The word “home” means different things to different people, and no matter where you call home, it’s hard to imagine what you would do if you were forced out into the world and had nowhere else to go. This is the reality for millions of refugees displaced by war, famine, or disease. Few people would consider a makeshift tent to be a home, but families seeking asylum often have no other choice, as permanent buildings aren’t allowed in refugee camps.

That’s where The Maggie Program steps in, helping displaced people secure a more stable future through the creation of portable, sustainable shelters that have the advantages of modern buildings. The program is the brainchild of Belgian relief worker Bart Peeters, along with the efforts of researchers at the University of Leuven and several private companies and NGOs. The shelters are designed by Vectorworks software users at Belgian architecture and engineering firm DMOA architecten, whose designs express an awareness of the relationship between the built and natural environment.

The maggie shelters help refugee communities build durable classrooms, medical centers, dormitories, and climate-controlled warehouses, all of which are necessary spaces that equip them to rebuild their lives. Designed to resemble a tent, the structure features a solid aluminum framework and a two layers of canvas that form a “jacket.” The jacket is then filled with whatever insulation materials are readily available, such as sand, soil, or even recycled materials and insulation products. This creates sturdy, durable buildings that allow for better health and safety for residents. The shelters adapt to all seasons, are fire proof, and can withstand wind and heavy snow loads.

Maggies can be fitted with low and renewable energy systems, electric lighting, and ventilation, and feature double entryways for increased security. The maggie shelter’s shape allows for multiple structures to be combined into a variety of modular combinations, forming village or city centers.

The maggie prototype debuted in July 2015 in Heverlee, Belgium, and the first real maggie was constructed this year in early March as a space to host children’s activities at the Fedasil refugee center in Steenokkerzeel, Belgium. The reception to the project has been overwhelmingly positive, and the program was recently exhibited at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May.

There is still work to be done to make maggies even better before the next proof of concept shelter can be used in an active refugee camp. The future goals for the project are to lower the maggie’s construction time and make the shelters even more energy-efficient, including reducing heating costs and even integrating solar panels to allow the shelters to provide their own energy.

DMOA’s designs show how good architecture can not only amaze and inspire, but also bring hope to communities around the world.

Interested in learning more about durable designs that impact lives? Check out the Architectural Record course “Resilient Building Design” to learn about building designs that can adapt to all kinds of environmental conditions and help communities recover when disasters strike, while also earning Continuing Education credits.

Topics: Architectural Record, Architecture, Bart Peeters, Belgium, continuing education, DMOA, DMOA architecten,Heverlee, maggie program, maggie shelters, NGO, refugees, Resilient Building Design”, University of Leuven, World Humanitarian Summit