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This 2015 AIANY Honor award-winning project is a collaboration between Ennead Lab, Stanford University and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, exploring the process of planning, building and operating refugee settlements, with the goal to nurture mutually beneficial relationships among refugees and host communities alike, all with an eye towards durable solutions and rational exit strategies.


Ennead Architects / Ennead Lab Partners


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In 2011, the UN estimated there were more than 42 million displaced persons across the globe, including 10.5 million refugees, many of whom live in camps. Every year fewer refugees are able to return to their place of origin. Today, with the average refugee spending seventeen years in asylum, what was intended to be a temporary setting—the camp—has become a long-term fixture. Because the number of migrants sheltered in camps is growing and the character of protracted refugee communities is becoming increasingly urban, architects and planners are needed to look critically at the process of planning and designing camps.

In light of the increasing permanence of camps, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) faces a larger challenge. While temporary encampments solve a local problem, how can the agency improve its ability to serve, house, protect and integrate refugees? Can the agency rethink the design and implementation of refugee camps to create more stable communities that improve the health and security of refugees while benefiting the host population as well?

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In collaboration with Stanford University and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the project mission is to help UNHCR meet its commitment to “enable refugees to access and live in dignity in secure settlements that improve their social, economic and environmental quality of life as a community.” 

Due to daunting political and security conditions and the shortage of available land, not all refugee settlements meet established guidelines. This project was undertaken in response to UNHCR’s need to change its process of planning, building and operating refugee settlements; the goal is to nurture mutually beneficial relationships among refugees and host communities alike, all with an eye towards durable solutions and rational exit strategies. 

The Toolkit is a systematic framework for integrating information, design, technical tools and the expertise of multiple disciplines and stakeholders to better plan settlements. This framework operates at three physical scales: macro, mezzo and micro, and three stages of camp evolution: contingency, durable and exit phases. The Toolkit will enable UNHCR to plan and design refugee settlements in a more holistic manner by improving the selection process for potential camp sites and by defining the means to link refugee and host communities for their mutual benefit.  

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This system will also allow UNHCR planners to evaluate local ecological conditions and design camps that maintain a sustainable relationship between refugees and the land. Information gathered will be fed back into the process so that future efforts draw upon past experience.  Initial testing of the toolkit has yielded superior results within a limited time frame and with no added capital costs.

The Toolkit will benefit refugees by improving their health, safety, nutrition and access to education and economic opportunity. It will benefit host communities by leveraging the economy and aid that camps can offer. Underlying the Toolkit’s methodology is the belief that regardless of their labels – camp, settlement, etc. – refugee communities should offer their citizens and neighbors the quality of life possible in more normative urban and semi-urban society.

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Rethinking Refugee Communities: Field Mission Trip - Jordan

Field Mission Trip Jordan

Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery recently returned from a field mission trip for the Ennead Lab Rethinking Refugee Camps project. The goal of the mission was to observe and investigate the contrasting stories of two relatively new settlements in Jordan for refugees fleeing from Syria.

Al Za’atari first began taking in refugees two years ago and now has over 140,000 recorded refugees, and most likely many more unregistered persons. Over its lifespan the refugees have modified (and in some cases privatized) most everything that was given to them, from shelter structure, to rigging illegal electricity, to water distribution, to sustaining a vibrant informal market. While responding to the negative consequences of informal unplanned changes, UNHCR has simultaneously been developing a second camp, Azraq, to take in overflow from Al Za’atari as well as to accommodate many more refugees predicted to come from Syria. At Azraq, there was significantly more time to plan and build the infrastructure before refugees came. The camp was planned with close attention to the existing site and strived to provide a more culturally sensitive shelter layout. Although some of the site planners’ desired outcomes were not implemented due to the requirements of the host Jordanian government and the settlement donors, many of the more innovative ideas were executed on site. Azraq currently has about 8,000 refugees who have only been there for 6 weeks. Even within this short time, we already saw a number of shelter and space manipulations. However, at Azraq, the manipulations were anticipated in the planning and therefore did not conflict with it. One example is the Azraq shelter layout that anticipates the construction of compound walls to define an interior courtyard space belonging to extended families occupying multiple shelters.

There is no clear timeframe for the repatriation of these refugees. Until they are able to return home or move on to other places it is inevitable that these refugee settlements will transform more and more into cities. As Ennead Lab team continues to develop and refine tools to assist UNHCR planners, the comparison of these two camp developments will be extremely valuable in learning and calibrating the role of site planning in these rapidly self-growing ‘cities’.

Rethinking Refugee communities at Humanitarian Innovation Conference, Oxford University

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Last week Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery, along with Monica Noro (UNHCR) and Aparna Surendra (Stanford FSI) participated in the Humanitarian Innovation Conference at Oxford University. Moderated by Mariano-Florentino Cuellar (Director of Stanford FSI), Don and Eliza presented the current status of Ennead Lab’s Rethinking Refugee Communities project along with ideas for its future development.

Click here for full conference program and documentation.

Rethinking Refugee Communities is Awarded 2015 AIA Honor Award

EnneadLab’s Rethinking Refugee’s Communities has been awarded an HONOR AWARD in the 2015 ‘Projects’ Category. Read more about AIANY 2015 Award Winners here.


Rethinking Refugee Communities Team Leads Workshop at Stanford

Workshop Stanford

On April 11th, Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery took part in the 2015 SAID Conference on Forced Migration at Stanford University. As part of the ongoing EnneadLab-UNHCR Rethinking Refugee Communities project, they led an interactive workshop where participants invented and drew their own ideas of connective infrastructure and new settlement planning strategies. The results were unique and thoughtful and spurred a vibrant discussion about alternative ideas following the exercise. The next step is to expand this workshop to apply to a more complex real life scenario while still preserving the potential to input unconventional settlement ideas. The goal is to help modify the planning process in order to foster more self sustaining and dignified opportunities for both displaced refugees as well as the host communities.

Ennead Lab's "Re-Thinking Refugee Communities" Featured in Interior Design

Ennead Lab’s “Re-thinking Refugee Communities” project, led by Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery, was featured in the May 2015 issue of Interior Design magazine:

“When political upheaval or a natural disaster strikes, expediency can often trump good design for the long-term.  And a jaw-dropping 17 years, the United Nations estimates, is the average time that the 11 million refugees worldwide spend in asylum.  Their “temporary” camps, hastily constructed on a standardized military grid, turn into permanent fixtures while lacking connection to place, among other crucial elements.  Which is why Ennead Architects partner Don Weinreich, collaborating with professors and students from Stanford University, led a pro bono team in the development off a proposal for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.  Rethinking Refugee Communities harnesses CAD and 3-D modeling to map a given location’s physical and social dynamics, which can then be translated into a tool kit for building communities that better serve refugees as well as the surrounding population.  The hope is that a symbiotic relationship will improve health, security, and economic opportunity for all.” – Matthew Powell

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Cities for Tomorrow

Don Weinreich, partner at Ennead Architects and the leader of Ennead Lab’s “Re-thinking Refugee Communities” project, will be speaking at the New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow conference, July 20-21, 2015.  For more information, please visit the conference website.

Ennead Lab in Amsterdam

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Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery gave a lecture last night at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam featuring their current work with the United Nations and Stanford University.  They joined City of Amsterdam Urban Planner Hans van der Made to discuss insights, challenges, and methodologies for the design and implementation of refugee settlements around the world.

UN-Habitat Conference: Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants; Critical Challenges

Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery participated in a panel at a conference at the New York UN Headquarters organized jointly by UNHABITAT, Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, AIA  and United Cities and Local Government. 

Don And Eliza 2016 Architizer Awards

Rethinking Refugee Communities awarded Architizer A+ Jury Honor Award

Ennead Lab’s Rethinking Refugee Communities project was awarded the Jury Honor Award as part of Architizer’s 2016 A+ awards.

Rethinking Refugee Communities Course at Pratt Institute

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Don Weireich and Eliza Montgomery taught a five week course at Pratt Institute in the Urban Placemaking & Management program called “Planning for Refugee Settlements”. The course gave an introduction to the complexities of planning refugee communities and questions how historical practices can be changed to provide more beneficial opportunities for both refugees themselves and partner communities. Students were charged with rethinking the planning process for these “instant cities”, making it adaptable for an undefined duration of existence. Through a 3 week long role playing charrette, students were asked to solve the refugee influx scenario given to them. They were encouraged to brainstorm and experiment with alternate solutions to what has been done in the past that will create more social, economic, and environmental opportunities for both the refugees as well as the existing partner communities.

Habitat III Panel

Don Weinreich was a speaker for the panel “Migration and Refugees: Critical Challenges For Sustainable Urbanization” at the Habitat III 2016 Conference in Quito, Ecuador.

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AIA-NY Panel

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Don Weinreich presented the Rethinking Refugee Communities’ work at AIA New York Center for Architecture’s panel ‘Global Migration, Refugees, and a Role for Design’. Learn more here.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter

Ennead Lab’s project Rethinking Refugee Communities is exhibit as part of MoMa’s exhibit ‘Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter’. The team’s case study design for the Mugombwa refugee camp in Rwanda was featured as part of a collection of approaches from architects and designers around the world. An article by Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery was also published on the exhibit’s blog at the link here.

“NYC exhibit brings focus to temporary homes and their design”

Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery are interviewed in the Associated Press article covering MoMA’s ‘Insecurities’ exhibit. Learn more here.

“Whats Next: Rethinking the Refugee Camp”

Ennead Lab’s Rethinking Refugee Communities is featured in Architect Magazine. Read full article here.

UNHCR Featured in Metropolis

Ennead Lab’s work with UNHCR and Stanford was recently featured in Metropolis. Read full story here: Metropolis Mag

UNHCR Featured in the New York Times

Ennead Lab’s work with the UNHCR and Stanford University was recently featured in a piece in The New York Times. Read the full story here

Ennead Lab Presents to United Nations

Ennead / Ennead Lab's Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery present on large movements of refugees and migrants critical challenges to United Nations. 

AIA Global Dialogues – Displacements_People

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Eliza Montgomery presented Ennead Lab’s Rethinking Refugee Communities work and participated in a panel discussion along with Alex Aleinikoff, Former Deputy High Commissioner, Sean Anderson, Associate Curator MoMA, Alfredo Brillembourg, Urban-Think Tank, and Robert Pletrusko, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Architecture Harvard GSD, moderated by Farzana Gandhi.

Learn more here.

AIA Baltimore – Conflict-Driven Migration

Don Weinreich and Eliza Montgomery presented Ennead Lab’s Rethinking Refugee Communities work. They were joined by Jaap Graber, and architect and planner from The Netherlands who has worked and taught extensively on refugee planning. He has recently been working with the Jordanian government and UNHCR on new planning solutions for Za’atari Refugee Camp.

Learn more here.

Rethinking Refugee Communities | What’s in Your Toolkit?

Ennead Lab hosted an all day workshop focused on evaluating and rethinking the tools and processes used to design solutions for refugee migration. Through an accurate assessment of a host community’s and refugee population’s resources and deficits, integrative partnerships can be created to benefit both cohorts. While all attendees were experts in the issues and processes of planning for refugee migration, the goal of the workshop was to bring experts together and brainstorm how new tools may be invented to capitalize more on each fields’ resources in emergency situations. Throughout the day we exchanged information among disciplines and explained to one-another the fundamental tools each uses (or wishes for, if they do not yet exist) in addressing refugee and forced migration situations, or ones similar to these. The underlying mission was to establish tools that will help planners find opportunistic relationships so that both the refugees and the partner communities benefit from the resettlement strategy, through space, resources, infrastructure, culture and economy.

Participants included:
Don Weinreich, Eliza Montgomery, Dalia Hamati, Margarita Calero, Christen Johansen and Jacob Reidel from Ennead Lab
Brett Moore – UNHCR Chief of Shelter & Settlement Section
Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman – Urban Antropologist from Think Urban
Jaap Gräber – Architect and Urban Planner who currently participates in Local Governance Resilience Programme for the Middle East and North Africa
Lisa Blake –Urban Planner from  NYC Department of City Planning
Andrew Lim – Economist from New American Economy