Architecture can be a tool for social change, and the belief in this statement is what motivates the work of many architectural NGOs who strive to address the lack of adequate shelter, generate social and economic change and build resilience in communities. These NGOs operate in two major areas, disaster relief and community development, with many organisations pursuing both types of actions. This article rounds-up several architecture-related foundations that act in emergencies, covering their expertise, past involvement in humanitarian crises, as well as the means to join them in their efforts.
Natural disasters affect more than 250 million people each year, and according to UNHCR statistics, 70.8 million people have been displaced worldwide due to conflict and violence. One billion people live in slums, and the number is expected to grow to two billion by 2030. Add the lack of clean water and sanitation, and you have a comprehensive picture of a silent humanitarian crisis, with the need for adequate shelter at its core. Nonetheless, NGOs aside, the profession has recently started to reclaim its social responsibility, as more and more architects engage with humanitarian architecture. For those looking for ways to use their professional skills for the betterment of society, these NGOs are an excellent place to start.
Habitat for Humanity
The well-established non-profit housing organisation works to help vulnerable communities overcome the lack of adequate shelter. Created in 1976, the foundation works in over 70 countries and since its inception has helped more than 29 million people attain a suitable home. The organisation pursues its vision of affordable, decent housing for everyone in several different ways. In a participatory process, volunteers and future dwellers work together, creating suitable housing solutions, in the form of new construction or repairs and improvements to existing homes. Habitat for Humanity also participates in disaster response, through its dedicated program and addresses the need for sanitation and clean water by creating the necessary infrastructure. From local, long-term or as part of an event, there are several types of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, which are covered in detail here.
Architectes de l'Urgence
Founded in 2001, the NGO Architectes de l'Urgence (AU) focuses on re-establishing essential infrastructure (hospitals, schools, water supply, roads) in post-disaster situations. With branches in France, Canada and Switzerland, the organisation benefits from 19 years of experience with more than 30 reconstruction programs in 33 countries. Since its inception, over 1600 architects, engineers and additional support staff have participated in AU's diverse aid initiatives. Most of their projects are not limited to immediate post-disaster response but incorporate rebuilding strategies stretching over several years. To catch a glimpse of their sustained endeavour, over the course of eight years, AU has rebuilt 12 healthcare facilities, 12 schools, one orphanage and over 1500 houses in Haiti, following the devastating tsunami. The organisation also helped in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, or Afghanistan. The foundation recruits architects and civil engineers on a regular basis for international solidarity missions. The type of involvement varies, from student internships, long-term volunteer work, short missions for experienced professionals. All information regarding requirements, recruitment process and forms of participation is available here.
Open Architecture Collaborative
Open Architecture Collaborative is, to some extent, a successor to Architecture for Humanity. The latter filed for bankruptcy in 2015, stirring some controversy, but several of its international chapters picked up the pieces of the organisation, drew knowledge from the 16 years of experience with humanitarian architecture and created a new organism. The NGO's philosophy is rooted in participatory design and its mission is achieving community engagement for marginalised people through architectural means. The new organisation is still in its infancy, but it derives its know-how from AfH's successful past initiatives, like the Haiti rebuilding program. The NGO now focuses on local, small-scale projects like the Kids Skating Series in Nigeria. For information on how to get involved with the organisation, whether as a design firm or an individual volunteer visit their dedicated page.
Emergency Architecture & Human Rights
The NGO focusses on aiding socially vulnerable communities around the globe who are dealing with crises or face inequality of any kind. Regarding architecture as the embodiment of a universal human right, their mission centres around resilience, be it social, economic, or environmental. Founded in 2015 in Denmark and with sister organisations in Santiago de Chile and Rome, Emergency Architecture & Human Rights has completed various humanitarian projects in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Within the NGO's initiatives, the EAHR team, volunteers and the local communities work side by side to design and construct projects such as the school in the Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The organisation focuses on working with the communities, using locally sourced materials, while advancing local construction methods. In addition, the foundation held workshops on architecture for humanitarian emergencies at several universities around the world. For upcoming internships and volunteer opportunities, get in touch with the organisation using the information provided on their website.
Architecture Sans Frontières International
This collaborative network of NGOs brings together more than 20 independent organisations in an effort to consolidate their individual endeavours. The history of the network began in 1979, with the creation of Architectes Sans Frontières in France, followed 13 years later by the namesake organisation in Spain. Now spread across 30 countries on all five continents, ASF International creates a framework for cooperation among the different entities and assists in the formation of new local organisations. With the stated mission of improving the built environment for people in need, all member foundations work for community development and engage in post-disaster and relief interventions. Each organisation has its own recruitment process and provides various types of volunteering and involvement for individuals who are interested in helping disadvantaged communities. See the complete list of member organisations and get in touch with any of them here.