DESIGN, beyond aesthetics, is also meant to have function. This time a design competition was for humanitarian benefit.

SoFA Design Institute, in partnership with the Goethe Institut, hosted Designer’s United: Shelter for Displaced Humanity, an interdisciplinary competition between design industry practitioners for the benefit of displaced people (due to war and civil unrest) in tropical Asia.

“I’m an architect [myself]. Ever since I was in school, I was always convinced that I had a role to play somehow in helping the less fortunate… I think we (designers) are trained to think about the community. Other than making money, there has to be other things that motivate you as a designer. One of it is having compassion for other people,” SoFA Design Institute dean Tobias S. Guggenheimer told BusinessWorld.

The news about the plight of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar fleeing to Bangladesh gave Mr. Guggenheimer the idea to host a competition to gather designers and “expand their definition of what design can do.”

“We’ve (SoFA Design Institute) began a tradition of engaging in special events in design and competitions… Learning about design does not [only] happen in a conventional class format,” Mr. Guggenheimer said, adding that bringing designers from various disciplines helped all the participants learn from each other.

The 28 participants — young professionals and students in the fields of architecture, fashion, and interior design — were randomly grouped into 14 pairs. Prior to coming up with their respective proposals and design models, they attended 10 mentoring sessions between Oct. 5 to Nov. 9 which were moderated by prominent professionals in similar fields.

The competition judges — interior designer Tina Periquet, architect Dietmar Leyk, fashion designer Hindy Weber, and industrial lighting designer Stanley Ruiz — evaluated the shelter designs based on design concept, technical feasibility, presentation quality, and research.

Theodore Borja and Naida Felicia Cruz’s “Sprout,” Ariel Raquitico and John Roberson Go’s “The Fold,” and Karla Andrea Cunanan and Camille Lydell Detera’s “Umbrella House” were hailed second runner-up, first runner-up, and grand prize winners, respectively.

The Fold
A desgin called “The Fold” was named first runner up at SoFA’s Designer’s United: Shelter for Displaced Humanity contest.

Aside from accolades, the winning duos took home P25,000 (2nd runner-up); P50,000 (1st runner-up); and P100,000 (grand prize winner).

“The umbrella is, in a way, an immediate shelter… Something that is portable and reusable,” Ms. Detera told BusinessWorld.

“We thought of an object that is familiar to everyone and is universal which is the umbrella. We were inspired by its mechanism and we applied it to our design,” Ms. Cunanan added in Filipino.

The design’s simplicity, availability of materials used, and ease of transportation and construction won them the prize.

The young architects explained that parameters such as the shelter’s location in tropical Asia (countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam) and weather, and population size were considered. Their design is meant to shelter a family of four to six. It has an open floor plan, with a private room that is elevated to provide a communal space at the bottom to allow interaction with others. The architects added that utility longevity was an essential element they considered due to the uncertain duration of the refugees’ stay.

The Umbrella house is meant to be made of bamboo for framing and flooring, a concrete pedestal as a foundation, and metal clamps and fittings for the joints.

Mr. Guggenheimer hopes to find support to take the project further and possibly build the winning designs.

“I hope that we can raise funds to build the prototypes and test them, [and] create an exhibition in the country… We’d like to display them publicly and show it to a broader audience, especially the NGO community that takes care of refugees, and begin a serious dialogue about it.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman