Solution or utopia? designs for refugees
20 May - 3 Sep 2017

Today, 60 million people are fleeing from war, or have been displaced for other reasons. Designers and architects can contribute by developing inexpensive and/or smart solutions. With exhibition Solutions or Utopia? Designs for Refugees the Stedelijk presents recent initiatives designed for this purpose, and facilitates a platform for discussion about the role that designers, architects and companies play in this societal issue.

 Yara Said, The Refugee Nation Flag. Foto: Angela Luna
Yara Said, The Refugee Nation Flag. Foto: Angela Luna

One of the designers’ central challenges was to devise practical, real-life solutions. From clothing that can double as a tent, to improved signage in a refugee camp, and from linkable metal floor sections for temporary shelters to a digital service that helps refugees navigate their new environment. Several of the proposals were designed or implemented by refugees, like the flag designed by the Syrian Yara Said for the Refugee Nation during the last Olympic Games and the furniture by Cucula, which is produced in Berlin.


The exhibition Solutions or Utopia? also includes a number of projects that were submitted for last year’s Refugee Challenge. This contest is organised by the annual What Design Can Do congress in Amsterdam, which encourages designers to come up with proposals aimed at improving the reception and integration of refugees. The competition is organised in partnership with UNHCR and the IKEA foundation. The five winning projects, which have now reached the next developmental stage, will be presented on Tuesday 7 March.  

The Stedelijk is mounting this presentation to create a platform to discuss how designers, architects and companies can have a meaningful impact on the lives of refugees. What works and what doesn’t? Does a design offer a feasible, workable solution, or is it far-off a utopian dream? Is it useful to focus on refugees as a separate group? Do some designs (such as a sticker with ‘Refugees Welcome’) stigmatise or welcome? Is the western perspective of some designers a help or hindrance? Are refugees’ real needs actually addressed?

The exhibition Solutions or Utopia? Designs for Refugees will take place at two locations: aside from the Stedelijk, part of the presentation will be on view at Lola Lik, a creative hub situated near the asylum seekers centre in the former Bijlmerbajes prison in Amsterdam. The Stedelijk Museum is collaborating on the project with Refugee Company, which is based there.
The address of Lola Lik: H.J.E. Wenckebachweg 48. The exhibition is open daily, from 10.00-18.00.

The exhibition is curated by Ingeborg de Roode and Jeanette Bisschops.

The Stedelijk Museum is hosting a Sunday Seminar on this theme on Sunday, 21 May from 15.00-17.00.