Why Germany’s Green Refugee Housing Is Turning Heads

Displaced migrants are not usually known for their hip pads. It’s a notion one German designer has turned on its head.

By Jeff Vasishta January 24, 2017

France and Germany, apparently, treat refugees from the Syrian conflict quite differently. The “Calais Jungle” received a lot of bad press, because of how horrible it was. Squalid and putrid as a third world shanty town, it was hard to imagine that such a place existed in the developed world, even if it was only makeshift living quarters. Thankfully, Germany has different ideas. In fact, one look at their state-of-the-art refugee housing may make most regular citizens want to buy a home for themselves.

A long way from the corrugated tin sheds, flapping tarps or wood huts which pass themselves off as housing to the needy and impoverished in some countries, Germany’s Werner Sobek and the company Aktivhaus recently completed a modular development for 200 Syrian refugees in the German town of Winnenden.

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Sobek’s design is simplistic and cool. Light, eco-friendly wood in clean lines. The buildings are manufactured off-site and put together Lego style, thus saving costs. With the refugee situation influx and the eventual hope that they will be assimilated into the larger German society, the development needed the flexibility of being adaptable to other uses after the immediate housing crisis ends. All the housing units were installed from Aktivhaus’ 700 Series.

Other than wood, eco-friendly materials included airtight walls covered in larch, a tough timber, and insulation with hemp and wood fibers. One of the main goals in construction was to use recyclable materials with minimal concrete. The planet loving materials were extended to the windows which were sealed with rubber strips and not polyurethane foam which has a high toxicity.

Related: NYC Might Really Use This Resilient Home For All Seasons

Such is the construction that the architect estimates that the modules will last centuries rather than decades, if treated correctly. The refugees have considerably less time to make the best use of their stylish dwellings. The Winnenden development will be repurposed from refugee to social housing within three years.

The refugee crisis is, of course, a controversial topic, with certain countries such as Germany, and Turkey more willing to take in refugees than others. However, in the short term at least, the influx has proven to been a boon to many European economies. Turkey and Germany have seemingly benefitted from a cheap workforce and the new buildings that were constructed to house them.

Though the Turkish housing is not quite as stylish as those afforded to them in Germany, it is vast. “Container cities” have sprouted up to house thousands of displaced migrants. Converted from shipping containers and prefabricated housing units, like the German Activhaus, they have been quickly constructed to serve as cover from the wintery weather and can stretch over a hundreds of acres of land.

Turkey’s commitment to their Syrian neighbors cannot be overlooked. In 2015, the country spent $8 billion for the refugees, far more than the international aid. Their purposeful state-of-the art  camps in 25 different provinces were widely praised.

Although Turney’s container’s might not make it over to the US, Sobek’s cool Activhaus could surely make a welcome appearance in Williamsburg or Bushwick.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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