Public space

Refugee care

Michiel Van Driessche
Marnix Vink
Deborah Lambert
Laura Spenkelink
Fabrice Wack
Carlijn Klomp
Evelina Jusbasjeva
Willemijn Van Manen
Alexandra Merkulova

Ter Apel, The Netherlands

9.5 ha

Coa, Bam



The asylum seekers center in Ter Apel is the largest permanent reception center of the Netherlands, accommodating up to 2000 people. It is designed as a neighborhood for temporary residents, and combines housing with schools, health facilities and sports program. Houses are clustered as 8 neighborhoods around a central space.

Village for temporary residents

Ter Apel is situated in the north of the Netherlands. The reception centre is a short distance away from the surrounding villages and towns and is consequently set up as an independent village combining accommodation with facilities and services. The 258 ground-floor and upper-level units are clustered in eight neighbourhoods arranged around a central park strip where the main facilities are located. Living conditions, safety and manageability were key elements in the design. The clever configuration of residential areas and buildings creates extra space between the units. This provides more privacy for the inhabitants and reduces potential tension due to high occupation density at the centre. It creates space for a landscape framework that allows for a natural orientation in what is an unfamiliar area for the residents. Spatial elements and structures guide the asylum seekers via public spaces to communal areas, and from there to their specific accommodation.

Organisation and orientation

The entrance to the reception centre is formed by a green boulevard that runs past the reception and leads to the central park strip. The primary school with its characteristic secure inner world is located behind the reception: a safe haven where the emphasis is on becoming acquainted with the Dutch education system and learning Dutch.

The central park strip forms the public heart of the community. This is where the service buildings, facility centres, and the sports and playing fields are located. The eight neighbourhoods are situated on both sides of this central park strip, each one distinguished by a square with a facilities pavilion. Each neighbourhood has its own individually-designed square with pavilion that also serves as a landmark, a hangout and meeting place.

The housing units clustered around green courtyards all have an atmosphere of their own, distinguished by the use of colour, pattern and brickwork.  And the entrances to the units are all different and readily recognisable. Instead of gallery entrances for the upper units they are accessed from ground level, this is associated with living in a village. These units have a raised veranda.

The courtyards in each neighbourhood are individually designed and combine relaxing and socialising areas with playing facilities for children. The central section is sunken, creating privacy and encouraging personal usage due to the difference in height with the covered terrace zone for the accommodation. The zones between the various neighbourhoods are not programmed. Long grass, mown paths and trees provide an ambiance for rest and reflection.


Ter Apel is the first address for foreign nationals seeking asylum in the Netherlands: it is the central reception location (COL in Dutch). There are three other types of reception locations in Ter Apel: the process reception location (POL), the freedom-restricting location (VBL) and the reception centre for unaccompanied minors (AMV). The asylum seekers are housed in eight-people units and on average remain there three to four weeks. Because the reception centre in Ter Apel is not a temporary location, it has been specifically designed for the vulnerable and displaced persons target group, but is also optimal as regards exploitation and sustainability. The plan is flexible and the units can be used for different types of reception in the centre.

Very fast construction

BAM completed the new development of the COA Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers in Ter Apel in record time and the centre remained operational during the construction period. Thanks to the use of systems assembly, fast construction techniques, detailed (LEAN) planning and a highly integrated approach, the phased construction was completed in less than two years. Eight neighbourhoods with 248 units, eight laundry and distribution facilities, two offices, a health centre, a primary school and three daytime activity facilities were realised in twenty-one months, including  the demolition of the existing centre and the entire new construction of both underground and above ground infrastructure. BAM techniek designed a special installation skid for the housing units. This skid was assembled in its entirety in a conditioned environment in order to achieve higher technical quality. The entire skid was hoisted up to the unit’s attic on the construction site. This facilitated construction under great time pressure and reduced the costs of failure. The installation skid is accessed from outside. So there is no need to disturb the occupants when carrying out maintenance work.

Sustainable complex

Ter Apel is a permanent reception centre, which means medium and long-term investments can be made in sustainable methods and techniques. The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of the accommodation is 0 and hence energy neutral. This is achieved by applying high-grade insulation, high-yield heat recovery, concrete core activation, solar panels on all roofs and a high degree of prefabricated building components. The design then achieves an A++++ energy label. In the initial years gas heating will still be used. Subsequently, switching to all-electric is simple. The installation skid is fully prepared for this.