Years before he saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, Raoul Wallenberg was a University of Michigan architecture student. Since 1987 the school’s architecture and urban planning college has run an annual studio in his honor, examining the intersection of design and humanitarian issues.

“As far as representational techniques go, these are highly sophisticated.” —Juror Jimenez Lai

Recently, the studio concentrated on the global refugee crisis, from the political and religious refugees flowing into Europe to the hundreds of thousands displaced by natural disasters in Japan, South Asia, and Africa. Lecturer Dawn Gilpin, who ran this year’s course, says that her goal was to get the seniors to focus on a pressing global concern and to expose them to architecture’s political and social context, which, she adds, is too often left out of curricula. “It’s important to give that context to architectural history so that students understand why they’re doing what they do,” she says. Before starting their projects, the students read works by thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Beatriz Colomina. “It’s almost as if a seminar was taught within a studio format,” she says.

But it wasn’t all theory; via Skype, the students interviewed educators in refugee camps. Each student then developed a thesis proposal for an architectural response to an aspect of refugee life, from emergency housing to facilities like schools and community centers. When the course was over, a blind jury awarded travel grants, up to $20,000, to three students.

Student Work

Trevor Herman Hilker
Trevor Herman Hilker
Diego Garcia
Kati Albee

Project Credits
Course: The Radical and The Preposterous: Mind the Gap
School: University of Michigan, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Level: B.Arch. (year four)
Duration: Winter 2016 semester
Instructor: Dawn Gilpin (lecturer IV, and co-director, Adams + Gilpin Design Studio, Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Students: Kati Albee, Dyan Castro, Diego Garcia, Trevor Herman Hilker, Yurda Surya (submitted projects); Jenna Atkinson, Gage Belko, Marshall Hebert, Joshua Knost, Chloe Lee, Vassillissa Semouchkina, Ian Ting
Collaborators: Carey Treado (chief academic officer), Mary McFarland (international director, Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins)

Read about the other 2016 Studio Prize winners.