Part 2: The community architecture practice of the Office of Displaced Designers

The community architecture practice of the Office of Displaced Designers (ODD) was established in August 2016 as a Restricted Fund under the auspices of the British charity organization ‘Prism the Gift Fund’ (ODD, sd). ODD is a design-focused creative integration organization which primarily focuses on the exploration and creation of social spaces. Its longest-running project, which ran from 2016 to 2020, was the creation of a recreational zone in the Olive Groves adjacent to Moria Hotspot. Two co-founders, three consultants and a continuously changing number of volunteers of diverse nationalities and design backgrounds. Throughout the years, ODD has collaborated with institutional partners including Oxfam, the DRC, the ICRC and the European Cultural Foundation (ODD, sd).

The praxis of ODD is defined by its three main objectives. Firstly, it aims to foster social cohesion within the refugee community as well as between the refugee community and the host/local community by initiating actions that reduce cultural misunderstandings. Secondly, ODD aspires to work with refugees, treating them as equal partners and centering their hobbies, previous occupations and dreams and ambitions for the future. Its third objective is to create the opportunity for people to get back in touch with their profession by helping them create a new CV or portfolio material. To select participants for its projects, ODD used social media advertising, hung posters in Greek and English in Mytilene and asked other NGOs to publicise the workshops and construction sessions. After each project, ODD displayed the final artifacts to the wider public, allowing for further connections to be made between the refugee and host community (De Becker, De Reu & Viaene 2020).

To meet these three objectives, ODD runs different activities to respond to the broad range of design backgrounds and skill sets within the refugee community. In its Mytilene office, ODD organised drawing and photography classes, introductory workshops on podcasting and stop motion animation, research sessions and sound mapping exercises (figure 1). It also organised a documentary filmmaking workshop in which individuals created short movies about vulnerability, resilience and self-esteem (De Becker, De Reu & Viaene 2020; ODD, sd). Some of these workshops were organised in cooperation with other organisations such as MetaLAB Harvard University, allowing for an interchange of ideas, resources and funding (De Becker, De Reu & Viaene 2020; ODD, sd).

Figure 1. The Mytilini Office of ODD on Lesvos island (source left picture: authors; source right pictures: ODD archives)

ODD also led construction sessions at the Olive Groves site. Between 2016 and 2020, in partnership with the Danish Red Cross (DRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), ODD ran several projects to improve the living conditions of its residents. One such project was the Olive Grove Recreation Project (or in short, the Olive Grove project), that was carried out in five phases and built upon an existing psychosocial support (PSS) program, which included a rudimentary outdoor cinema consisting of a plain white screen painted on a wall and a simple seating arrangement. In this project, ODD convinced DRC to invest in new recreational infrastructure and a new design approach that would involve the refugee community (Paidakaki et al., 2021).

In the first phase of the Olive Grove project, ODD proposed a flexible and simple design for the cinema seating (figure 2) that could also accommodate other activities, such as community meetings, live concerts and picnics. (Paidakaki et al., 2021, p. ?). For the construction of the seating, ODD prioritised the many different skill-sets and levels of experience of the participants involved in the building process (ibid) and trained them in woodcutting, concrete casting and the use of drawing programs to enable them to repair the cinema seating easily by themselves if need be in the future(Paidakaki et al., 2021).

Figure 2. The cinema seating designed by ODD in the first phase of the Olive Grove project (source: ODD archives)

The second phase of the Olive Grove project involved installing a simple drainage system and building stairs to prevent the Olive Groves from becoming muddy and slippery (Paidakaki et al., 2021).

During the third phase, ODD brought to light some of the needs and wishes of the Olive Grove residents by organizing a community-led mapping workshop (figure 3). One of the outcomes of the workshop was a proposal for a mural to run along the retaining wall where the cinema screen was painted (figure 4). ODD designed a simple co-design strategy which was communicated to a lead design team through facilitator training for refugees, in order to upskill the volunteers on how to facilitate a participatory process. led by the refugee community itself (ibid).

Figure 3. Community map produced in the community-led mapping workshop by ODD in 2017. (source: ODD archives) 

Figure 4. The painting of the mural in the third phase of the Olive Grove project (source: ODD archives)

The fourth phase was the installation of additional drainage and stairs to further improve the accessibility of the site andhe final phase was the creation of a community garden in collaboration with a small organization called Low Tech with Refugees. The community garden was inaugurated with a ‘bring your own plant’ party, attended by people from inside and outside Moria including asylum seekers, refugees, volunteers and members of the local community.. (Paidakaki et al, 2021).

In the fall of 2019, when the number of residents in Moria Hotspot and the Olive Groves increased substantially (InfoMigrants, 2020), the remaining recreation area in the original Olive Grove site was completely covered by tents and ODD’s cinema infrastructure was in disuse. In light of the ultimate disappearance of social space co-created by ODD, its partner organization and the refugee and host community, ODD decided in the beginning of 2020 to write a monograph about the Olive Grove project. In doing so, it aims to advocate for the value of social spaces in refugee camps and the involvement of the refugee community in creating those spaces as well as the importance of creating human settlements that reflect the needs and resources of their inhabitants (Paidakaki et al. 2021).

Our next post will examine which roles the architects of ODD fulfill in their practice and the extent to which they managed to build a resilient refugee camp. We will also look critically at all their achievements in an attempt to draw lessons for the future.


De Becker, R., De Reu, Y. & Viaene, F. (2020). What Makes a Refugee Camp a Resilient Temporary Human Settlement? Resilience Building by Community Architects in the Context of the European Hotspots (Master Thesis). Leuven: KU Leuven. Faculteit Ingenieurswetenschappen, Web.

InfoMigrants (2020). “Lesbos like 'war zone' - MSF official”. Available at:

Paidakaki A., De Becker, R., De Reu, Y. Viaene, F., Elnaschie, S. and Van den Broeck, P. (2021). How can community architects build socially resilient refugee camps? Lessons from the Office of Displaced Designers in Lesvos, Greece. Archnet-IJAR, Vol. ahead-of-print(No. ahead-of-print).

ODD (2020). Website.

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