Polish architects scoop international award with plywood emergency centre design

The award-winning design for the emergency centre Kaira Looro Architecture Competition

A team of young Polish architects has won an international competition to build an emergency operations centre in Africa.

The Kaira Looro Architecture Competition gets its name from two words in the Mandinka language spoken by the Mandinka people in west Africa, which mean “build peace” or “architecture for people”. The task was to design a structure to house an emergency operations centre that would make it easier for international organisations to run their humanitarian activities.

“Resolving an emergency of any kind means re-establishing peace and security. The crisis must be dealt with in a timely and coordinated manner that includes reception, sensibility, and awareness,” according to the competition website.

First prize went to the team of three young Polish architects: Aleksandra Wróbel, Agnieszka Witaszek, Kamil Owczarek. After doing their bachelor’s degrees in Poland, the three of them met last year while doing their Master’s in Architecture at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“Soon we found out that we are not only good friends but also we share a common language and values concerning architecture and ways of designing it,” they explain.

The three winners: Agnieszka Witaszek (left) Kamil Owczarek and Aleksandra Wróbel.Kaira Looro Architecture Competition

The trio designed a ‘Foldable Emergency Shelter’ to adapt to the challenges of handling emergencies.

“Given the unpredictable conditions of emergencies that may threaten the Sub-Saharan region, the Foldable Emergency Shelter is conceived to embrace those challenges being a simple yet functional framework in which architectural identity brings humane values to affected communities,” they write in their project description.

Their design combines function and flexibility with a sense of safety: “The architectural articulation of the shelter is defined by the structure of outer walls that expresses transparency of provided assistance and gives specific identity translated into a feeling of safety,” they write.

The walls are made of prefabricated plywood boards that form a waffle-like structure. They can be used horizontally or vertically, offering greater flexibility.

Projects were assessed by an international jury made up of architects and academics, including ones from South Africa and Ghana.

The walls are made of prefabricated plywood boards that form a waffle-like structure. They can be used horizontally or vertically, offering greater flexibility.Kaira Looro Architecture Competition

The first prize is EUR 5,000 and an internship at the architecture office of Kengo Kuma, one of the competition judges, in Tokyo.

The second prize went to a team from the Philippines, with a team from Italy winning the third prize. Teams from several other countries received special or honourable mentions.

For the architects, the global coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the role of architecture in an emergency.

“Given the fact that from the past few months, we are confined to our domestic environments, more than ever do we understand that architectural shell is a natural and inseparable extension of our lives,” they write.

“In the case of emergency, architecture is the first means to fulfil our fundamental feeling of safety and provide us with a certain notion of identity,” they add.