Como refugee social center

Authors: Andrii Leso, Igor Nakonechnyi, Ruslan Lytvynenko.

Site location: via Regina Teodolinda, Como, CO, Italy 22100
Total land area: 27 000 m 2

Year:     2017

Como is a city between borders: a border of Milan, big city and business capital of Italy, and Switzerland. Originally the city was not a point of destination for refugees, just transit stop. But since July 2016 Switzerland closed the borders for refugees and thousands of refugees stuck in Como, sleeping on the streets and looking for help. Urgent and spontaneous problems in Como can appear in many cities all over the world and it is very important to find ways to solve them, architectural ways in particular.

Starting from analyzing existing refugee camps we identified needs of refugees and ranged them by necessity and time when they are important. Then we modeled future perspectives and possibilities of work and social life of refugees and took the issue of integration of refugees into the new society as a crucial point of our investigation. Urban context, relation to the city and influence of the architectural spaces of refugee center may help to establish new beneficial connections between locals and refugees, thus have the positive impact on the problem in long-term perspective.

For many reasons, refugee center cannot have full free access. The accessibility of spaces by locals and refugees and their conceptual meaning is a powerful tool that helps to organize education, first working activities, sports activities etc. Natural borders inside the city, such as landscape, the difference in levels and railway paths in case of Como allow creating refugee center without using high metal fences.

Integration and protection – these two words describe our guidelines, between which we are balancing using architectural spaces as an environment that can connect people.



The project site is a part of abandoned railway of Como San Giovanni station. It is situated very close to the Como lake, city center, and all public institutions. We choose the following site because of following reasons:

  • Geographical position w.r.t. refugee routes

Many of refugees arrive in Como by train, hence having refugee center close to the station is very convenient.

  • Natural borders

On the West, the site faces the railway, on the East level of the street, is 8m lower than the level of the site. Also, across the street (Via Regina Teodolinda) in the South, there is an industrial zone.

  • Fragmented urban fabric

We deal with urban environment and by our project, we want also to improve city environment. In the place which is now not very attractive city zone, we want to create spaces for citizens and include it in the sequence of walking routes. In 100m there is a green park near the railway station that can have a potential connection with public spaces of refugee center.

  • Flexibility

No one can be sure about amount refugees even in close future. That’s why it is better to have a flexible structure of the refugee center, that can change a number of living units according to a current situation. We chose the site which area could be extended up to 30 000 m2 if needed.

  • Big potential capacity of the territory

As we want to create refugee camp in Como we must consider existing number of refugees in Como that currently live in not appropriate conditions and add some reserve for unexpected arrivals. As we are not planning to build concrete skyscrapers for refugees, we need a relatively big area to design all necessary spaces in 1-2-3 storeys buildings.


Let’s imagine possible strategies of dealing with refugee crisis:

  1. Close the border – Do not accept refugees
  2. Open the border – Host refugees in military guarded camps – Isolate refugees from the local citizens
  3. Open the border – Host refugees in public buildings – Integrate refugees to the local community

In our work, we want to investigate the “c” strategy and find how could it be beneficial for all parties.

The main objective of our project is to find an architectural way to contribute to the developing the strategy of hosting refugees. We do not have an aim to solve all the problems of the refugee crisis, many of them are political etc. We do want to create a refugee center that will help people, both locals and refugees, to develop society and live in peace.

One of the very first problems for refugees is how to spend time while they are waiting. Bureaucracy makes very long the process of acquiring official status of refugee and all necessary permissions to live and work. Hence after giving shelter, it is necessary to give possibilities for spending free time, what is also crucial for the mental health of a human being.

The typology of spaces comes from the functional necessities. We propose to include the structure of refugee center educational, cultural, sport, praying, and recreational and workshop spaces. These represent the idea of the city inside the city. However, the aim is not to make a separate island with full autonomy complex under the fence, but a kind of boarding school. The accessibility of different spaces is considered to be a tool for taking care of the refugees, not as an obstacle for refugees to enter the city.


Refugee center shall have at first all necessary spaces for providing the refugee’s fist help such as:

Living units / shelter

Polyclinic / first-aid


Communication post / connection

Then spaces for education and work activities:

School if necessary

Seminar rooms


Leisure areas:


Sport playgrounds


In addition, social housing would extend the center from the strategic point of view. Once refugees receive an official status they could be still not ready for starting a new life in new society. Thus having social housing in front of the refugee center may solve the problem of adaptation. Their refugees can have all the freedom but still be subsidized by the government and receive the help that they need. Of course, the law about using social housing must be very strict and clear, not to spoil the idea by making the social housing permanent living place. We propose following the layout of the refugee center:

For social housing, we also propose an 8 x 8 m grid-based design solutions to ensure the transformability of spaces. Social housing in our case is a rental housing which is subsidized by the state. Coming back to challenges with the prediction of the further situation with refugees we propose flexible planning solutions. By using monolithic frame system and compact design solutions we developed plans, where each unit can be easily transformed. Thus the composition of 1-, 2- and 3-room apartments can be changed anytime in response to the requirements. The vibrancy of planning also solves a problem of reuse of the building once refugee issues are solved and the building is not needed anymore in the present configuration.

Refugee center has two parts: housing and service buildings on the 1st floor and multifunctional spaces in the basement. Basically, these two parts represent the conceptuality of the center. On the upper part, there is a safety and separated zone for hosting refugees. In the basement, there are conceptual spaces, exhibition and museum halls and meeting rooms. This part belongs to the city and citizens. It is a place where refugees and locals meet, interact and are getting used to each other. The lack of communication during staying in a refugee camp is always an essential issue. We want to create not a camp, but also a cultural center. We want to use the time of refugees staying here in the best way: learning and working in small workshops. Such experience has a therapeutic effect in addition and helps people to move on.

Basement part is behind a pure wall. Now it is fully closed, apart from an underground tunnel under the railway. We propose to open several entrances and take out the ground, curving spaces. The shape of the spaces in the basement and lights refer to ancient times and different cultures. We want to create a special feeling in order to prepare visitors and help them to understand other cultural features.