Whether to save governments billions of dollars in mutual conservation efforts or to share information about the harmful effects of meat, great things happen when people get together to achieve a common good. Few people know this better than the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, Cameron Sinclair. Fresh out of college in 1999, with only $700 and a website, the 24-year-old architect and Kate Stohr joined forces to create a non-profit organization that provides “innovative solutions to housing problems all over the globe.” Today that organization has 80 chapters in 20 countries, and can usually be found at the scene of virtually every serious natural disaster.
Architecture for Humanity “channels the resources of the global funding community to meaningful projects.” Beginning projects included mobile clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa that fight the enormous HIV/AIDS epidemic there, transitional housing for returning refugees from Kosovo, and a reconstruction effort in Bam, Iran, after a massive earthquake leveled the city in 2004. After creating and soliciting affordable and practical designs from socially conscious designers, Architecture for Humanity then implements them. A hands-on organization motivated by doing, rather than prattle from their couches, the group is involved with every step of the process from advocacy to construction.
They note that the United Nations needed twelve years to upgrade their emergency shelter to a flat tent, while in that time they have implemented designs as diverse as transformed shipping containers, straw bales, and edible clinics. This year they are in Haiti and Chile, and their reach and scope is expanding. In a speech given to TEDsters, Sinclair discusses the importance of using local resources to solve local problems, since people in their own neighborhoods best understand the challenges of their specific environment. He is only 32 years old, but is partly responsible for improving the lives of thousands of individuals.
At the end of this speech, Sinclair also expressed the wish to “develop a community that actively embraces innovative and sustainable design to improve living conditions for all.”
You can watch the video below.
TED granted this wish with the 2006 TED prize by collaborating with the creation of Open Architecture Network. This is an online community that shares ideas, designs, and plans (including full CAD files) and is the first to open-source architectural plans and drawings. Registered members can freely download any of these files in order to address specific design problems.
The strength and scope of this community attest to the power not only of social and professional networking but also that of a group of committed individuals and their organizations. Not limited to just architects, everyone is getting involved: governments, non-government organizations, aid agencies, and anyone else interested in serving those populations that have the least natural and intellectual resources. Sinclair’s mantra is “design like you give a damn.”
We think is a fine attitude to apply to Middle Eastern projects.
More on Sustainable Architecture:
The Best Way to Keep Buildings Green is Not to Build New Ones
Is Safdie’s Habitat ’67 a Viable Model for Middle Eastern Urban Housing?
Hassan Fathy is The Middle East’s Father of Sustainable Architecture