The Humanitarian Respite shelter in the downtown section of the City of McAllen, Texas was born as a response to families in crisis. Through its services and the work of volunteers, it successfully restores dignity to people in need, particularly Central American immigrants seeking refuge crossing the border from Mexico to the US.

Since its setup in 2014, it has operated in the borrowed space of a Parish Hall and is currently reduced to limited rental space. It has served nearly 100,000 immigrants to date. Hundreds of volunteers, coming from cities in the Rio Grande Valley and arriving from all 50 states and abroad have come together to offer a helping hand, sharing inspirational stories of their connection with immigrants. Tons of goods have been donated, thanks to the contributions and solidarity of individuals and organizations alike.

Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley leads an entire community that is now committed to tend to unaccompanied children, women and men traveling harsh journeys in search of safety and security. Although her work has received accolades from international organizations and recognition by Pope Francis, she remains humble and clear in her vision: the humanitarian respite center should serve as a beacon that symbolizes hope, love, unity and compassion to our fellow human beings for generations to come.

A continuous story of difficulties turned into hope and dignity regained has unfolded and now it needs to be told differently. Human displacement is an issue that more than ever, requires the attention of architects and designers to interpret spaces that offer not only respite, but that embody radical hospitality and restore human dignity.

In a purchased lot in the heart of the City of McAllen, a place of historical significance, a multi-story building of 18,000 sq.ft should respond to the needs of a program where volunteers, visitors, officials and refugees come together in a space that embodies the spirit of humanity at its best.

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Traveling Soles by Veronica G. Cárdenas. “433 soles entering the United States through the Rio Grande River or “El Río Bravo” as known in Mexico”. Image Courtesy of The Humanitarian Respite Center

Traveling Soles by Veronica G. Cárdenas. “433 soles entering the United States through the Rio Grande River or “El Río Bravo” as known in Mexico”. Image Courtesy of The Humanitarian Respite Center

The center should provide an opportunity for the refugees to refresh, to be nourished, to rest and to play, while volunteers help them make arrangements for the next phase of their journeys. The building should embody the spirit of – and serve the McAllen community – through intentional urban design in the downtown core, by connecting adjacent districts and offering a replicable template for ongoing streetscape improvements. Furthermore, it can become an anchor for the city, bringing people together at its downtown heart and by its design, help launch downtown revival.

The building should welcome the stranger, and mark the accomplishment of arrival to the USA. The experience at the HRC is the beginning of healing for the refugees and the physical character of the building itself should support that healing. As a beacon of hope the center should offer a welcome worthy of the immigrants and the Valley’s citizens.

Can we celebrate humanity with a building?

We think so. An open international design competition is underway, requiring design teams to register and submit drawings and renderings for jury review. Entries are encouraged from individuals or teams of architects of any age or experience level, provided one member of the design team holds an Architectural License in Texas, or the ability to obtain one within 90 days of selection and are prepared to carry out the project.

The submitted documents will undergo a two-stage jury review, with a final selection panel consisting of renowned Mexican and American architects. Ten submissions or less will be selected for review as final candidates. The design solution winner shall be selected from the final group of submissions in mid-December 2018.

Submission Deadline: November 9, 2018

To learn more about the jury, click here. More information on Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley here.