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Design Like You Give a Damn: The Legacy of Architecture for Humanity

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.

Architecture For Humanity Closes San Francisco Headquarters

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."

Critics and Peers Comment on Shigeru Ban's Pritzker Prize

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

Founders of Architecture for Humanity Step Down, Launch Five-year Plan

“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.

AIA 2013: Citizen Architect

Cameron Sinclair at the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver © ArchDaily
Cameron Sinclair at the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver © ArchDaily

“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 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. 

As his speech continued the momentum of yesterday’s inaugural presentation, in which 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.

Highlights from Design Like You Give a Damn: LIVE! 2012

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  - you must check out this short video.

Design Like You Give A Damn [2] / Architecture for Humanity

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.

Viewpoint Interview’s Co-founder of Architecture for Humanity

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.

2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom

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AD Interviews: Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity (Part II)

As promised, the second part of the interview with Cameron Sinclair, Founder and Eternal Optimist of Architecture for Humanity.

AD Interviews: Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity (Part I)

During the AIA Convention we had the chance to visit Architecture for Humanity (now on their 10th anniversary) and talk with Cameron Sinclair, the Co-founder and Eternal Optimist of AFH.