Patrick McLoughlin and Chad Johnson are the founders of Build Abroad, a volunteer organization that offers architectural and construction services to developing nations. McLoughlin also sits on the board of Architecture for Humanity in Chicago. In this article they share 3 new ways architects can get involved through volunteering.
In the architectural industry’s current climate, pro bono work is met with a certain stigma. Many architects believe giving time free of charge has a negative impact on the profession and devalues architects everywhere. While this is true in most cases, there is one scenario in which architects should give a small portion of their time to the greater good: humanitarian volunteering. Architecture is certainly a powerful tool, and often much needed in developing areas of the world --- so the next time the words ‘pro bono’ come up, think about helping those who wouldn’t be able to afford architectural services otherwise.
Volunteering as an architect can be an extremely rewarding experience. Aside from the direct impact it has on a community, it can also have a profound effect on the volunteer. It is a chance to get out of the office and do something new, as well as an opportunity to think outside the box, refresh your brain and work on unique challenges that may help expose solutions back in the office. It can also be an excuse to travel and even experience new cultures.
There are plenty of interesting and exciting volunteer opportunities for architects. Most are already familiar with two of the larger volunteer organizations: Architecture for Humanity and Habitat for Humanity. Despite closing its head office in San Francisco, Architecture for Humanity still has a strong chapter network and Habitat has numerous local options and offers some trips abroad. Both are easy ways to start volunteering. However, there are also many new organizations that offer volunteer opportunities specifically for architects. Here are 3 up and coming organizations that architects should know about:
Build Abroad’s mission is to build and repair communities all over the world through socially responsible construction volunteering, carrying out projects such as housing, schools, and disaster relief. Build Abroad is destination volunteering and allows people to take a trip any week of the year. They work with grassroots organizations to set up projects that benefit the unique and specific needs of each community. Currently Build Abroad has locations in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru and they continue adding locations every year. Build Abroad is also in the process of setting up a program in Nepal to help rebuild after the horrible earthquake earlier this year. To learn more Build Abroad, watch their video below and check out their website.
Building Trust International supports many projects around the world and leads volunteer workshops every year. They combine volunteering and funding with specific project goals, carrying out design competitions and building projects internationally. BTI puts an emphasis on the design process and tries to include members of the community when discussing conceptual ideas. They take a limited number of people for 3-month working periods in various countries. Right now they are preparing for a design build workshop in Italy. For more information on the work they are doing, check out their website.
3. Journeyman International
Journeyman International is an organization that allows architecture students and young professionals to get involved in variety of ways. They offer co-ops and internships that are similar to a traditional firm, where volunteers work on construction drawings, usually for non-profit organizations. They also work directly with college students to mentor them on thesis projects in conjunction with their school's curriculum. Lastly, they have the Emerging Professionals Program, which allows volunteers to further develop student thesis projects and earn IDP credit. In some cases they send student volunteers to international projects sites, such as Rwanda or the Philippines, to work on design-build projects. To learn more about their work, check out their new website.
Do not underestimate the collective impact architects can have by giving only a small percentage of time to those in need. Challenge yourself. Start volunteering this year, if not only once a month. See how much of a difference you can make.