Making Space: Refuge to Home

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Virginia Tech


Home - the universally understood and desired state of being that is existing naturally, harmoniously, familiar, and whole. What does it mean to leave home and to seek refuge? And how do we find home again? Throughout history and today, communities across the globe have either suffered in or been plagued with a refugee crisis in some form. Laos is the most bombed country per capita in history. During the American Secret War on Laos, 270 million tons of cluster bombs were dropped on Laos from 1964-1973: equivalent to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours per day, for 9 years. Today, over 265,000 Lao Americans live in the United States with a majority of them arriving as refugees in the 1980s as a result of the Secret War. Lao Americans forced from their homes have since found refuge but what does it look like for them to come home? Understanding home as not only defined as a physical geospatial location, what creates the physiological sense being at home in one's body and one's mind?

These are the questions underpinning this thesis. They necessitate an understanding of psychology, sociology, and neurology in a way that has traditionally not been a framework of architectural education and design process thinking. As the broader mental health crisis and concern for well-being continues to dominate societal struggles, architecture and design are called upon to evolve their methodologies. Making Space: Refuge to Home presents a design methodology that focuses on cultivating an informed and empathic client relationship in order to drive intentional design choices based on desired physiological outcomes. In doing so, this thesis offers an approach of how to navigate the complexities of place, home, safety, and identity in order to make space that shifts from providing refuge and safety, to being home and whole. By utilizing participatory story-telling, psycho-social outcome identification, and empathic imagination, this thesis develops a trauma-informed and well-being centric design approach for cultivating resilience and making space to come home. This methodological rigor is applied specifically to the Lao American community and their experience of forced resettlement and intergenerational trauma.

Making Space: Refuge to Home challenges traditional architectural approaches that often lean on cultural appropriation, iconographic motifs, or traditional programmatic understandings of what a cultural center is and instead, crafts a new design language. The result is a design approach that places the lived emotional and physiological experience of the user group first. The result is an attempt at a more authentic and complex understanding of home that straddles a multiplicity of cultures and lived realities.



home, refugee, intergenerational trauma, healing, Lao