In the introduction to Architecture for Humanity’s 2006 book Design Like You Give a Damn, founder Cameron Sinclair recounts a story from the early days of the organization. Half-joking yet deadly serious, he describes the day when, while still running Architecture for Humanity from a single cell phone around his day job at Gensler, he was contacted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who told him that Architecture for Humanity was on a list of organizations that might be able to help a potential refugee crisis in Afghanistan should the US retaliate in the wake of September 11.
“I hope it’s a long list,” says Sinclair. “No,” comes the answer.
“We’d like to think it was because we had already become a voice for humanitarian design – an unexpected touchstone in the movement for socially conscious architecture,” writes Sinclair of the incident. “The sad truth is that until 1999, when our fledgling organization got started along with a handful of others, there was no easily identifiable design resource for shelter after disaster.”
Now, after their sudden and rather unceremonious demise, Architecture for Humanity has left architecture a very different world from the one it entered almost sixteen years ago.
Update: on February 26th 2015, Architecture for Humanity released a statement officially announcing their bankruptcy proceedings. View the full statement at the end of this article.
As reported by SFGate, on January 1st Architecture for Humanity laid off all staff and closed its Head Office in San Francisco. Although there has been no official statement from the organization, the news has been widely circulated, with Architecture for Humanity founders Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr issuing a statement saying that they are ”deeply saddened” by the news, and urging the organization’s other chapters around the world “to continue their much needed work.”
Yesterday we asked some prominent critics and a few of Ban’s peers to weigh in on the Japanese architect’s Pritzker win. Curators, architects, and writers praised Ban’s approach and conviction, describing what Ban’s work signifies to the architecture community. Read on for comments from Architecture for Humanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair, MoMA curators Barry Bergdoll and Pedro Gadanho, Cooper Union classmates Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser, of Reiser + Umemototo, and more.
“We are very proud of Shigeru as the first Pritzker Prize Winner to have graduated from Cooper Union. Shigeru continues to embody the independent thinking that was highly emphasized through our education. We met Shigeru in 1979, and can speak to his dedication to humanity from the beginning. As we recall, each design problem for Shigeru became an occasion to explore the work of what he considered to be the master architects as a way of developing his own voice. It has become fashionable to connect architecture to social causes; however, Shigeru has never seen it as a trend, but rather something fundamental to his design practice. Unlike those in the discipline who conflate their social and political commitments with architecture, he happens to be a very fine architect. As a result of his education abroad and his inclination to define a unique practice, Shigeru has always been viewed as an independent within the Japanese scene. We are very excited that Shigeru’s work is being honored.”
- Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser
Founders of Reiser + Umemototo, RUR Architecture PC
“It’s great to see something you started evolve into an institution. We are excited about the future of the organization and plan to continue lending support in whatever ways we can.” Kate Stohr, co-founder
Architecture for Humanity founders, Kate Stohr and Cameron Sinclair, will step down after 15 years of leading the San Francisco based non-profit organization to focus on new ventures. Upon leaving, they have drafted a five year strategic vision, reiterating the organization’s purpose and needed areas of improvement. Matt Charney, Board President of Architecture for Humanity, is confident that ‘Kate and Cameron’s vision and years of dedication leaves the organization in a solid place.” To further expand operations, board directors will begin an international search for a new executive director by the end of September.
“When you build a beautiful building, people love it. And the most sustainable building in the world is the one that’s loved.” – Cameron Sinclair, Co-founder of Architecture for Humanity
Cameron Sinclair is a man who sustains his passion for helping improve the world, one project at a time, by tapping into the skilled enthusiasm of like-minded architects from all over the globe. Since the co-founding of his non-profit organization with Kate Stohr in 1999, Sinclair and his interdisciplinary teams of citizen architects have provided shelter for more than two million people worldwide.
Under his leadership, Architecture for Humanity’s infectious mantra has inspired thousands to join its cause every year, allowing the organization to expand at an unbelievable rate and become the exemplar of public interest design. Considering this, it is no surprise that Sinclair was selected to be the keynote speaker on day two of the 2013 AIA National Convention.
Keeping the momentum from yesterday’s inaugural speech, where TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie shared his success story of “doing well by doing good,” Sinclair urged architects to hold close the true value of their profession.
Learn what Cameron Sinclair believes to be the ‘true value of architects’ after the break.
If you missed Design Like You Give A Dam: LIVE! - the Architecture for Humanity event of panel discussions and workshops at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco - you must check out this short video.
The event brought together people from all walks of life from all corners of the globe, united by one simple idea: design can better human life.
As ArchforHumanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair explained of the event: “We had architects from Medellin, Colombia talk about how to prevent violence through architecture. We had thoughtful leaders who have come from small towns in the Midwest that were devastated by tornadoes that galvanized their community and rebuilt them. We had lawyers that talked about how to create a better justice system – really looking at the human experience within the built environment. [...] The thing about this conference is that we don’t just show you ideas, we show you how those ideas get built.”
Check out videos of the Conference’s Panel Discussions, after the break…
Since 1999, Architecture for Humanity has been putting Architects in service of those communities who need them most. After disaster strikes, AfH uses its expansive network of contacts to get well-designed buildings built – and fast. Today, AfH has built over 2,000 structures that have positively impacted about 2 million people worldwide.
Co-founders Kate Stohr and Cameron Sinclair (you can find our interview with Sinclair here) also run design competitions, manage the Open Design Network, WorldChanging, and have published the best-selling books Design Like You Give a Damn and Design Like You Give A Damn . Together, and with the Architects who work for them, they are redefining the role of Architecture and Design: to truly make an impact on our world.
There are few organizations that would utter the words: “we need to constantly look for ways to make ourselves redundant” (46).
But Architecture for Humanity isn’t your typical organization. Since its inception in 1999, the company has put design professionals in the service of local communities, empowering these locals to the point where, frankly, they don’t need the architects any more.
And Design Like You Give A Damn  : Building Change from the Ground Up, written by Architecture for Humanity co-founders Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, isn’t your typical architecture book. More like an inspiration design manual, Design Like You Give A Damn  offers practical advise and over 100 case studies of projects that share Architecture for Humanity’s mission of building a sustainable future.
Beyond chronicling inspired designs and against-the-odds accomplishments, the book importantly offers a provocative philosophy : architecture belongs, not to the architect, but to the people and the world for whom it is designed.
More about life lessons and tips from Design Like You Give A Damn  after the break…
Viewpoint’s Veenarat Laohapakakul interviews Architecture for Humanity’s co-founder, Cameron Sinclair. Sinclair begins the interview by stating, “I became an architect because of bad architecture”. He dreams of holistic design that allows for communities to grow together, believing a truly sustainable building should be an important piece of the social fabric within a community that helps achieve economic stability. “Quite often our buildings are not super beautiful, their not slick, but their loved.”
The interview discusses topics such as the mission of the organization, past and current projects, the second edition of the much anticipated Design Like You Give a Damn, the Open Architecture Network and much more. Continue after the break to view parts two and three of the interview.
Near the ending, Obama says “I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too”. Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity, responds on Twitter “Sir, your welcome”.
This year the Open Architecture Challenge called architects, designers and engineers to rethink the classroom of the future. Sounds like a typical competition, but it is not: they were required to collaborate with real students in real schools in their community to develop real solutions.
The winner of this year’s Challenge is the Teton Valley Community School, with a project designed with the emerging practice Section Eight [design]. The Teton Valley Community School in a non-profit independent school located in Victor, Idaho, which is one of the most underfunded school systems in the nation. Currently the school is based out of a remodeled house, but thanks to this award they are closer to get a full classroom.
There are also other awards that I will describe later, but this is more than just prizes. The Challenge received over 1,000 entries, entries that can become real projects that can help improve the quality of education around the world. Architecture for Humanity established the Classroom Upgrade Fund, that hopes to provide seed funding and support to local schools in implementing the design solutions they have developed.
Architecture for Humanity is a a charitable organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crises and brings professional design services to communities in need. A few years ago they adopted an open source model to let architects share designs with a Creative Commons license, resulting on Open Architecture Network, an open collaborative tool that allows people around the world to implement these architectural solutions.
AFH also edited the book Design Like You Give a Damn, a compendium of innovative projects from around the world that demonstrate the power of design to improve people’s lives. A second part is currently on the works.
Cameron was included on the list of the 13 young architects that presented their work on the closing session at the AIA Convention this year. He is also a Green Giant and a World Changing contributor, and has presented the work of AFH on TED (in my opinion, a highly motivational presentation).
I have decided to split this interview in two, leaving the regular set of questions in one part, and other specific questions on the other. This part focuses on how AFH works, delivering architectural solutions to the ones who can’t afford it in an innovative way, and also on the current economical crisis as an opportunity and Katrina.