There is something about a simple structure thoughtfully produced that goes to the heart of every architecture or design enthusiast. When the building also meets a need for people who have been deprived of the most fundamental human necessities, we can all stand and applaud. That feeling of commendation is what strikes most people when seeing the work of the Tyin Studio, a non-profit, humanitarian group of architecture students based in Trondheim, Norway. The young architects of Tyin studio aim to enact strategic design-build schemes to produce very basic shelter or services in areas of conflict, natural disaster or poverty across the globe. In 2008-9 Tyin were working to help displaced people and orphans living along the Myanmar (Burma) border in Thailand. As several Tyin members are former students of NTNU (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim) and studied there under architect Sami Rintala, they invited their former teacher to bring a group of students to participate in their projects for Keran orphans. Rintala is well known for his work on small, environmentally responsible building projects both in Norway and abroad, and has carried out some forty building workshops of his own. He and his students were immediately drawn to the challenge, which was to design and build a small library for the Safe Haven Orphanage. The Keran people are an ethnic minority who have been expelled by the Burmese government but have no official sanction in their country of refuge. The Safe Haven Orphanage offers shelter and care to around forty children at any one time in the province of Ban Tha Song Yang. The Tyin students were involved in creating a series of buildings including a new bathing pavilion and six woven bamboo huts, dubbed “Butterfly” houses, for the orphaned refugees. Designed and built by Rintala and his team in ten days, the library now provides space for children to read, do homework, have access to computer equipment and the internet, and to gather for crafts, and other activities, as well as being a sleeping shelter. Methods and materials used on the library building are both elemental and sensible. A wall of rendered concrete blocks lines one side of the building, providing thermal protection and a solid base for mounting an entire wall of bookshelves. Native ironwood was used for the post-and-beam construction, while a softer local wood, was used on the interior fittings. (The country’s tight restrictions on harvesting wood meant that it had to be bought by the team from local sellers.) The unfinished open plank floors can be easily maintained and are very durable and enable flexibility of use. The west elevation is shaded by angled screens made of open-work fresh cut bamboo mounted in the traditional way. The expanding upward slant of the screens was determined, according to Rintala, by studying the directions and intensity of sunlight as it moved through the course of the day, ensuring best protection from the late afternoon heat so that the interior would be cool in the evening for sleeping. The level of the floor was raised sufficiently above ground to avoid problems of damp and flooding in this tropical region where the rainy season can bring days of downpour at a time. A simple trench filled with gravel ensures drainage in front of the building. Local materials and cooperation were essential to the scheme both for environmental and community reasons. The foundation was made of local stones hauled by the students; even some of the children participated, piling up small stones. In the end, seventeen cubic metres of natural stone were hauled to the site by hand to form a massive cooling fundament for the building. The metal roof was a departure from the vernacular but highly practical, and was installed with the help of local workers. Bamboo was cut from the surrounding forest. For such a compact building (3mx12m plan; 5.5m height), the little library manages to facilitate a range of activities for its young users while also standing as a testament to the commitment of creating good design in the most challenging circumstances. The ground floor has an open entrance with a library/reading space on one side and a computer area on the other. An upstairs room is for sleeping or resting in the cool shade of the eaves, while light flows softly through the bamboo screens. The hardwood, bamboo, concrete and metal are supremely efficient and robust while also being very pleasantly articulated, used in discreet sections. The crisp trapezoidal shape and small scale of the building are a delight, as is the mix of local materials with modern concepts of pure forms. With the new library and the equally impressive bath house nearby, the orphanage complex looks very much like the haven it is meant to be. Buildings such as these may not solve the underlying problems of displaced people, but they will go along way toward improving the lives of those caught up in disasters not of their own making. Sami Rintala believes that the project was “a nice social happening” for the students and the community. He continues to believe strongly in both the instructive potential and real impact of such design and build workshops for humanitarian purposes, saying “It is a very meaningful way of using architecture as a tool to solve real problems and to teach students at the same time”. However, the achievement of this building is not merely due to its helping a worthy cause. Its success lies in a combination of aesthetic elegance achieved with minimal resources, local involvement and appropriate design strategies, all accomplished in answer to the imperative of human need. As such, it is an achievement we can all feel enthusiastic about.