While other architecture students spend their summers strolling the streets, seeing the sights, and contently sketching, you could be getting your hands dirty, turning your designs into reality, and making a difference in a community that needs you.
Every summer, Global Architecture Brigades (GAB) activates student volunteers to work with a community in Honduras, helping them alleviate needs in health and education. The program isn’t a lesson in a charity; it’s a hands-on experience of the community-entrenched work of a designer of the 21st century.
Read more about Global Architecture Brigade’s work in Honduras, and how you can get involved, after the break…
GAB has a very heady goal: to, in five years, “mobilize 2,000 volunteers to work with community members to build the necessary infrastructure to educate 840 students and provide healthcare to 700 families.”
Perhaps even more admirable than their goal, however, is their methodology of collaboration. Recognizing that the project is ultimately the community’s, volunteers work with the local government, the health/education ministry, accredited masons instructors, and the community members themselves to bring their designs to life. Moreover, as students learn construction techniques, so too do community members, thus giving them skills they can use once the volunteers have left.
In the words of GAB volunteer Caitlin McCunney: “We don’t just give a community new things and hope for the best; we give them the tools they need to move forward. The community can take ownership for the projects and build better lives for themselves.”
Not only do volunteers enter into a social contract with the community members, but they also work with the other brigades in order to ensure a depth of understanding across disciplines.
For example, Architecture Brigades only enters on to the scene after Medical/Dental Brigades has analyzed health needs; after Public Health Brigades has determined the environmental health and hygiene issues; after Water Brigades has begun educating the community’s youth on water conservation and protection; after the Microfinance Brigades has helped the community create a social fund (that partially funds the construction project). Only then, with the needs of the community identified and researched by the previous brigades, do the architecture students begin to analyze how a space can provide for those needs.
As the University of Southern California’s GAB Chapter President, Chi Bhatia, told us: ” it is an all-encompassing mission. It does not only pertain to a certain group of people but is a mission for all involved, giving anyone who wants to volunteer an opportunity, no matter their field of expertise or interest. It brings students and professionals of all sorts together, locals and visitors are given a sense of unity, community members are able to collaborate to achieve one goal: to resolve global health and economic disparity.”
So far, the program has designed two secondary schools and a community health center – all sorely needed (community members previously had to walk two and a half hours to reach the closest health center).The latest, the design for El Canton Community Health Center, was one of many proposals submitted to the community by students across the country; the community eventually chose the proposal from students at UT Austin (it is currently under construction).
The project not only provides an excellent service to the community, but to volunteers as well; with design-build programs still lacking presence in many Architecture schools, and public-interest design becoming a larger and larger field, the program gives young architects a truly unique, formative experience they could not get elsewhere. As McCunney puts it, “GAB represents what I want to do in my future career, it is the reason why I am studying architecture and not another field. I want to build for those who need it, and to give communities new opportunities and newfound pride.”