Wood construction brings architecture students and refugees together

All images by Yannick Wegner, Mannheim

Architecture students from the University of Kaiserslautern and 25 refugees worked six weeks on a timber community centre for refugees living in the former American Spinelli Barracks in Mannheim, Germany.

The 500sqm timber building complex is replete with a garden, large open spaces for communal events, and smaller rooms for intimate gatherings.

With support from the City of Mannheim, local building contractors and participating teachers, the team was able to think out of the box to create pleasant, high-quality spaces.



Wood, a lightweight material, enabled quick assembly and installation, since components were already prefabricated before delivering them on-site. (Wooden dollies were designed to transport the lightweight elements; turned at a 90° angle, the dollies also doubled up as scaffolding.)

Large machinery such as cranes or transport vehicles were not employed, further saving building costs. Instead, some of the features such as walls and girders made of simple battens were put together manually: Douglas fir battens 3 by 5 cm were screwed together to a grid of five vertically and diagonally arranged layers, giving the structure an artistic lattice feature that also looks like oriental lighting ornaments.

The walls are timber frame components made of squared timber planked with cross laminated timber panels and cladded with back-ventilated boards of Douglas fir. The timber beam roof structure of timber-beams are planked with cross laminated timber panels and sealed with bituminous sheeting.


The project gave refugees a sense of purpose and belonging, as well as an opportunity to have a voice in shaping their living spaces. They acquired new building skills and German language. The 18 students on the other hand were able to execute their own design for the first time.

The building was officially handed over to the refugees at the end of November 2016.