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.

More about life lessons and tips from Design Like You Give A Damn after the break…

In the book’s introduction, Cameron Sinclair lays out the fundamental lessons he has learned over the 12 years his organization has grown from a 2 person operation into a 2 million person network. Most striking to me, is how many of these lessons speak to the architecture profession at large, and not just in the context of “do-good,” public-interest design.

Take, for example, Lesson Unless you build it, it doesn’t matter.

How often do good, potentially world-changing designs, submitted to competitions or lacking the necessary resources, get lost in the ether? How often do good designs actually take form in the physical world?

As any working architect knows: too often and not often enough.

But with Architecture for Humanity projects, that’s just not an option. Design fellows live and work within the communities they are helping to develop, and as you can imagine: “Communities want results. When you live and work alongside the end use of your structure, they demand it.” (12)

Now, I’m not suggesting that architects start living in every place their current design project is located, but the idea of an architect being so engaged with the community is powerful. With the community involved in a dialogue about the design, you as the architect would have to be acutely responsive to their needs and wants. And the tradeoff: they would demand that your project come to fruition. Instead of the enemy, the community would became your greatest ally in making your vision come to life.

Lesson Innovation is only valuable if it is shared.

This lesson is the most radical – the most antithetical – to the concept of design as it exists in the architecture profession today. And yet it could very well be the future.

In 2005, after receiving the TED Prize, Architecture for Humanity knew what it wanted: “to create an open-source, collaborative project management website that would empower building professionals with design solutions” (25).

Inspired by Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons (CC) movement, the resulting site – the Open Architecture Network, which would later become WorldChanging – allows architects to share their designs with nonprofits (for free) and with commercial companies (for a fee) who then replicate the designs all over the world.

It’s hard to imagine an architect giving up his/her design, to allow it to be built as the world sees fit.  It goes against everything many architects accept as given: the sense of ownership of a design, that it is a part of the architect himself.

But, consider again Lesson Really, a building belongs more to the people who inhabit it than the architect who creates it. And so, why not a design? With the world evolving more and more to the transparent sharing of information, perhaps one day architecture too will be openly shared, adapted, and reincarnated across the globe.

Lesson Design Yourself Out of A Job

One of the guiding principles of any Architecture for Humanity project is that it must be sustainable, and thus, by definition, not require the organization’s services for very long.

Perhaps with this ultimate end goal in mind, building a more sustainable future, architects will begin to take themselves out of the equation and design/share/build architecture with a greater purpose in mind: bettering the world.

Design Like You Give A Damn is a great place to start.


011 Introduction. Architecture for Humanity: Lessons Learned…

048 Financing Sustainable Community Development

074 Disaster Reconstruction

122 Housing

168 Community: Gathering Spaces

188 Community: Education

208 Community: Health

220 Community: Sports for Social Change

230 Community: Sacred Spaces and Memorials

242 Basic Services & Materials

260 Politics, Policy & Planning: Arts & Culture

274 Politics, Policy & Planning: Community Development

290 Politics, Policy & Planning: Crowd Sourced Planning

296 Politics, Policy & Planning: Access to Food

304 Politics, Policy & Planning: Peace & Security

322 Project Updates, Resources & Contributors

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "Design Like You Give A Damn [2] / Architecture for Humanity" 21 May 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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