Wars, violence, persecution, and natural disasters have compelled millions of people to depart their homes in search of safety and sanctuary abroad. In 2017, some of the highest levels of displacement of immigrants were recorded, with 30.6 million new displacements registered across 143 countries. Migration is transforming cities architecturally and culturally. This change exposes practices that can foster racial attitudes, discrimination, and integration within the host city. Inequality is built into the environment of cities, meant to isolate and exclude. Municipalities frequently constructed ghettos at the urban scale to maintain socioeconomic and racial isolation. By-laws and rules intended to keep things in order impede variety and progress. 

In terms of aesthetics, the built environment rarely depicts various cultures or provides adequate areas to meet the demands of varied people. Displacement of immigrants will be one of the most difficult challenges of the twenty-first century; as hostilities escalate, so will the need to assist the expanding populations. Climate change has been and will continue to be a cause of migration, but it is also becoming the most severe societal problem faced by mankind. 

Welcoming New Perspective

Architects can help to create cultural landscapes that promote variety. Despite the shifting multicultural mix, modern city architecture remains unrivalled. This feature highlights the necessity for cities to have a welcoming, inclusive designs. Architects and designers are faced with the dilemma of creating for various individuals more than ever. Designers now consider inclusive design via the perspective of accessibility and women in design. What if, rather than promoting spatial uniformity and cultural assimilation, designers begin with the notion that cultural variety in architecture is essential to humanity?

The fluid nature of refugee populations and immigrants makes long-term infrastructure investment difficult. The following collection contains structures that were explicitly not planned for migrant and refugee response; but rather focused on architecture that is sensitive to broader catastrophe assistance and provides essential insight into the solutions available. It is critical to analyse that a beautiful design will not fix the problem. However, well-executed small-scale actions can help cushion a piece of the larger jigsaw.

Better Shelter by IKEA Foundation, Worldwide

Migrants and Architecture: Landscapes for immigrants - Sheet2
Better Shelter by IKEA Foundation, Worldwide_©https://bettershelter.org/

Johan Karlsson, Dennis Kanter, Christian Gustafsson, John van Leer, Tim de Haas, Nicol Barlera, UNHCR, and the IKEA Foundation collaborated on the Better Shelter initiative in 2013. Since then, about 65 million shelters have been distributed globally. The buildings are made of a steel frame wrapped with insulated lightweight polymer panels and can be put together in less than 4 hours. Due to its modular property, additional elements, such as a solar-powered wall, can be integrated into the design. Each shelter is intended to last three years.

Moving Schools 001 by Building Trust International, Mae Sot, Thailand

Migrants and Architecture: Landscapes for immigrants - Sheet3
Moving Schools 001, Mae Sot, Thailand_©Courtesy of Building Trust International

While on vacation in Thailand, David and Louise Cole visited Mae Sot, a tiny industrial town on the Thai-Burmese border. They observed the misery of children of displaced, stateless Burmese refugees who were moved every several years owing to a lack of land rights while there. They devised the concept of a school building that could be dismantled and transferred to the community. Building Trust International created and continues to promote a programme by London-based architect Levitt Bernstein with the backing of the YMCA and Habitat for Humanity. This will result in superfluous storage rooms being converted into entirely usable dwelling spaces, providing a true solution to the shortage of excellent inexpensive single occupancy housing in metropolitan locations.

Hex House; A rapidly deployable, dignified home by Architects For Society, Amman, Jordan

Migrants and Architecture: Landscapes for immigrants - Sheet4
Hex House, Amman, Jordan_©https://hex-house.com/

Architects for Society, located in Minnesota, has created a prototype for a fast deployable housing that might accommodate victims of natural disasters. The 431-square-foot (40-square-metre) Hex House is mainly composed of steel-and-foam Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), which can be flat-packed and delivered by truck to a construction site. The design is designed to be expandable, and each residence will be occupied for 15 to 20 years. Each unit is expected to cost between $15,000 and $20,000 (£10,600 and £14,000). The shelters may be paired with outside gardens, courtyards, driveways, and pedestrian routes in various configurations.

Soe Ker Tie House by TYIN Tegnestue Architects, Thailand

Migrants and Architecture: Landscapes for immigrants - Sheet5
Soe Ker Tie House,Thailand_©https://www.architectural-review.com

TYIN Tegnestue is a non-profit organisation that works to help people through architecture. TYIN visited Noh Bo, a tiny town on the Thai-Burmese border, in the fall of 2008. The bulk of residents is Karen refugees, many of whom are children. The project’s major motivation was to reproduce what these children would have experienced in a more typical context. The orphanage would eventually accommodate over 50 children, up from 24. In February 2009, the Soe Ker Tie project was completed.

Nepal Project by Shigeru Ban Architects, Nepal

Nepal Project_©VAN, courtesy of Shigeru Ban Architects

Shigeru Ban has shown his plans for modular housing buildings to house individuals displaced by Nepal’s two deadly earthquakes. Ban’s design, known as the Nepal Project, intends to construct new dwellings for some of the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were damaged by the earthquake, using rubble from massive mounds of earthquake debris. 

Individual mobility on an extensive and local scale, as well as all of the related obstacles, are critical to architecture and urbanism, as well as significant generators of specific urban landscapes in which many factors play a vital role in defining the city. As international migration becomes more prevalent in cities, cities become hubs of opportunity, education, social growth, and welfare.

Online sources

  1. Patrick Lynch. “IKEA’s Better Shelter Wins Design of the Year 2016” 27 Jan 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed 11 Dec 2022. <https://www.archdaily.com/804247/ikeas-better-shelter-wins-design-of-the-year-2016> ISSN 0719-8884
  2. Weblog, I.A., Community, A.A.&amp; D. and Publication, D.I.O. (no date) Finance and Commerce, Hex House. Available at: https://hex-house.com/ (Accessed: December 11, 2022). 
  3. “Shigeru Ban’s Nepalese Emergency Shelters to be Built from Rubble” 29 Jul 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed 11 Dec 2022. <https://www.archdaily.com/771059/shigeru-bans-nepalese-emergency-shelters-to-be-built-from-rubble> ISSN 0719-8884


  1. https://bettershelter.org/. Better Shelter by IKEA Foundation, Worldwide. [Photography]
  2. Courtesy of Building Trust International. Moving Schools 001, Mae Sot, Thailand. [Photography]
  3. https://hex-house.com/. Hex House, Amman, Jordan. [Photography]
  4. https://www.architectural-review.com. Soe Ker Tie House,Thailand. [Photography]
  5. VAN, courtesy of Shigeru Ban Architects. Nepal Project. [Photography]

Vanishya Vasanth is an architectural graduate and an enthusiastic writer. She writes to remember, gaining knowlege with every word. You will find her sketching and doodling her thoughts dreaming of a self-sufficient and sustainable world ahead.