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Mae Pa, Thailand

At the heart of a municipal waste centre, home to 400 Burmese migrants, lies an island of green and a site where space, power and identity collide.


Faced with decades of structural inequality which have denied them access to social and economic opportunities, the migrants in this community have sought refuge in Mae Sot, Thailand where they collect plastic for a nominal profit.


For two years, Estudio Cavernas has trained members of this community, utilizing a holistic approach to capacity development in which workers are trained in sustainable construction techniques sourcing local materials for the development of their own communities.


After being awarded a grant to develop infrastructure within the waste centre, the Estudio Cavernas team, in partnership with PlayOnside, an organisation focused on youth empowerment and gender equality through sports, set out to build a multipurpose space based on the needs identified by the community themselves. ‘Green Island’ was formed.

Located at the core of the settlement, the ‘Green Island’ provides a centrally located, easily accessible, and safe space where children can learn and play together.






1590 m²





Funded by

Siemens Gamesa


Design Team

Juan Cuevas

Yago Cuevas​

Denis Amirtharaj


Denis Amirtharaj




Architectural Digest.In


Premised on the formative power of physical space, Green Island is designed to create multiple opportunities to fulfil children’s social, physical and cognitive needs. At the focal point of the island is a community centre that doubles as a classroom. 


The typology of the centre is based on an open learning environment. Varying degrees of the enclosure were incorporated to support different learning conditions. Flexible open spaces allow for greater scope for movement and encourage interaction, collaboration, and creativity. When needed, the main interior space can be divided using a mobile partition, a bookshelf with an attached whiteboard, allowing the area to be used simultaneously by different groups for multiple purposes.


Given the extreme weather conditions in the area, the southwest face of the centre is surrounded by protective teak trees which shield it from rain and sun. Prone to heavy rainfall during monsoon season, the building is elevated to avoid water damage to the structure. Double steel profiles anchored to light foundations raise the timber frames from the ground.


The low inclined roof protects the building from heavy rainfall yet the large opening on three sides the building provides cross ventilation and natural light. In order to mitigate flooding, a low-cost French drainage system is constructed. Reclaimed timber is used for the structure and flooring and locally assembled sugarcane thatch is used for the roof.  An inner layer of aluzinc is added underneath the thatch with a middle layer of vertically placed eucalyptus to create an air chamber to avoid excessive radiation from the roof. 


Adjacent to the community centre is a football field lined with bleachers. Students can transition seamlessly into outdoor recreational spaces via an access ramp which acts as a gathering space for children to congregate and rest between learning and sports activities. Sports equipment is stored under the side platforms which can be accessed from the ground.


Incorporated throughout the outdoor area are different learning units including musical instruments, climbing apparatus and a food garden to encourage learning everywhere. The food garden, an enclosed area hosting vegetable and fruit trees, not only provides fresh produce for the community but also serves as an open classroom where children are taught the basic principles of permaculture.


Since its construction, twenty families have built their homes around the Green Island reinforcing the original concept of local ownership and belonging. The Green Island has taken on a symbolic meaning for the community who are united through a central space that represents the community’s identity and shared vision for their own development.

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