Build together. Learn together. That’s the mantra of an architectural course at the University of Kaiserslautern in Mannheim, Germany, where 18 students worked alongside 25 refugees to create a warm, light-filled structure to serve as a temporary home for displaced people.
The Community Centre Spinelli Barracks Mannheim is a 500-square-meter [5,400-square-foot] building that was crafted from the minds of aspiring young architects over the course of a summer semester. This participatory building project allowed students to see the project come to life through their own handiwork. Through initial design, execution drawing, structural planning, visualizations and cost planning, the students gained firsthand experience of the architectural process.
The refugees themselves also had an unprecedented opportunity to gain different skills and invest in their new home. According to the university, the refugees actively shaped their environment and “improved their knowledge of the German language, experienced conditions and working stands in Germany and acquired new skills, which will be useful even if they can’t stay in Germany on a permanent basis.”
The city administration of Mannheim supported the project and allowed it to come to fruition on the site of the former American military barracks. Though set in a dull urban landscape, the new center — thanks to its striking grid construction and varied play of light — welcomes future users to easily identify with the building and take advantage of its communal potential.
The walls of the main building stretch northward to the exterior, revealing two courtyards. An introverted garden space with covered niches serves as an area of retreat and reflection. Seating areas facing south and west complement a larger yard for events that opens up toward the main road of the camp.
The common room faces the yard and can be used as a stage or auditorium. Covered rooms and enclosed yards are situated facing westward to the open fields that surround the camp. Structural elements, wall and ceiling surfaces, flooring and furnishings are made of untreated, warm timber.
The groundwork and roofing were done by a local contractor, but the students and refugees — who lived together at the barracks until October — worked on the majority of the construction. The project, which was officially handed over to the refugees at the end of November, is a testament to experiential learning and the power architecture holds as an invitation to a better life.
Images via the University of Kaiserslautern