Shelter for the Soul
Joanna Lalowska, Maaeo Ferrari / Poland
Spain’s population of Roma - the largest in Western Europe - form the biggest minority group in the country.
Members of this community continue to be socially marginalized. Many Roma live in slum-like settlements on the
edges of cities and are often faced with forced evictions. They also continue to face discrimination in education,
employment and healthcare, forcing them to live on the margins of society. An estimated 40,000 people in the
country are currently homeless, living on the streets and begging.
The main occupations of Roma are precarious and often on a part-time basis, making it difficult to improve their
economic prospects. As a matter of survival, they developed a reputation for a nomadic lifestyle and a highly insular
culture. They are known for their meticulous handicrafts - basket weaving, intricated wooden structures, handmade
beehives and carpet beaters. Gypsies were also renowned leatherworkers, metalworkers and wood-carvers.
This was the starting point of our design - how to create a place which reignites their rich heritage and can be
applicable for every citizen of Madrid too.
One of the people we spoked with is Gunari, a homeless Roma man from Plaza Mayor, who worked as a security
guard for a decade before finding himself on the streets four years ago.
Gunari says he prefers not to resort to the city’s shelters. “I prefer the street, where I don’t feel coerced,” .
We took his example as a design brief. Due to their spirituality revolving around cleansing, Roma have routines
about what is the correct way to clean, both spiritually and physically. When washing, strict purity rules are kept
in mind. Therefore our idea was to create a structure that resembles water reflectiveness and purification when
The shelter is an echo of its surroundings. It’s lightweight metal structure is a minimal intervention and appears
as a simple diamond-like shape in city landscape.The form is a simple, discreet of highly reflective pieces of gathered
metal, over 4 meters length, supported by modular rigging. It’s mirrored surface embodies the city and tapers
towards the edges, minimising its profile and reducing the structure’s visual impact. Social minorities and homeless
very often seem invisible to the society, that’s why a mirrored structure would be an interesting twist, a safe
sacred space to hide,be “more” invisible and connect with the soul. Sometimes their only way of gaining income is
gathering materials (metal, plastic etc.) and reselling. We wanted to work with this quality as well, incorporating it
into the “DIY” facade.
The inner structure wishes to explore the potential of weaving as an alternative method of construction. Weaving
offers structural stability without glue, nails or any sort of binding material; the weaving itself and friction is the
binding solution. The shape resembles a beehive as well, imposing a cosy cocoon feeling. Inside one can intertwine
individual emotional artifacts, like Roma artificial flowers, Spanish azulejos etc.
The pavilion is thus connected with the site through an understanding of space as opposed to a continuation of
aesthetics. Whilst the mirrored exterior is disorienting — seeming to merge with its surrounds — the inside of the
space retains the neutrality necessary for a shelter.
Made of wicker, the form is 100 % recyclable, permitting to unweave and re-use all of its components again.