The MIT Future Heritage Lab received 2 Global Holcim Awards 2021: an Acknowledgement award in the Middle East/Africa Regional category, and a Commendation in the Global category.


The project that received the award is the T-Serai, a prototype for a cultural response to humanitarian crises, produced with the generous support of the Sharjah Museums Authority and the implementation partner Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Jordan. The participatory dimension of the project involved students at MIT and at the American University Sharjah, as well as a group of Syrian women enrolled in the Youth Programme of the NRC in the Zaatari Refugee Camp.

An extended version of the project, titled Displaced Empire,  also includes the research and course development about cultural resilience through the lens of refugee inventions. It is currently exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale (closes on Nov. 22), and was produced with the generous support of several MIT entities: CAST – International Exhibition and Performance Grant, J-WEL Grant in Education Innovation, LCAU – Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism, MISTI Program for the Arab World, SA+P Office of the Dean / The Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture, Transmedia Storytelling Initiative, UROP – Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program


The world generates over 80 billion square meters of discarded or unused garments every year. Creating value by coupling that waste with the human potential of refugee camps is the idea behind this project. Modular tapestries are created that can be used to make refugee shelters for displaced Syrians. The jury appreciated the project’s support of cultural resilience of displaced communities through the promotion of cooperative-based practices. “Our project addresses problems of cultural infrastructure and refugee camps and mitigates the lack of opportunities of displaced people to access means of cultural resilience,” explains project author Azra Aksamija of the MIT Future Heritage Lab team, Cambridge, MA, USA. “The upcycling of discarded clothing demonstrates how the global textile industry could support the cultural resilience of displaced communities.”


The Holcim Foundation conducts the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction – the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design with total prize money per cycle of USD 2 million. The international competition showcases the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning, and the building industry have in achieving a more sustainable future. Each competition cycle spans three years, from announcement to completion.

The competition has two categories: the Main category for established professionals, and the Next Generation category for young professionals and students. Winners are selected by international and independent panels of experts in five regions (Europe, North America, Latin America, Middle East Africa, and Asia Pacific) as well as the global jury. Submissions are evaluated using the Foundation’s Target Issues for sustainable construction.