Architecture February 27, 2012 By Nalina Moses

Winning design for Mae-Sot School.  By Amadeo Bennetta / Daniel LaRossa, Berkeley, CA.

Winning design for Mae-Sot School. By Amadeo Bennetta / Daniel LaRossa, Berkeley, CA.

moving title Moving Schools
London-based architect David Cole was vacationing in Mae-Sot, Thailand, a town along the Burmese border, when he first learned about the plight of refugees there. Over the past twenty-five years some 30,000 Burmese have come to Mae-Sot to escape their country’s political violence. They live in camps with interim housing but without community buildings and schools. Cole warmed to the refugees he met, and saw the work that the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee, the Colabora Birmaina, and other organizations were doing on the ground.
     After returning home, in order to build a school in Mae-Sot, Cole and industrial designer Louise McKillop founded Building Trust International (BTI). The charity’s mission is to facilitate international building projects by assembling a specialized team of architects, engineers, sponsors, and other organizations. To solicit ideas for the Mae-Sot school, BTI organized an open design competition. The project brief called for a mobile structure that could serve as a school and community center. While the notion is simple the design problem isn’t. Since the refugees don’t have protected land rights, the structure has to be simple to assemble, transport and reassemble. And the structure needs to address the tropical climate, leverage local construction materials and techniques, and shape a deeply sheltering, inspiring space for the refugees. The competition attracted the interest of over 800 teams and some of the best entries were displayed at a pop-up gallery in London, generating even more interest.