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Designing inclusive architecture: 4 lessons from the German refugee crisis

How to build a 21st-century “arrival city”

Within the past year, Germany has become home to more than 1.1 million refugees and migrants, presenting a series of issues being addressed by both policy makers and architects. The country’s architectural response to this influx of new residents is the subject of its pavilion and a new publication for the 2016 Venice Biennale.

Taking its cues from Doug Saunders’ 2011 book Arrival City, Germany’s Making Heimat: Germany, Arrival Country argues for the benefits of well-integrated, urban immigrant communities. But just how to achieve this optimal city-within-a-city is still being tested on the ground.

Below are a handful of key elements to the country’s approach.

Make temporary housing actually temporary

In Berlin, asylum-seekers are first housed in emergency shelters before being moved to smaller hostels with access to doctors, language classes, and social workers. From there, new arrivals look for permanent housing, but with the influx of refugees, the city’s housing market is struggling to keep up. The country is calling on architects to create low-cost, high-density buildings that fit within the existing urban fabric and can be built quickly to ensure that temporary shelters don’t unintentionally become permanent homes. The location of new developments is also important as proximity to transit, businesses, and job opportunities can make or break an "arrival city."

Provide freedom within structure

In his book, Saunders writes that arrival cities can benefit from a loosening of restrictions that might otherwise inhibit organic growth of businesses and buildings. In both a social and architectural sense, Germany is exploring ways to build freedom and self-determination into the refugee experience rather than resorting to more constrained Corbusier-style urban planning. In Berlin, architects are designing structures inspired by the work of Alejandro Aravena that enable residents to customize and finish building out their own homes at a low cost. Dozens of other architects across the country have created novel housing solutions ranging from modular concrete homes to short-term housing built from stacked shipping containers.

Integrate communities from both sides

To fully benefit from the presence of an arrival city, its physical and social borders must be porous enough to form ties within the existing community. Yes, that means acclimating new community members to the cultural mores and rules of their adopted city, but it also means introducing longtime residents to the culture of their new neighbors. The Atlantic spoke with Syrian activist Anas Aboura about his work organizing Arabic events in Hamburg—everything from conferences and movie nights to karaoke and urban gardening. "One of the main aims is that I want to show to Germans that our culture is so rich, and people like it so much," Aboura said. "Integration works both ways."

Experiment with both top-down and bottom-up planning

In Berlin, the urban flow of refugees is a top-down progression taking them from shelter to hostel to permanent housing. In Hamburg, however, the city is working with longtime residents to identify potential development sites for the 20,000 new units the city estimates it will need. Community workshops run by Hamburg’s HafenCity University (HfC) and MIT’s City Science Lab have already found 30 such sites.

It’s still too early to tell if Germany’s tactics for housing and helping the country’s 1.1 million new residents will all be successful. But drawing lessons from a rich history of the world’s other "arrival cities" is a promising way to begin.

Source: The Atlantic