In Transit Studio's master students visiting Romania to to give input to contingency plans developed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to make sure they have the capacity to receive more refugees from Ukraine in urban areas. Photo: Håvard Breivik-Khan/NORCAP

Combining urban architecture and humanitarian work

Oda Lykke Jernberg|Published 20. Oct 2022
NORCAP collaborates with the Oslo School of Architecture and Design to develop sustainable contingency plans protecting both Ukrainian refugees and host communities in Romania.

Master students at the In Transit Studio program have been on two scoping missions to Romania this autumn. Their task is to give input to contingency plans developed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to make sure they have the capacity to receive more refugees from Ukraine in urban areas.

Romania currently hosts 86,000 refugees from Ukraine, the majority women and children, according to UNHCR. With the uncertain situation in the neighbouring country, making sure plans are in place in case more people flee the border is critical to ensure their protection.

In Transit Studio has been a collaboration between NORCAP and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) since 2016. The program was initiated by the NORCAP architects Håvard Breivik-Khan and Tone Selmer-Olsen and Jørn-Casper Øwre, a NORCAP senior adviser. Håvard and Tone had both been on assignments to countries like Haiti, Nepal, Hungary, and North Macedonia, and established a course to give master students training in humanitarian standards and reception systems in emergencies.

Understanding urban displacement  

Architects with a special understanding of urbanism, can contribute with sustainable solutions to the complexities that occur when people seek refuge in densely populated areas, Anders Ese, who is section chair at the Institute of Urbanism and Landscape at AHO, explains.

"As humanitarian responses are increasingly happening in cities or urban areas, it is crucial that this response not only covers an understanding of refugee and internally displaced people's needs, but also understands the urban contexts that refugees are in or are moving to," Anders says.

Studying the situation in Romania, will give the students first-hand practical experience on how to combine their skills in urban architecture with humanitarian work. 

"There is often a discrepancy between solving immediate needs benefiting the ones fleeing and developing sustainable solutions for the communities and environments hosting them. An important part of displacement management is to identify suitable locations for arrival infrastructure and accommodation," Håvard says.

He manages the program together with Paul-Antoine Lucas. The student’s semester ends in December and the project proposals developed will be shared with the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs and other partners in Bucharest.

Based on a NORCAP assignment

Håvard knows well the work that the students are tasked to do. This summer he was on a NORCAP assignment to assist both ministries of internal affairs in Romania and Moldova with a similar task – developing a strategy for site selection that would feed into the national authorities' action plan of refurbishing existing, abandoned buildings. Preparing facilities should be based on community conditions due to the uncertainties that comes with contingency planning, he explains.

"Because of the context, this input was based on urbanism knowledge rather than the common site planning ways of work. It was developed in close collaboration with local organisations, including civil society and academic institutions. Hopefully, this will lead to more cross-collaboration between the different institutions in the country and UN partners on the ground," he says.

As Håvard completed the assignment this summer, and his work will be continued by NORCAP architect, Ingebjørg Skaare, who will support the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Romania until end of 2022.

Read more about In Transit Studio here.