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Interview with Rania Qawasma-Dana – Architect for Refugees

Rania is an Arab-American architect working in the areas of sustainability, affordable living, social equity, and refugee advocacy. Rania holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture engineering and a master’s degree in sustainable design. Furthermore, she is an active member in the Arab-American community and works with local organizations to assist the Syrian and Iraqi resettling in the Seattle area. In addition, Rania is vigorously working to engage the public to address the weight and urgency of the refugee crisis by speaking at schools and local community events. Recently, Rania started Architecture for Refugees-USA. Her vision is to encourage architects, designers, and thinkers to join the larger movement and engage in offering solutions for the displacement crisis. Part of this vision was the creation of This is Home project, an organization Rania founded that helps refugees quickly acclimate into their new homes and communities.

Q: POWER in design is…

A: Power in design is working for and with communities, being the voice of the vulnerable.

Q: What are three implications of design power that you have encounter?

1) Cultural, by understanding the social settings of the societies we serve
2) Outreach and interaction, by engaging all stakeholders in the design
3) Sustainability, by speaking up for environmental issues through design

Q: When have you had powerful impact through design?

A: A powerful design impact I have had was teaching refugees seeking shelter in an abandoned warehouse on the island of Lesbos how to insulate the warehouse against the cold winter.

Toward the end of November 2016, I received a message around midnight from the families asking about ways to warm up the space. They couldn’t build fires inside the building and the warehouse did not have electricity. They asked for help finding affordable heating solutions that the families could implement themselves. After inquiring about the building envelope and what the materials they had access to, I suggested insulating the walls. The families were able to insulate the walls with donated clothing and fabric from old tents, torn sheets, etc; basically, any unused fabric they could find around. And it worked, the space got warmer during winter.

Q: Tell us about a project that you completed that you are most proud of.

A: In December 2016 I designed a neighborhood operation manual, This is Home. This guidebook for refugees—similar to one tourists would use to find their way in a new country—helps to accelerate the transition process of living in a new place.

The book is designed to guide the user through primary aspects of daily life: at home, when shopping, on the road, conversation, finance, holidays, healthcare, contacts, and services. The information is provided in both English and the user’s native language. While the first version was translated in English and Arabic, there are now versions in Spanish, Farsi, and Dari as well. The book’s emphasis on visuals over text assures that the guide can be used with little to no assistance.

Q: If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

A: Be the change you wish to see in the world

Q: What questions do you ask before you begin any design project?

A: Who am I designing for? What are their needs and how my design will satisfy these needs?

Q: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to contribute?

A: As an activist architect, I believe every human has the right to live in a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment. Everyone deserve a place to call home. I want work with people to design their homes and communities.

Learn more about Rania’s work:
Architecture for Refugees – USA
Twitter  – @Raniaqawasma
Instagram  – @raniaqawasma
Facebook – @Raniaqawasma
Email  – [email protected]

Rania is a panelist on the SDF2017 emPOWERing Communities Design Discussion. PLUS be sure to check out the Architecture for Refugees-USA program Building Bridges at SDF2017!