Casa Azul: a design playbook to build ethical spaces along migration routes

Assignment: Architectural design for a flexible system of cultural spaces along migration routes
Services: Concept Design, Graphic design visual identity 

Casa Azul is a design playbook, a system of design actions that illustrates a new approach to building for vulnerable and mobile populations. The vision behind it is to incorporate culture, beauty and dignity as key elements for spaces dedicated to refugees, migrants from Venezuela and the communities that host them. This means going beyond the mere provision of services, as important as that is. We see it as an ethical and holistic approach to humanitarian design, which is usually only concerned with efficiency.

Casa Azul as a modular system

The design playbook proposes a flexible system of modular elements that can be used in a wide variety of contexts, sizes and budgets. The first and central module is the Plaza, an indoor or outdoor space designed to be welcoming and serve as a community space. Then there is the reception area, the first point of contact with Casa Azul. Another module consists of an information point where migrants can get information about their rights and services available, such as work and residence permits, school enrolment for children, etc. Another multifunctional space is used for cultural activities such as education, music, dance and painting.

The library is a fundamental part of Casa Azul as a place for cultural reconstruction. Libraries can also provide internet and workstations. Next is the comfort area, a space where people can rest, talk and meet informally. The food area, with adjoining kitchen and pantry, allows for cooking and eating, as well as organising community meals. Bathrooms are another key area, with special attention to the needs of children and people with reduced mobility. A sports area is also recommended, at least in the larger versions of Casa Azul. Finally, the project includes a garden or outdoor areas that can promote wellbeing and socialising. All these modules can be combined in different ways, like building blocks, depending on the contextual needs.

Environmental sustainability is another important aspect of Casa Azul. The use of locally available materials reduces costs and saves resources. Additionally, the use of local construction techniques employ local craftsmen and allows local knowledge to be used. The water management system uses rainwater and allows for recycling and reuse. In terms of energy, a passive mitigation system reduces energy demand while solar panels generate clean energy.

The exhibition

The results of this project have been displayed in the exhibition ‘Designing Peace‘ at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. This explored how design can support peace by creating safe and healthy environments with an ethical approach.

The initiative is a joint effort with the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Fordham University, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Office of the DG’s Special Envoy for the Response to the Venezuelan Situation.

More about the playbook here >>

  • Place: Venezuela
    Project Partners: Fordham University and IOM
    Principal Investigators: Andrea Tamburini, Lucas Guedes, Brendan Cahill, Alberto Preato
    Design author: TAMassociati
    Submitted to: Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, Fordham University, United Nations' International Organization for Migration (IOM)
    Design and layout: TAMassociati