Architecture for Refugees SCHWEIZ
Shelter is not enough
Switzerland, CH

The Architecture for Refugees SCHWEIZ association, based in Switzerland, aims to improve the integration process of refugees, preferring inclusion over integration. They aim to realise spaces where newcomers and Swiss citizens can get to know each other, interact and can create new friendships and relationships. With the motto, “shelter is not enough”, they facilitate public spaces for interaction and coming together.


Bringing the AfR CH community together

The Architecture for Refugees SCHWEIZ (AfR CH) started as a local chapter in Switzerland after the international and mostly online work of the Architecture for Refugees (AfR). Three founding members started an association and now after four years, the community has around 20-30 active and 50-60 less active members. The structure of the NGO is very democratic and non-hierarchical. We do not participate in competitions, but proactively look for projects and partners. All the members and project based volunteers work pro-bono. The AfR CH community grows organically, gaining a few new members with each project. 


A pavilion, two elephants, a mammoth and some museum tarp

Our currently finished project is a summer pavilion for an alternative school (Autonome Schule) in Zürich which hosts free courses for undocumented and documented migrants, refugees, and low income citizens - actually for everyone in need. We had only a few weeks to design the pavilion, so the majority of the design process happened on site during the building workshop, which took around two weeks. We used only recycled materials from our previous projects. A visitor commented that they found the pavilion very organic, and in fact it is quite organic, both in terms of process and materials. 


Guerilla style: using what’s available

We have no office space or atelier and we have no regular office time. All the members of the AfR CH community work as much as they can and where they can. The “back office” work happens mostly at our homes, in some cafés or community spaces. In 2019, we introduced a weekly meeting series to discuss our running projects, but these meetings are also quite organic in terms of size and location. Our monthly “Stammtisch” meetings are for a wider audience. All of our meetings are open to the public, but we advertise only the monthly meetings. 


Design versus reality

In “normal” architectural practice, you rarely meet with clients and users, and you rarely learn from your design mistakes. In this community-based practice, we see our mistakes already in the design and building phase. We “build” what we design, so all of our decisions must be realistic and based on the real needs and resources. We learn a lot during the making process and we have to change and adapt as quickly as possible. We have just introduced the ALAP - as late as possible - process, which lets us collect the most valid information for the “best” decisions.


Changing the world together

We have a manifesto for the AfR CH, but it is a long way from being realistic. We try to bring the very broad and complex goal, “build a better world”, to the ground through our different projects. Our building projects bring very different people together through the decision making and building process. Our exhibitions, presentations and articles inform members of our society about the problems we face within our society. Our “Arts in Transition” program offers a platform for socio-cultural exchange. Our community tries to reuse everything we have and consume as little as possible. 






Photography Courtesy of Architecture for Refugees SCHWEIZ

a project powered by Itinerant Office

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