INTERCONNECT is a student project from Harrison and Madison Polk, Clemson University (South Carolina, USA). It explores sustainable design strategies in the context of a complex political and social issue through the design of a 55,360-square-foot refugee integration center located in Plaza de las Descalzas in Madrid (Spain). It was rewarded by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (AIA COTE) and the Association of the Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) as the winner of the COTE Top Ten for Students Design Competition in 2017.

As part of World Design Organization’s Co-Living Series, Harrison and Madison reflected on their project and how it uses design and architecture to improve social interactions in the city.

Using design to improve emotional and physical well-being of refugees

Entitled “INTERCONNECT: Connecting Paths, Connecting Programs, Connecting People”, the project came from a desire to design a space that was not only sustainable, but also assisted in solving a problem affecting countries worldwide. The problem that presented itself was the resettlement of refugees, specifically in Madrid (Spain).

The challenge for us was to propose an architectural solution that would enable refugees to feel as though they belong.

INTERCONNECT uses a contextual approach to improve the well-being of refugees. The project itself responds to its immediate urban context by providing connectivity to a network of pedestrian paths within the city center of Madrid. This connectivity provides refugees immediate access to services and activities located around the city; echoing the belief that they should feel like they belong. The integration center is designed to frame public space in order to encourage healthy physical and social interactions between the local and refugee user groups.

We think it is important to design with the health of individuals and communities in mind.

Small terraces are carved out of the building’s monumental form to increase the variety of exterior spaces users can enjoy; each one highlighting a particular view of the surrounding public space as a way to further connect refugees to the city of Madrid. Interior spaces and circulation are organized around open atriums, which act as light wells and provide physical and visual access to the community plaza.

Because the built environment is integral to everyday life and experiences, healthier architecture can improve overall well-being, and encourage healthier social interactions between growing and more diverse populations.

Openness and fluidity of interior space encourage social interaction between occupants. Even in its smallest details, the integration center is designed to communicate connectivity to the city of Madrid: it is space designed to help refugees connect to their new home.

 Stay tuned for the exhibition of the “INTERCONNECT” project at the American Institute of Architects’ National Convention 28-30 March 2019 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (USA).


Interconnect is a refugee integration center located in Plaza de las Descalzas, designed to aid the process of integration for a growing refugee population in the city of Madrid, Spain. The building occupies the site of an abandoned bank building and shares public plaza space with a historic convent, gallery/event space, contemporary shopping center, and a collection of other mixed-use programs. Interconnect is a contemporary project that responds to its immediate urban context to provide connectivity to an existing network of pedestrian paths in the city center, echoing the belief that refugees should feel like they can belong in Madrid. Currently, Plaza de las Descalzas is an under-activated site in the middle of the pedestrian network that connects a total of 8 streets and 5 public plazas.

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