UNStudio’s Innovative Organisations Platform, Product Unit and Urban Unit joined forces with Social Designer Jeff Povlo from Scape to develop an introductory proposal for further development for the What Design Can Do (WDCD) Refugee Challenge.

Since its launch in February 2016, the WDCD Refugee Challenge - a joint initiative of What Design Can Do, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the IKEA Foundation - has called on the global creative community to submit ideas and concepts for development to improve the lives of refugees.

UNStudio’s motivation to participate in the Refugee Challenge is derived from the strong belief that social, spatial and technological innovations can make a difference to how people interact with each other. Out of its typological interest, UNStudio’s Innovative Organisations Platform continues to research social spaces: what they mean and how they can be created.

The WDCD Refugee Challenge offers five briefings that have been developed with and for refugees: What Design Can Do to improve shelters and reception centres, to foster personal development while waiting for asylum, to bring refugees and host communities closer to one another, to exchange essential information with refugees and to maximise the potential of refugees.

The Refugee Challenge is structured along seven phases. The process focuses on idea generation, feedback and improvement, selection of the finalists, acceleration of their ideas and creating opportunities for implementation. 

Image: BLOOM Introductory Proposal


With the modular structure BLOOM, we created an introductory idea for future development - a smart social space for displaced communities that, through programmatic and technological features, acts as an accelerator for integration on social and urban levels. BLOOM addresses both refugee and host communities and provides a hub to be programmed by anyone who wants to share, learn, create and dream.


BLOOM – is a statement with a mission.

With BLOOM we have the opportunity to plant social seeds to allow healthy communities to grow. Our mission is to create a brand that turns negative associations with the refugee crisis into a positive image. Through form and practicality BLOOM merchandises the idea of integration as a truly positive experience, for both locals and refugees.

BLOOM is a modular smart structure. It is easy to assemble and dismantle, and scalable according to spatial requirements. BLOOM is also Smart. It harvests and supplies energy, filters water and offers technology to create interactive experiences. Further, the proposal aims to provide a connector between people (refugees and local residents), spaces (in a camp or existing buildings) and locations (old home and new home, camp and city).

We believe the most successful tool against fear and xenophobia is to have people meet and get to know each other. BLOOM creates an opportunity to bring refugees and local communities together through social programmes for creating, learning and sharing. The goal is to help displaced communities in need of a social space by offering a functional, structural and smart technological solution on a temporary or permanent basis.

Image: A brand that acts locally.


BLOOM – is branding integration.

Beyond being a smart social space, BLOOM is meant to brand integration- to create a positive and attractive image to various (even opposed) target groups. A powerful marketing strategy will be essential for the success of BLOOM.

Together with the social design agency Scape we will continue to develop BLOOM into an interactive and interventional social tool. BLOOM aims to be entertaining, educational, engaging, human and fun.

As BLOOM facilitates social integration locally, the model is designed to be replicated and implemented for different displaced communities worldwide. Once a mission is accomplished and the social seed that was planted has grown, it will move on to other displaced communities in need.

Image: Creating a brand that merchandises integration worldwide


BLOOM – is engaging.

UNStudio initiated a field study and organised a workshop with a group of Syrian refugees in Amsterdam. For the meeting we compiled a catalogue with questions to find out about their dreams and realities. We also heard about their professions, skills and hobbies and learned about their previous lives back home. This workshop helped us to define the programmatic and technological features necessary for BLOOM and to inform later design decisions.

Image: UNStudio in a meeting with Syrian refugees temporarily located in Amsterdam


BLOOM – is modular.

BLOOM is a modular structure that can grow according to need by multiplication of the unit. While each unit is a self-sustained structure, combining several units together allows for a larger capacity of people, programmatic functions and energy production.

Image: Bloom in Small, Medium and Large scales - and in urban situations.

Image: reference image for flat packed system (Reference: “Folded Homes-DecaPod”)


BLOOM – is multi-purpose.

BLOOM is a smart social space. Through its flexible design and modular structure it offers on-demand activity space. It presents an opportunity to share experiences, practice a profession, learn a new language and create and exchange new ideas. It is a place to connect and to be connected.

Image: An interactive surface that acts as a live notice board.

Image: An interactive light source that can show how many people are present or what kind of programme is currently taking place.

Image: BLOOM as a meeting place and a natural wayfinding and information point.

Image: BLOOM is multi-purpose and operates as a hub for temporary functions.


BLOOM – is smart.

BLOOM can be seen as a smart oasis for many kinds of social interventions. It harvests and supplies energy, filters water and offers technology to create interactive experiences. Its technological features turn BLOOM into a self-sustaining structure that can easily be assembled anywhere and still be fully functional.

All proposed technological features already exist but will be uniquely combined in BLOOM.

The combination of these technological features with a textile structure is based on an ongoing collaborative research project with partners from the textile industry. The technological exploration and development of BLOOM is intended to be carried out in collaboration with these partners.

Image: BLOOM is smart – it harvests and supplies energy, filters water, and provides access to technology.


LIGHT it up.

Light is an important asset, as it stimulates the possibility to better interact, it can affect emotions and help to stimulate learning. It is also a wayfinding tool and activates spaces and environments by night. BLOOM can activate areas and provide a sense of safety and comfort in a dark neighbourhood.

Image: Reference Image of illuminated textile structure (Reference: “Architen Landrell - O2 Riverwalk”)


Conserve WATER

Smart textiles can provide a means of collecting water and providing drainage. The textile absorbs moisture from the air and collects it for future use. The water could also be used for drinking or for a local garden.

Image: Reference Image of a moisture absorbing textile (Reference: “Fellipe Abreu - Chilean Fog Catcher”)


Harvest the SUN

Textiles provide a means of shading for interior spaces. With the addition of photovoltaic cells they can also contribute to energy production. Solar energy can be used for providing electricity and charging of mobile phones for BLOOM. This solar energy can also be harnessed to power the lighting of the structure itself, to generate the energy it needs to sustain itself.

Image: Reference Image of photovoltaic cells that can be integrated into a smart textile (Reference: “Nanosys – thin film PV material”)


Be Smart about ENERGY

Once the system is collecting energy, information can be received or transmitted to and from it. A free WIFI network can be provided by local providers and potentially used by refugees and locals.

Image: Reference Image for information plug-in (Reference: “Solpower Umbrella”)

Image: Several BLOOM modules connected to create a larger social space


BLOOM – is ongoing.

At this stage BLOOM is a first draft.  We seek to continue our creative collaborations on BLOOM and hope to be able to further improve, accelerate and finally make it a reality through What Design Can Do.


Posted by: UNStudio / Innovative Organisations Platform