Pelin Asa wins Labouisse Prize for International Project

The School of Architecture is delighted to announce that Princeton University senior Pelin Asa has been awarded the Henry Richardson Labouisse '26 Prize to spend one year pursuing an international civic engagement project following graduation. Asa will work with Refugee Open Ware, a consortium that uses advanced technology to improve human rights in refugee communities and conflict-affected areas.

In a press release published last week on the Princeton University news page, Leda Kopach from the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies describes Pelin's project:

Asa, a civil and environmental engineering major from Bursa, Turkey, plans to use a centuries-old construction technique to help refugees build sustainable homes in war-torn areas... The inspiration for Asa's project came from her early years in Turkey. "I was exposed to refugee housing from a young age," Asa said. " The lack of housing has always been in front of my eyes. I wanted to do something about it." 

In preparation for her Labouisse fellowship, Asa spent the past two summers in China working on a rammed-earth construction project as a participant in Princeton's International Internship Program (IIP) based at the Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology. Used for centuries around the world, rammed-earth construction is a home-building technique that requires filling a formwork with damp earth and compressing it with tampers.  "Rammed earth can be very durable and long-lasting, yet it does not leave a trace when taken down, an important attribute for a temporary refugee camp," Asa said. "Since earth is also very thermally efficient, [rammed earth] also reduces the need for heating and cooling, a problem in many refugee camps."

Asa will work with Refugee Open Ware, a consortium that uses advanced technology to improve human rights in refugee communities and conflict-affected areas.

"Pelin is motivated by sustainability projects that assist people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds," said Claire White, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment and Asa's senior thesis adviser. "She is particularly enthusiastic about helping displaced individuals, specifically refugees, as she has close ties with parts of the world where refugee housing is sorely needed. Not only does Pelin aim to coordinate construction of these buildings, she hopes to train the refuges in rammed-earth construction practices and ultimately give them the skills necessary for maintenance and repair of these buildings."

At Princeton, Asa is a member of Engineers Without Borders and plays the accordion with the Princeton University Band. After her fellowship, she plans to attend graduate school for architecture.

"I am much luckier than most people in Turkey," Asa said. "I went to the best high school, and I have the opportunity to go to a great school like Princeton. I feel that I should give back and do something useful. We are all in a refugee crisis."

The Labouisse Prize, which awards $30,000 to each recipient, enables graduating seniors to engage in a project that exemplifies the life and work of Henry Richardson Labouisse, a 1926 Princeton graduate who was a diplomat, international public servant and champion for the causes of international justice and international development. The prize was established in 1984 by Labouisse's daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Martin Peretz. It is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.

View the complete press release on the Princeton University Home Page.