Arup Community Engagement


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Arup Community Engagement

Project overview


The European Union and individual countries have been struggling to find answers to the refugee immigration, that in 2015 has seen a number of nearly 60 million global forced displaced people for the first time since the World War II.

Bold and innovative ideas are needed for impacting solutions that can provide a long-term help.

In this project, Arup has partnered with the Design platform What Design Can Do (WDCD, the Netherlands) to help in the acceleration phase of a global design challenge aimed at improving the lives of refugees in urban areas.

One of the five winning projects, AGRIshelter, has been launched as a sustainable housing solution for the shortage of refugee shelters that considers social, urban, environmental and economic factors. It is built of biodegradable, local materials, which are durable, provide good insulation and are readily available in and around every city. The whole 35-m2 unit can be erected in day by people with minimum skills and it is also easy to disassemble. The shelter can be built on vacant urban sites to prevent the formation of ghettoes on the edges of cities.

Arup has actively contributed to develop this concept further and bring it nearer to realisation. In November 2016 volunteers from Ireland, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands have teamed up to develop the concept design and prove multidisciplinary technical advice.

After some design optioneering a full scale prototype was built in Milan in February 2017 with the help of three members of the team, creating also an opportunity to work jointly with a community of political refugees.

‘The professional expertise of Arup was extremely useful to help social entrepreneurs reach their goals’

Arnoud van Dommele (managing director WDCD)

Arup has partnered with the Design platform What Design Can Do (WDCD) in a global design challenge aimed at improving the lives of refugees in urban areas.

The Amsterdam-based organization and its partners, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IKEA Foundation, joined forces to encourage designers, creative thinkers and imaginative troubleshooters from all corners of the world to come up with positive and impactful  ideas to the humanitarian crisis. 

A team of enthusiastic Arupian volunteers has made its technical skills available to the 5 winners of the WDCD Refugee Challenge, and the AGRIshelter was one of them. With the prize money , the design platform WDCD helped develop the concept of the “emergency shelter” to a long-term and sustainable housing solution. By means of this  concept, the built environment would become a suitable place for the cultural integration of the communities, where social bonds can be enhanced.

The Refugee Challenge finalist and creator of the AGRIshelter, Narges Mofarahian, had on her side the Arup engineers to help making the concept technically feasible during the accelerator phase. The integrated team role was to contribute  to improve the design of the detached housing unit of the refugee garden suburb. More than 200 hours of dedicated analysis, calculations, and sketches have been provided by the Arup engineers.

But there is more to the contribution of this project than offering technical advises. Localand bio-degradable materials like the straw are not broadly used in the construction industry and  research was done to better understand how those can be implemented.

In the last step of the whole process all the people involved have added a human value to the project offering their practical contribution: professors and students of the Politecnico di Milano, Arup members and straw-bales experts have worked side-by-side with political refugees to realize the first real scale mock-up of the AGRIshelter. This was useful in two ways, first to gain practical experience from building your own design and to connect with refugees who also helped building the prototype.

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