Award-winning project aims to make slums a better place to live in

The idea recognised at the Urban Design Award Contest addresses the global and local challenges of urban planning.

“One of the basic concepts of the planning process was to develop existing, often derelict places by using locally available, recyclable materials,” stressed Diana Negoescu, Ilham Al-Hajjar, Gabriella D. B. Monteiro és Sophia A. Thomas, fourth year students in the English language programme of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at BME’s Faculty of Architecture (ÉPK), who won a special award for their project entitled “WIMCY – Welcome into My Church Yard” at the prestigious Urban Design Award international contest, in response to’s question.

The Urban Design Award has been presented for 25 years to the best urban development projects selected by an international jury. This year, the Department of Urban Planning and Design at BME’s Faculty of Architecture entered six pre-selected projects into the competition.

The contest announced by the Department of Spatial Planning of the Czech University Faculty of Architecture included projects from Czech, Polish, Slovakian, Spanish and Hungarian universities. From the 60 projects in the first round, 15 were short-listed and evaluated by the jury, which chose the 6 most promising designs to make it into the final round the results of which were published on March 24th 2021.

“The English language programme of the Faculty of Architecture generally has 30 to 40 students. Last year, as part of a planned experiment, we started working on an international design project, intended partly to respond to global challenges. It is a huge success for us that the BME team won 2 awards at this prestigious contest at our very first attempt,” said Árpád Szabó, associate professor, head of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at BME, who was the driving force for the project and the mentoring work, replying to’s question.

(The other project by a BME team that also received an award at this student contest was presented in a previous article of

As part of the ideas competition for architecture students organised by the International Union of Architects (UIA) in 2020, contestants were invited to submit projects to develop one of the oldest slums in Rio de Janeiro, Maré, based on its problems and opportunities and taking into account the UN’s sustainable development principles.

The students in BME’s English language programme discussed this topic as part of their Urban Planning 2 course. Students were mentored by Árpád Szabó, head of the department, Amir Sirjani and Tünde Tóth: before the actual planning began, they spent several weeks on preliminary general preparation during which time the students learned about global issues and surveyed the impact of poverty and poor neighbourhoods on urban life. They then formed small teams and started the planning process, at the end of which the best designs were entered into the Urban Design Award contest. Their work was supported by representatives of NGOs working in Rio who consulted the students via the Internet.

“The site of this design project was much bigger than any other we have worked with before so it was a huge challenge. The first step of our design idea called “Welcome into My Church Yard” was to find strong civil organisations that are able to support and maintain the various projects we developed. Our survey of the demographics of the Maré quarter showed that many people living here are religious and are closely tied to the churches; this explains why there are a lot of religious buildings in the area. As we know that in the past cities were generally built around such religious establishments, we came up with the idea of a “church yard”. We divided the site based on the location of empty or unused plots where the necessary conditions to manage a project could be established in close cooperation with the local religious community. We, in part, developed institutions already existing in the community but also created new ones. We used maps, documents and online surveys to examine the site and also interviewed a person living in Maré,” said the winners of the special award adding that the interventions they envisaged for a few special places may improve the quality of life, which, for example, may include the establishment of the conditions of urban farming or the expansion of possibilities for sports.

Map of the Maré quarter and the development sites


Their other key idea was to use local recyclable materials to develop urban space. Consequently, they devised small units that could be used in a flexible way and be even constructed manually: this is the basis of the CUBE (Community Unification through Building up Economically) concept. Furthermore, the construction of these structures helps reduce the local unemployment rate.


The outline of the CUBE concept


“We proposed a simple metal frame that can be used for many purposes and covered in different ways. We chose this material because it has sustainable properties and is easily available in this community. Our plan clearly shows that these modules can be easily rearranged and this feature may encourage users to find the best possible use for them,” explained the designers. Using manual resources, they can be used as counters in trading activities or as more complex structures when placing them in lines.

“The CUBE module was developed as a concept that easily adapts to the informal patterns of slums instead of following the strict urban system. The functions, existing buildings and the movement of pedestrians determine how the space is arranged and how people and the built environment interact. The ratio of built environment and green surfaces inspired the introduction of green roofs, urban farming and the use of more trees and green surfaces integrated into the cubes,” said the young architects in summing up their project.


The design of the educational centre




Diana Negoescu was born and raised in Brasov, Romania. “In my home country, I often see a lack of harmony between people and architecture: rules and laws are often violated because people are greedy. My goal is to change this. I want to set up a platform where I can teach people about the importance and values of our architectural heritage and the aesthetics in urban design: to this end and to better understand how cities work, I am planning to obtain a PhD in urban planning and design.

My individual task in the Maré project was to develop the educational centre by presenting career path alternatives to the students in a way that may help them improve their lives and independence and build close relations with people.


The design of urban farming





Gabriella Dalita Brix Monteiro is of Canadian and Brazilian origin and was born in Vancouver. “When I finish my master studies, I would like to work in community development and education and obtain a PhD in urban planning and design.

In the Maré project, I took part in the teamwork and also worked on the development of the concept of the sports and urban garden and the market hall. My goal was to reuse existing structures, develop the necessary functions in multiple steps and to grow the green footprint of the community.


The development plan of the retail street





Sophia A. Thomas is of Hungarian and Cypriot origin, was born in Budapest and raised in many places around the world. “When I graduate from BME, I want to continue my studies and ideally specialise in sustainable development.

In the Maré project, I worked on the “retail street” intervention trying to encourage people to choose safer and more organised ways to develop their informal businesses.”


Development idea for the residential unit




Ilham Al-Hajjar was born in Budapest of Hungarian and Jordanian parents. “After my master studies, I want to collect some experience about architecture in practice, then obtain a PhD in architecture history and façadism (editor note: architectural practice where the façade of a protected historic building is preserved while the other parts of the building are reconstructed) and eventually I would like to share my knowledge with future generations.

In the project, I worked on the “residential unit” of the site to create space than can be more efficiently used.”



Source of images: WIMCY project