5 Reasons Why Architects Should Volunteer to Build Abroad

Rose Lee House / Auburn University . Image © Timothy Hursley

Patrick McLoughlin is one of the two founders of Build Abroad, a volunteer organization that offers architectural and construction services to developing nations. In this article, originally published on Archi-Ninja, McLoughlin shares five reasons why architects should get involved with organizations like his own. 

Many architecture firms collaborate with non-government organisations to help in developing nations. A.gor.a Architects for example, are currently designing and building a new health clinic to provide free healthcare to Burmese refugees and migrants. Auburn University Rural Studio works with architects and students to build homes in rural communities while instigating community-action, collaboration, and sustainability.

A number of organisations also facilitate construction volunteering. Architecture for Humanity provides architecture, planning and project management services for disaster reconstruction. Architects without Borders is a global operation to provide ecologically sensitive and culturally appropriate design assistance to communities in need.

Over the past decade, volunteering abroad has become an increasingly popular and important part of the architecture and construction industry. Volunteering abroad offers short to long term opportunities to experience a new culture while giving back to the community. Construction volunteering offers the potential for a lasting impact on the affected community. Patrick McLoughlin, co-counder of Build Abroad describes the following benefits and how you can help to make a difference:

Sustainable Design-Build Projects from Seven Universities Around the World

The University of Sao Paulo’s communal bathroom proposal for post-disaster relief. Image Courtesy of

Interdisciplinary teams from the University of Sao Paulo, Delft University, and five other post-secondary institutions are currently exploring sustainable innovations in design, materials, and building systems thanks to the support of Pillars of Sustainable Education – a partnership between Architecture for Humanity and the Alcoa Foundation. The collaborative effort was founded as a way to “educate the next generation of architects, engineers, and material designers while supporting real-world design-build projects that positively impact both the environment and the local community.” Months into the project, the schools’ proposals are turning into reality as students collaborate with NGOs. To learn about what each school is working on, keep reading after the break.

TYIN tegnestue Releases Downloadable Guide to Design/Build in Underprivileged Areas

Soe Ker Tie House in Thailand. Image © Pasi Aalto

TYIN tegnestue architects are known for their small-scale built projects in underprivileged areas around the world, but you might not know just how open this firm is about sharing their work. If you head to their website, many of their past projects are available for download in the form of photographs, sketches, drawings, models, and more. They believe that by sharing their knowledge, they are encouraging students and young architects to learn by building. The architecture co-operative has even created the ”TYIN Architect’s Toolbox,” a downloadable guide to working on design-builds in places of need. For more information on the guide, keep reading after the break.

Twenty Years Later, What Rural Studio Continues to Teach Us About Good Design

Lions Park Scout Hut. Image © Rennie Jones

Hale County, is a place full of architects, and often high profile ones. The likes of Todd Williams and Billie Tsien have ventured there, as have Peter Gluck and Xavier Vendrell, all to converge upon Auburn University’s Rural Studio. Despite the influx of designers, it is a place where an ensemble of all black will mark you as an outsider. I learned this during my year as an Outreach student there, and was reminded recently when I ventured south for the Studio’s 20th Anniversary celebration. While the most recent graduates took the stage, I watched the ceremony from the bed of a pick-up truck, indulging in corn-coated, deep-fried catfish, and reflected on what the organization represents to the architecture world.

Since its founding in 1993 by D.K. Ruth and , the Studio has built more than 150 projects and educated over 600 students. Those first years evoke images of stacked tires coated with concrete and car windshields pinned up like shingles over a modest chapel. In the past two decades, leadership has passed from Mockbee and Ruth to the current director, Andrew Freear, and the palette has evolved to feature more conventional materials, but the Studio remains faithful to its founding principal: all people deserve good design. Now that it is officially a twenty-something, what can Rural Studio teach us about good design?

We Need More ‘Building’ in Architecture School

Courtesy of Flickr user mr kris

“Architectural education is very abstract.” Virginia Tech professors and Rural Studio alumni Keith and Marie Zawistowski sat down to talk about the importance of a hands-on experience, suggesting a fundamental restructuring of curriculums. With projects such as the Masonic Ampitheater, they — together with their students — set out to prove that somethings are simply solved by building. Read the full article here, “What Architecture Schools Get Wrong”.

VIDEO: design/buildLAB at Virginia Tech

An inspiring little video from the folks at that will make you want to get your designer hands dirty – today. The video follows the third-years of 2013 as they build their final project: a bridge. As the co-founder of the lab, Kieth Zawistowski, eloquently says at the video’s end, “It doesn’t really matter if you ever want to actually build something yourself again, what’s important, in this case, is that you’ve seen the entirety of the process, from conception to realization.” If you want to see more from , check out the project completed by last year’s students (which features in the last few minutes of the video): Masonic Ampitheatre.

Make Your Summer Count with Global Architecture Brigades

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…

Nosara Recycling Plant / sLAB

 


Visit the Kickstarter Campaign here.

 

A small group of students and architect Tobias Holler of sLAB Costa Rica at the New York Institute of Technology, have teamed up to design and build a communal recycling center for Nosara, Costa Rica – a city that is facing grave problems with sanitation and illegal dumping of garbage on beaches and in wildlife areas. Construction started last summer after a Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,000 helped provide expenses and costs associated with housing the students that assisted with the construction. A relaunch of the Kickstarter campaign will provide the project with additional funds to bring the students back to accelerate the pace of construction. The funds also support the documentary by Ayana de Vos, whose film follows the progress of the project and features and in Costa Rica.

Join us after the break for more.

How to Re-Invent the African Mud Hut

Courtesy of Nka Foundation

It’s not often that a project requires you to bulk up on your haggling skills.

Then again, it’s not often that a project requires you to re-invent the African Mud Hut either. But that was exactly the task presented to Karolina and Wayne Switzer, participants of the Nka Foundation’s “10×10 Shelter Challenge” to design and build a 10 by 10 feet shelter deep in the heart of .

The pair, who just completed their project this month, were dependent upon the local community to make the shelter a reality, and had to learn early on how to communicate with the locals – not just to negotiate prices for materials and labor, but to overcome the local stigma associated with mud architecture (usually only used by the very poor).

The result was a contemporary, durable shelter built with a construction method inspired by local tradition: the pounding of the fufu root, a diet staple for the community, which uncannily paralleled the pounding of fresh soil into the forms. Hence the local’s name for the structure: “Obruni fufu” (white man’s fufu).

If you’re interested in getting involved in the 10×10 Challenge (open to students and graduates of design, architecture, art, or engineering, until October 2013), check out the Nka Foundation’s website, www.nkafoundation.org, or email at info@nkafoundation.org

Full description of the project, after the break….

After the Meltdown: Where does Architecture go from here?

© Megan Jett

You can get into Architecture for one of two reasons: good architecture or bad.

For Cameron Sinclair, the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, it was the latter. As a kid, Sinclair would wander his rough-and-tumble South London neighborhood, contemplating how it could be improved (and creating elaborate Lego models to that effect). Instead of soaring skyscrapers or grand museums, he was inspired by buildings that “integrated your neighborhood in a way that made people feel like life was worth living.”

But that’s not Architecture. Or so he was told when he went to University.

Architecture Schools have created curriculums based on a profession that, by and large, doesn’t exist. They espouse the principles of architectural design, the history and the theory, and prepare its hopeful alumni to create the next Seagram Building or Guggenheim.

Unfortunately, however, has made perfectly clear that there isn’t much need for Guggenheims – certainly not as many as there are architects. As Scott Timberg described in his Salon piece, “The Architectural Meltdown,” thousands of thousands are leaving the academy only to enter a professional “minefield.”

So what needs to change? Our conception of what Architecture is. We need to accept that Architecture isn’t just designing – but building, creating, doing. We need to train architects who are the agents of their own creative process, who can make their visions come to life, not 50 years down the road, but now. Today.

We’ve been trained to think, to envision and design. The only thing left then, is to do.

More on the public-interest model and the future of Architecture, after the break…