The first orphanage ever built goes back to the 17th century when babies were abandoned and thousands of children were left to fend for themselves in extreme poverty. Orphanages became a sanctuary for these children where values were instilled in them, they were cared for, offered love and protection, and a place to be called as their home. However, the conditions of the space by today’s standards were not ideal.

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Barnado Orphanage, Victorian Institution_©

The communal living space was mostly overcrowded with lots of children all in one room with beds stacked after one another with metal railings. They had one dining space where all children would gather to eat, and generally, there was a lack of outdoor spaces.

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Barnado Orphanage, Communal sleeping area_©

Children are the future of any society, and they need a safe environment to grow up and be able to contribute. Architects for years now have been taking a different approach to designing orphanages, putting orphans’ feelings of loneliness, fear, and confusion at the forefront to provide them safety and give them a sense of family that could enhance their physical and psychological development.

Urko Sanjez Architects design of orphanage

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SOS Children Village Courtyard_©

Urko Sanjez Architects partnered with SOS children’s village in Djibouti, an international organization that identifies children in need of assistance or orphans and gathers groups of children, with each one having a mother to look after them and ‘aunties’ that will assist the mothers. It is usually run at the top by one director usually labelled as the ‘father of the community’.

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SOS Children Village, “Medina” Floor Plan_©

Looking at the traditional architecture of the region, a pattern of the “Medina” was realized, and Urko Sanchez decided to use that as the concept for this orphanage. They conceived it as a project to be integrational, reflect the identity of SOS children, and generate a sense of community. A perimeter wall with small perforated openings was created to provide a secure space for children inside. The medina for children was created to consist of fifteen units, with squares around trees providing open spaces, well-ventilated pathways, and a secured playground.

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SOS Children Village, Children in Courtyard_©

On the ground floor, each unit consists of three bedrooms for the children with two shared bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and dining area, which are open between the inside and outside, reflecting on traditions of being under the stars and creating a sense of fluidity. The first floor houses the aunties’ and the director’s rooms. This orphanage was also created to incorporate vegetation, not just in the landscape but also around the house to give the children the opportunity to take care of it, grow with it, and eventually benefit from it.

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SOS Children Village, Tree in square_©
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SOS Children Village, Indoor and Outdoor Open Space_©
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SOS Children Village, Kitchen area links to oudoor_©

This project has a few architectural elements that are designed to stand out, for example, the absence of doors in the openings, the latticework mashrabiya, which offers ventilation and allows the mother to keep an eye on the children while they are out playing freely, and the ventilation towers that were designed at critical points of the project to capture cool air and transfer it to the lower levels.

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SOS Children Village, different heights and towers of ventilation_©
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SOS Children Village, Outdoor Wall Perforated Perimiter_©
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SOS Children Village, Alleyways_©

What makes this orphanage interesting, aside from its soft homogeneous finishes, is it is designed contextually and purely for bettering the children’s feelings and development.

ZAV Architects, Orphanage for Girls

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Habitat for Orphan Girls in Iran_©

ZAV Architects designed an orphanage in Iran taking the form of a residential centre specifically for orphaned girls between the ages of seven to seventeen. The site is part of the city’s historic fabric. The project being specifically for children revived the area. The orphanage’s design aim follows that of a home, creating private rooms and social spaces to provide a sanctuary for the girls to be able to live freely, study, play, and, most importantly, feel secure.

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Orphanage within the Old Fabric_©2018 AR House Awards
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Privacy between interior and exterior_©2018 AR House Awards

Although the typology of this structure was created with an introverted typology with the use of two wings going inwards in a curved overhang, due to the location and surroundings, it holds a unique character through the coverable balconies with yellow curtains that allow the girls that are wearing hijabs to have an inside-outside space relationship while adhering to their strict religious context. 

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Coverable Balconies_©

“They can express themselves through the changing festivities of mourning and celebration or the changing seasons by changing the ‘Hijab’ of their balconies, just like they are used to wearing and changing their Hijab and Chador in accord with the town’s cultural timeline, reminding aesthetics of censorship”, says ZAV Architects.

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Curved Overhang_©
Courtyard underneath Curved Overhang_©

This orphanage breaks the conventional rules of social norms, what is defined as a dormitory, and offers the children a sense of quality living and belonging.


When children become orphans, they tend to be left with a void they have to live with for the rest of their lives feeling lost, sad and confused. Orphanages were created to take them in, provide them with a space they can be cared for, and feel safe. The role architecture has to play in rethinking the way they are designed is very crucial; It goes beyond just feeling safe and cared for. A good design will allow children to grow into their very best selves psychologically, mentally, and physically, and eventually grow up to be ready to conquer the world. Children, after all, are at the core of making the future a better place.

  1. Doppelt, V. (n.d.). Barnardo’s Orphanages – A Victorian Institution. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2022].
  2. ‌ (n.d.). Urko Sanchez: SOS Children’s Village in Djibouti | Floornature. [online] Available at:
  3. (n.d.). Urko Sanchez: SOS Children’s Village in Djibouti | Floornature. [online] Available at:
  4. ARQA. (2020). Habitat for Orphan Girls. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2022].
  5. Anon, (2018). ZAV Architects designs orphanage with covered balconies for girls in Iran. [online] Available at:
  6. ‌ArchShowcase. (2018). Habitat for Orphan Girls, in Khvansar, Iran by ZAV ARCHITECTS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2022].

An architectural masters graduate with a passion for design and writing. She holds a strong attitude to overcome obstacles combined with an optimistic character used to bring value to whatever project she is working on. She is organized, motivated, self-confident and success oriented.