 3-dimensional structures.
While timber from fir trees is only used for covered parts of the construction, all weather-exposed claddings are made from very durable douglas fir timber and are easily replacable without questioning the structure.
All parts of the timber structure have been prefabricated in an empty warehouse nearby assembled in a very short time on site to prevent the timber from moisture. The elements used are mostly labor-intensive and are fitted to the possibilities of the many unskilled workers available. Therefore it might eventually not possible to transfer the design-strategy to else construction sites employing highly paid German workers, but it very well meets the possibilities and needs of the projects with the goal of employing as much refugees as possible and teach them essential skills even if they will not be allowed to stay in Europe.
Client and Users were involved in the design process from the very beginning. Utilization and room schedule were elaborated together with the refugees to meet their specific needs.
The architectural design addresses unfamiliarities of the refugee with their new environment by implementing very ornamental structures that are recognized by the refugees as a gesture of welcome.