The UNHCR estimates that there are ten million refugees of concern worldwide, although many organizations estimate much higher numbers. Eventually, about one percent of these refugees will be resettled in a third country, while the majority return to their home country or settle in the country of first asylum. The United States accepts about half of resettled refugees worldwide, and has resettled 1.8 million refugees since 1980. Unfortunately, many of these refugees fail to become a part of their new home. For example, many teenage Cambodian men on the west coast become members of gangs and are deported because of armed crimes. Another common issue occurs when middle aged women from communal cultures become lethargic and never leave their homes because of fear and an inability to speak English.
The refugee resettlement program in the United States must encourage both the formation of refugee communities and integration within the larger community. In order to address the lack of structure in the resettlement process, I propose a resettlement center for refugees which will provide assistance to these new residents of the United States throughout the first year and as long as needed afterwards. The project will emphasize the necessity of both bonding social networks and bridging social networks. (Korac) Bonding social networks occur between individuals of a similar status; in this case, bonding networks refer to ties between refugees. Bridging social networks occur between individuals of differing status; in this case, bridging networks refer to the ties between refugees and members of the larger community. Both types of social ties are essential for refugees to become a part of their new home. The building will be run by Lutheran Social Services who currently assists in the resettlement of refugees in the Springfield, Massachusetts area, with assistance in funding from the Wilson-Fish Discretionary Grant Program which provides financial support for alternative models of resettlement.
In order to encourage the formation of bonding social networks, the building includes temporary refugee housing [20 units from one to four bedrooms] and communal spaces [community room and kitchen, cultivation areas, small religious space]. In order to build bridging social networks with the outside community, the program includes a small school for language and vocational training, Lutheran Social Services offices, retail spaces, a rentable event hall, and an exterior event space/market.
CASE STUDY: BURMESE REFUGEES
The resettlement center will be designed to house refugees from southeast Asia. While only a single nationality will be hosted at the center at any given point in time, should political circumstances change, the center could be easily adapted to another group from the same region of the world. This follows the assumption that people from a similar climate will have relatively similar styles of living even though social and cultural norms may vary widely.
Refugees from the nation of Burma will serve as the case study group. Burmese refugees are currently being resettled in the Springfield, Massachusetts area and given the severity of the conflict in Burma, it is likely that this will continue for many years. A study of the political history and culture of Burma has guided my programmatic priorities and architectural themes. I have also read several autobiographies of refugees from Burma; these stories have given me insight into not only this nation’s refugees, but the struggles and emotional conflicts of refugees from many nations. The political conflict in Burma has been occurring for twenty to sixty years, depending on the viewpoint. There is government sanctioned ethnic persecution, including a 1982 citizenship law that denies citizenship to particular ethnic groups, who are now stateless. There are an incredible number of Burmese refugees in Southeast Asia; registered and unregistered refugees are estimated to be in the millions. Thailand hosts the majority of these refugees, with 190,000 registered and as many as two million unregistered refugees. The government of Thailand treats these refugees very poorly, confining them to fenced camps with little to no supplies or services. In addition, there have been reports of the Thai military forcing refugees back across the border into Burma, which is a clear violation of the UNHCR Refugee Convention of 1951 which prohibits refoulement.
Of the 75,000 refugees resettled in the United States in 2009, 18,275 were from Burma. This a new development; before 2004, there were only 2,700 Burmese refugees in the United States. However, between 2004 and 2008, 64,000 Burmese refugees were resettled. One of the locations where these refugees are currently being resettled is Massachusetts, which accepted 358 refugees in 2009. It is clear that Burmese refugees are a priority for the US Refugee Admissions Program. However, Burmese people have less tools to acclimate to life in the United States than many other refugees. They come from a radically different lifestyle, climate, and culture. However, more importantly, because Burmese migration to the United States is a recent occurrence, Burmese refugees will arrive in the United States with no social networks to help them transition to their new lives.
PARTI & PROGRAM
Bonding Social Networks: One of the greatest shortcomings of the United States refugee resettlement program is the denial of the importance of and lack of support for refugee communities. The program stresses self sufficiency but does not recognize that no human is truly self sufficient. We are social animals and without social support we cannot function. More importantly, we need to be around people who have similar experiences, ideologies, and goals as ourselves. Thus, half of the program for the resettlement center will focus on creating bonding social networks among refugees. These social networks are essential to the resettlement process. Migrants will often learn the language and culture of a new place much more quickly when a person of similar background explains it to them. Previous migrants become cultural ambassadors with whom to discuss new experiences. The resettlement center will become a place where refugees can help each other and learn together. Bonding program elements include temporary housing, community areas, and agricultural areas.
Bridging Social Networks: Equally important to the success of refugees are the ties they will form with native people in their new neighborhood. These people will explain the culture of the United States to refugees, help them find places to shop and work, make sure they do not get taken advantage of, and provide friendship and any other assistance needed. It is essential that refugees are not isolated, but interwoven with the existing neighborhood. However, it may be difficult for many refugees to find such a person that is willing to help and mentor them. To foster these connections, I have created program elements that will bring refugees and American natives or long-time residents together to encourage the creation of bridging social networks. Bridging program elements include a small language and vocational school, retail space, event space, exterior event area for the market place, and offices for Lutheran Social Services of Springfield.
In 2009, 18,275 Burmese refugees were relocated to the United States. Massachusetts hosted 358 of these refugees. More than one hundred refugees were settled in the Springfield area with the help of Jewish Family Services of Springfield and Lutheran Social Services of West Springfield. Settling in the Springfield area has some benefits for refugees. Large cities have amenities such as public transportation, employment, hospitals, cultural centers, schools, shopping, etc, which would be very helpful in adapting to their new home. At the same time, it would be difficult for refugees to settle in a city like Springfield. Many of them are used to a rural lifestyle. Refugees may suffer as the victims of crime and air pollution and may feel uncomfortable with the density and congestion of the city.
I have chosen the town of West Springfield for the resettlement center due to the proximity to Springfield just across the Connecticut River and the suburban, neighborhood feel. Proximity to Springfield is essential for access to both jobs and public transportation. Less dense West Springfield will be an easier adjustment for refugees and will be a good place for children. West Springfield is also a diverse neighborhood with 15.6% of residents born in a foreign country and 22% speaking a language other than English at home. Because of these demographics, there will be many residents to benefit from the small school in the program.
The site is located on a great mostly open plot on the corner of busy, commercial Union Street and quiet residential Bliss Street. While multifamily residential zoning is essential for my temporary housing, it was also really important to have public visibility. This site has the best of both worlds. The site is also only a five minute walk from both bus routes that run through West Springfield and a five to ten minute walk from the central town green, schools, and shopping areas.
The site includes six parcels, numbered 107-002-003 through 008, totalling 87,200 square feet or about 2 acres. The four smaller, residential plots are unbuilt. Lots 003 and 004 are commercial, with two small buildings containing a rugby shop and a car parts store that will be removed. It was decided that these two businesses had plenty of other options for rental retail space along Union Street and the resettlement center would contribute more to the community.
Because of the mixed program, and corner location, the building organization was carefully studied. In the end, I decided the bridging program would line the street edges, cradling the bonding program in the rear. This configuration allows plentiful access and visibility to public building elements while protecting the privacy of refugee housing. Each part of the building is organized around a courtyard, which function as important gathering spaces.
yellow: housing units orange: community spaces green: language and vocational school aqua: lutheran social services offices blue: rentable areas
Garage level: The parking is located underground, entered on Bliss Street. There are 85 regular spaces and 8 handicapped spaces. There are two elevators and four stairwells to the ground level. The structure is concrete, which allows for flexibility in the placement of columns and beams. The mechanical areas and a large storage area are also located on this floor.
Ground level: The building is organized around two courtyards, one public and one private. The language and vocational school is located on the corner, to show its importance and is entered from either Bliss Street or the courtyard. Behind the school is the Event Hall, which can be entered from both the courtyard and Bliss Street as well. The four small retail spaces are located along Union Street for high visibility. The main entrance to the housing is to the left of the retail. Located between the two courtyards, the Lutheran Social Services offices act as a protective buffer between the refugee areas and public areas. The rear of the refugee courtyard is formed by a row of refugee housing. There is a service drive to the rear, behind the entrance to the parking garage.
Second level: The school and event hall extend to the second story. A raised walkway connects the school to the community room located above the retail. Behind the community room are three bars of refugee housing, all accessed by raised walkways.
Third & fourth level: On the third level is a small religious space for quiet contemplation. Located above each of the three bars of housing are accessible roof decks that house agricultural planters.
Third & fourth level: On the third level is a small religious space for quiet contemplation. Located above each of the three bars of housing are accessible roof decks that house agricultural planters.
UNION ST ELEVATION
This elevation shows the primary elevation of the entrance to the refugee housing and the retail with community room above. It also shows the secondary elevation of the school and gives a glimpse of the temporary housing in the rear.
BLISS ST ELEVATION
This elevation shows the primary elevations of the language and vocational school, the event hall, and the entrance to the parking garage.
The section cuts through the long direction of the building, showing both courtyards.
The section cuts though the public courtyard, showing its relationship to both the street and the event hall.
The section cuts through the refugee courtyard, showing its comfortable proportions that allow light to flood in.
BUILDING IN SITE
The building placed within the context of downtown West Springfield.
BONDING PROGRAM DESIGN: UNITS
The design of the units is of utmost importance. How do you design a home for someone that has been homeless for years? Someone who is being introduced to an entirely different culture for the first time? The strategy was to use social patterns from Burmese housing with modern American construction and amenities. Every effort was made to provide spaces for activities that would have been an important part of life prior to becoming a refugee. Units sizes range from one to four bedrooms to accommodate different family sizes and structures.
American Design Points:
 All units were designed to be accessible due to the large rate of disabling injuries among refugees. To accommodate these needs, bathrooms allow a wheelchair’s turning radius and have a galley kitchen located along a single wall so turning around in a wheelchair will not be an issue. In addition, there is at least one bedroom sized so that a wheelchair can move along the edge of a full sized bed and access the closet as well.
 Typical American steel construction is used in order to perform well in the northeastern climate.
 Bathrooms contain modern plumbing and kitchens contain modern appliances. It is important for refugees to learn how to use these amenities within the safe setting of the Resettlement Center.
 Standard furniture is included in the units so refugees will not need to buy anything for the units.
Burmese Design Points:
 Units are accessed via outdoor walkways, in a single loaded fashion, wrapping around a central courtyard. This mimics traditional village organization in Burma where individual houses are aligned along a central, wide street that is the main social space.
 Each unit is reached via a ramp rising one foot in height. This separates the units from the walkways for privacy reasons and mimics the raised fashion of Burmese houses.
BONDING PROGRAM DESIGN: UNITS
 The ramp leads to a partially covered, large exterior patio. In traditional houses, the main entertainment area is a large covered porch at the front of the house. Outdoor living is prevalent in tropical climates.
 Between the front patio and main living/dining space is a sliding glass wall. Traditional houses are porous in nature and there is no clear distinction between inside and out. The glass wall mimics this continuity, while allowing closure in winter and merging in summer. It also makes the efficiently sized living areas seem more spacious.
 The galley kitchen occupies a nook in the wall of the living space. In traditional houses, kitchens are unimportant and located off to the side. The gallery kitchen off the main living area provides an efficient solution.
 All units have a south-facing patio for the ability to grow vegetables and spices. This may or may not double as the front patio. Most Burmese families living in the country would have a small vegetable garden.
 Bedrooms and bathrooms are much more private and located in a bar to the side of the main living space. In traditional houses, the bedrooms would be located at the rear, however, the rotation allows for a living area with windows in two directions.
 Bedrooms are compact with space for a bed or two and an open closet. While slightly below American norms, the bedrooms are efficient and provide the necessary space for a refugee who will have few personal possessions.
 Bathrooms are split between a toilet room and a shower room. In many Asian cultures, one would not bathe and use a toilet in the same place. Once living in a typical apartment, these two functions would have to be combined, however refugees can get used to American fixtures before making that adjustment.
 Various wooden screens on doors and windows ensure the desired level of privacy and light. These screens mimic traditional wall construction which consists of woven grass matts.
 Finishes and colors are left intentionally plain to allow inhabitants to make the place their own. Burma has a rich history of textile production. I imagine these textiles and other elements from home covering the plain walls and infusing the living spaces with the colors and textures of Burma.
BONDING PROGRAM DESIGN: REFUGEE COURTYARD
The refugee courtyard is a two level space in the midst of the housing units. The ground is left as a simple lawn for children to play on, within easy sight of eighty percent of the units’ front patios. The lawn is ringed in paved walkways for access to ground floor program elements. To the northwest underneath the one bedroom units is a covered patio. This patio would be a great place for ping-pong tables or for adults to sit and watch children playing. The other three sides house the rear of the retail, the Lutheran Social Services offices, and the two bedroom units.
On the second floor, another level of walkways ring the courtyard. These, too, will be important social spaces as they pass by front patios of the units and look down upon the grass. To improve privacy, there is a void between the units and the walkways that is bridged by a short ramp. This will prevents a public space from directly abutting the units. These walkways are uncovered to improve sunlight penetration. Walkways lead to the community room at the southwest edge. The other three edges are formed by the remaining units.
The proportions of the courtyard were designed to allow sunlight throughout much of the day. Most of the building is two levels, and the only three level portion is to the north so it will not interfere with sunlight. The railings are another important design point. Railings along the walkway are made of metal sheets cut in a woven pattern. This railing will be safe for children with no chance to fall between bars. The railings along the unit are made of wooden boards and also make a solid surface for both safety and privacy. For more privacy, there are wooden screens on all windows and sliding doors that face the courtyard.
BONDING PROGRAM DESIGN: COMMUNITY ROOM
The community room is a formal gathering place for the refugees. This large room supplements individual units with a living area, dining area, and kitchen. This room fulfills any needs that the small units cannot accommodate, such as parties, group dinners, etc. The kitchen fulfills an additional use as a teaching kitchen where social workers can teach new groups of refugees to operate American appliances. The room is a simple rectangular space that overlooks the housing lobby. It is located on the shortest end of the courtyard towards the southwest. There is a patio to the south and a full wall of doors, so the room can become open air in the summer. Refugees can use this patio to look down on the activity of Union Street. This southern patio connects to the second level of the school to allow easy access for refugees. Three of the walls are glass, because this is an open, public space. The roof of the patio to the south helps block direct sunlight to keep the room from becoming too bright and overheated. The slanted roof adds interest and indicates a large gathering space. The refugee community room is a simple space, but essential to the housing and a pleasant place to be.
BONDING PROGRAM DESIGN: AGRICULTURAL ROOF TERRACE
It was decided that ground floor area should be preserved for social needs, so the agricultural areas were moved to the rooftop where they would be safe and have access to plenty of sunlight. Since the roof has to be accessible, it is clad in raised pavers. These pavers will be durable and will allow drainage to pass underneath. Covering the entire roof in soil was considered, but would be heavy and require high maintenance. It is much more efficient to have raised concrete planters. The planters would drain directly below the raised pavers, which could be lifted for maintenance of the drainage holes. The planters have a wide wall so the gardener can sit while tending the plants.
BONDING PROGRAM DESIGN: RELIGIOUS SPACE
The religious space is a simple, square room on the third floor roof deck. When entering, the user passes down a short hallway; this is to help emotionally remove the user from the commotion of the community. Then, the user turns and enters the square room. In the eastern corner is a small ledge which can be used to hold religious iconography. Towards the southwest is a wall of glass doors which leads onto a small, L-shaped patio. The roof is raised, with a glass clerestory to let in light, however, no other part of the building can be seem from the room. It is a simple, private, contemplative space.
BRIDGING PROGRAM DESIGN: LANGUAGE AND VOCATIONAL SCHOOL
The school is perhaps the most important aspect of the bridging program. Refugees starting their lives over face two major issues when entering the job market. First, most refugees do not speak proficient English, and second, their work credentials from their home country are not recognized. This school hopes to help address these two issues. It will offer classes to both refugees and the larger community in English. In addition, there will be job training available. Unfortunately, a refugee who was a professional in their home country must earn American degrees and licenses and this is not within the scope of the school. However, refugees will be able to take classes on technology, American business practices, and other vocational skills.
The school is located in the prime location on the corner of the site. At the front of the building along Bliss Street is a lawn shaded by the three existing trees. The entrance is in the center of the facade with a slightly protruding vestibule. The building is composed of four bays. On the first floor, the top bay houses the largest classroom. This large classroom can serve multiple functions such as a lecture hall or presentation room and can seat forty or more people. There is also a small lounge with a door to the vestibule of the event hall. This is so the event hall and school can function as one in the case of special events. The second bay houses the two story lobby and main stairwell. The third bay contains the elevator, fire stair, and bathrooms. There are also four study nooks looking out on the lawn. These are places where students can study in between classes. The final bay houses two classrooms that can each hold eighteen students. This is a maximum size for a language class as it is important that each student can participate in discussions. There is also a removable wall between these classrooms to allow larger classes to take place.
The second level is similar to the first. In the place of the large classroom is the library. The library houses many functions as not only a study area but the administrative center. There is a book area controlled by the main desk where the administrative staff will sit. Behind the desk are a storage and copy room and a small meeting room. This meeting room will double as a place for students to meet with prospective employers as job placement is an important function of the school. There are also four teacher offices that will be shared by the staff, who are likely to be part time. In addition, there are five computers, tables for group study, and three additional study nooks. The second bay again houses the lobby and a small student lounge. Finally, the third and fourth bays are the same as on the first floor with more circulation, bathrooms, study nooks, and classrooms.
BRIDGING PROGRAM DESIGN: LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES OFFICES
The Lutheran Social Services Offices had to be easily accessed by both refugees and the larger community. For this reason, they were placed in between the two courtyards. The office is relatively simple. In the center is a lobby that can be accessed from either courtyard. Towards the south is a wing of six shared offices for lower level employees. Towards the north is a wing with other rooms. There are three individual offices for leaders, a small meeting room, a lounge and kitchen, a janitor closet, a donation storage room, and two bathrooms. The donation storage can be accessed by the service hallway that leads to the loading area at the rear of the site.
BRIDGING PROGRAM DESIGN: RETAIL
There are four small retail spaces along Union Street. These spaces are an opportunity for refugees and other local community members to open a small business in addition to generating income for the Refugee Center. They have high visibility and easy access from bus routes. Hopefully, these stores will help introduce locals to the Refugee Center and pique their interest. About 750 square feet are taken by the storefront. To the rear is a 150 square foot storage area, a small office with a window to the rear, and a bathroom. There is access to this rear storage area from the refugee courtyard, which has access to the loading area behind the event hall.
BRIDGING PROGRAM DESIGN: EVENT HALL
The event hall is a place for various events for both the Refugee Center and the larger community. It is an ideal location to hold fundraisers, dances, birthdays or anniversaries, receptions, and any other celebratory event. Proximity and connection to the school is important so they can be used together. The school and the hall are connected with a glass lobby that is the main entrance to the event hall. This lobby acts as additional egress for the school.
It is also important that the event hall and public courtyard can work as one, because the courtyard can be additionally used as an exterior event space. This is accomplished by a wall of glass doors to the south that allows the interior and exterior spaces to flow as one when needed.
The interior hall is a simple rectangular space with a slanted roof. The east, north, and west walls of the event hall are solid brick for privacy on the first level, but after twelve feet, they switch to glass to allow for natural light and views of trees. The glass to the west extends to the ground to act as a wall between the main space and service spaces. This glass wall is composed of stripes of colored glass as a reference to the colors of traditional Burmese textiles. To the south is a second floor balcony. This balcony connects to the second floor of the lobby, school, and the upper walkways.
The service area is composed of a coat room, two bathrooms, and a prep kitchen. The prep kitchen accesses the service hallway with access to the loading area in the rear. A storage area for tables, chairs, and other items is located directly below the event hall on the garage level.
BRIDGING PROGRAM DESIGN: EVENT COURTYARD
The public courtyard/exterior event space connects the bonding program elements. Towards the east is the school and the event hall is to the north. The Lutheran Social Services offices and retail spaces are to the west. The courtyard is entered by passing underneath the second floor walkway. This creates a “gateway” to the courtyard and defines the southern edge. This method of defining the courtyard leaves it open when the public is welcome. At the same time, this structure offers the opportunity to close off the courtyard in the case of a private event. For example, panels of fabric could be hung from the structure to create a visual barrier.
There is one event that the courtyard will regularly house: the weekly market in warmer months. This market is a place for refugees and local community members to sell things such as crops they have grown and craft items they have produced. The stalls will be simple folding tables for ease of setting up. The paving pattern outlines a plan for the various stalls. Brown squares mark the locations of the tables. The tables will measure about five feet by two feet. The central brown squares are ten feet by ten feet, meaning as many as four tables could be placed there. The edge brown squares are ten feet by five feet to allow two tables.
During the summer months, the court will be shaded and cooled by four overhead canopies.