Archive for the ‘Architecture for Humanity’ Tag

Your Opinion, Please

Got an opinion? Of course you do. How about your opinion on this: When the SHELTER movie is released we want to donate a portion of our distribution profits to a charitable organization or NGO. But which one? Take the poll below and see instantly how everyone else is voting.


Current Projects at Architecture for Humanity

An update from Cameron Sinclair about Architecture for Humanity’s current projects. Although known for working on rebuilding Haiti and supporting reconstruction partners in Chile, Architecture for Humanity is working all over the world on design projects including sports centers in Africa.

Check out his blog post about it here.

Design For Good: The Controversy

Written by Lee Schneider, Director of SHELTER

The Haiti SOFTHOUSE is described by its creators as “a flexible and sustainable approach to shelter that provides immediate transitional housing.” It’s steel-framed housing with fabric on top. The SOFTHOUSEgroup, which is behind the project, reports that it’s currently working in conjunction with The Rural Haiti Project to deploy the project in Haiti. In other words, they are outsiders trying as best they can to work with locals to create a project that is relevant and which fills a need.

That’s not always so easy.

Bruce Nussbaum, a design commentator, recently asked in his blog if humanitarian design might be the new imperialism. It’s a good bomb-throwing concept that has people talking. Certainly, Nussbaum has shined a big flashlight on the problem of outsiders coming in with design solutions that locals don’t always want. Why don’t locals want these solutions? Well, they don’t always employ locals. They don’t always work well with local infrastructure. There’s a general grumbling to the effect that “what makes these outsiders believe they can just come in and solve our problems?”

It’s a question that sometimes comes up for Nathaniel Corum, a self-described nomadic architect who has just started working with Architecture for Humanity on Haiti reconstruction. Corum has recently worked on a Navajo reservation, where he designed and helped residents build solar-powered homes made from straw bales. To protest the wasteful use of plastic, he’s made a 130-day voyage across the Pacific Ocean in a boat called Plastiki. It was made from 12,500 recycled plastic bottles and he designed the cabin.

As quoted by the Times, he answered the charge of design imperialism like this:

“The richer the dialogue you have with the people you’re working with the better,” he said. “I spend lots of time with them, and learn so much, especially from people living close to the land. Humanitarian design isn’t the new imperialism, it’s the new compassion.”

Many would agree that compassion as a design concept is a good idea. But what about execution? Another story. Tell that to the people who are working – and failing – to get the One Laptop Per Child design into India. The mission is to put inexpensive laptop or notebook computers into the hands of children in developing countries. But it hasn’t worked in India – because the Indian educational establishment has blocked the one-laptop movement. They know there are problems with their schools, they say, but the problems are not technological. The system is dysfunctional for other reasons. So they don’t need a technological solution like a laptop.

Designing for good can start with good intentions – but for those who practice it, deploying good design in the field requires diplomacy and a truly personal sort of compassion.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

Haiti Rebuild: The Last Responders

Written by Cameron Sinclair, Co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and the Open Architecture Network

Live from Port au Prince

Tonight you’ll see every journalist report ‘live from Port-au-Prince’. They will review the devastation, highlight the heroes and question the rebuilding process, all in a six minute segment. Then we will be onto the oil spill, the terrorist attacks in Uganda, the last minute goal in the World Cup and other issues facing of the world. A number of reporters have been on the ground every day since the quake, they aren’t going anywhere. Truly dedicated individuals that continue to file reports, interview families and chase up government officials and aid agencies despite the appetite for this story growing weak. We will get a blip during the elections, especially if their is violence, but this may be it for major reporting. Remember Katrina? That was on US soil and how often we hear about that after the first year. Like Katrina, this is a five year process, one rife with hurdles and tough choices.

It’s time for the last responders
Six months ago this week I wrote an internal plan for long-term reconstruction for Haiti and, after some discussion, decided to make it public. Within days of posting it [on The Huffington Post] it was tweeted hundreds of times. This is the eighth time my organization has been a part of a post-disaster reconstruction program and, given that we had spent time in Haiti pre-quake, I felt it was important to set expectations. As we raised funds and began to initiate projects, I wanted donors, partners and community stakeholders to understand that we were not in for the “quick fix” or a “number of people served” response, we’re in for the long term.  We are the last responders.

In the plan I noted six months as the transition point from recovery to reconstruction. This is the time of the last responders, the motley crew of hundreds of building and water/sanitation professionals who work for years after the last major news outlet has left. As the thousands of NGOs will be whittled down to a few hundred, hopefully local groups, including social entrepreneurs, NGOs and small businesses, should feature as the predominant player in the reconstruction process. They don’t just need to, they have to. While the international community can add capacity and play an important support role to truly move out of the “aid culture” the ownership needs to be Haitian led. The fourth phase, economic development, will only work if the foundation of reconstruction is regionally based.

They were the first, they will also be the last
In the moments after the quake, long before the first convoy crossed the border of the Dominican Republic, the true first responders were the Haitian people. Those lucky enough to escape injury did not run to the hills, they ran to the screaming. They went into fallen structures and clawed out those trapped underneath the rubble, they consoled those who had lost their loved ones. Never, ever underestimate the resilience of a people struck by monumental disaster. The despair in their eyes was for the collective, not the individual.

As the world’s community responded, those affected were incredibly grateful. As shock gave way to need and need gave way to a a desire to return to normalcy, anger crept into the voices of those looking a way to get out of the tent cities. This anger is understandable. Imagine being a carpenter now living in a tent by the airport. Every day you sit with your family watching SUVs snarled in a traffic jam outside. Fumes from the idling cars fill the air. You keep hearing false expectations that everything will be back to normal in less than a year and all the solutions will be imported, from shipping container housing to modular solutions – no need for lots of carpenters or masons.

This carpenter is the key to rebuilding Haiti. We need to push, demand and fight to move into this last responder phase. One in which equal partnerships are formed with local architects, engineers and builders. One where we think pragmatically about what gets built, homes that are not only safe but support LOCAL jobs. We should be building vocational training facilities that utilize the reconstruction as a mechanism for sustainability. [in partnership with AIDG we assessed thousands of homes and trained hundreds of local masons] The underlying point here is jobs, jobs, jobs. Let’s put the work into working it out.

Next Generation Leadership
Beyond economic stability and safe housing, the most important structures that needs to be built are schools. This will be a sector that Architecture for Humanity, my organization, will focus on. I believe our greatest impact will come from building not only a school of the future but for the future of Haiti. Not only incorporating digital inclusion, off the grid technologies and new teaching methodologies but empowering and supporting existing vocations. Every school must be led by Haitian organizations and built in a sustainable manner (financially and architecturally). These schools are dawn to dusk buildings and will become centers in revitalized communities.

Over the last few months teams of probono designers on the ground have developed and revised prototypes and we’ve formed relationships with a number of existing schools and made dozens of site visits. However we may have funds available to build a few more of these community anchors. Primarily funded via Students Rebuild, a $500,000 match for schools that are fundraising for Haiti around the world, we’ve developed a Request for Proposal (rfp) process to ensure the building and rebuilding of Haitian led schools. (if you are looking to have your school funded, you can log onto our site. We have an open process)

No Ego, No Logo
One last point. In the last ten years we’ve never put our name on a building, we’ve never put one of our donors either. No, it’s not because we are cheap (fiscally responsible), it is much more important reason.

Working in community led reconstruction you rip away any local ownership by sticking a fancy logo on the building. As if you to say “This building is yours but just remember, we built it – and please remember it every day.” I know the reason why people do it but the community knows who donated it and the builders know who funded the building. If you’d like to donate, please don’t expect to see your name on the building. See your compassion in those who the building will serve.

To donate to Architecture for Humanity, click here.

Follow Cameron Sinclair on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. Thank you to Architecture for Humanity for allowing us to share it on SHELTER.

Architecture for Humanity – Earthquake Resistant Schools

The SHELTER blog has started a partnership with Architecture for Humanity.  We’ll have the opportunity to update you on the great work AFH is doing here and abroad.  Look for Q&A’s with project managers, notes about design contests and news from AFH.  Here’s an article to start us off. You can find the original post by Karl Johnson at the Architecture for Humanity website.

Members of Architecture for Humanity found themselves in the East Bay late last week, holding a structures workshop for Earth Day. The beneficiaries of this exercise: a dozen middle school students. The AfH team presented principles of earthquake-resistant design and distributed kits of parts (cardboard sites, sized applicator sticks and jujubes) and programs for a school.

This pilot exercise might find extended life as part of a school-design curriculum being developed by Architecture for Humanity and StudentsRebuild is an international program facilitating middle and high school student teams raising money for permanent school construction in Haiti. The curriculum will teach the teams the process of designing and building a school in Haiti, including a unit on structural design for earthquakes and hurricanes. The lessons will be accompanied by interactive conferencing with building professionals supported by Global Nomads Group.

Thanks to Diana Bianchini at Di Moda Public Relations for facilitating this.  Follow her on Twitter at dimodapr.

Citizen Architect

“Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio” is a film that gets into what the value of good architecture might be, both for the architect and for the person who lives in the building. The film, which is coming to PBS, is about Samuel Mockbee and his vision of an architecture for everyone. Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity has a few words in the clip in favor of design for everyone, and Peter Eisenman of Yale says the role of architecture is not to save the world but instead to challenge us. Read more about films like this at Good.

Update: Haiti Earthquake

Architecture for Humanity is working on the rebuilding effort in Haiti.  An update from their website:

Our Local Partners
We had been set to send a design team to Haiti this month to partner with local NGO Yele Haiti but have put this on hold until we can get a full assessment of the situation. We’ve connected with both Yele and our close friends at the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG). We have made a full commitment to support both their efforts in the long term rebuilding of affected areas.

Our Response
We DO NOT do emergency housing. We primarily work in the reconstruction phase of post disaster situations and will be focused on transitional and permanent housing and community structures. Our appeal is to help supply pro bono construction and design professionals and support in the building of earthquake resistant structures.

If you care about building back better, donate today.

For details, you can check out the Architecture for Humanity website.

A Village in One Day

With three HD cameras rolling and a still camera shooting time lapse images we witnessed something remarkable through our viewfinders.

River Haven U-Domes _Panorama _6

photo courtesy Bruce LeBel

At the River Haven homeless encampment in Ventura, California, we saw nineteen new homes constructed in just one day. The homes are called U-Domes, a product of World Shelters. They are weather worthy, rated to withstand 80 mph winds, fire-retardant, and fully recyclable. They have locking doors, windows and vents.

We’re putting all the material filmed on the construction day into our edit system in San Francisco. Our Los Angeles edit system is handling the timelapse sequences. We hope to have some previews of the timelapse materials up on this site soon. It’s all part of our documentary called SHELTER.

There has been a little drama while building this village.  High winds blew some of the structures off their platforms before they could be properly anchored. The platforms had to be rebuilt because of a design problem. But by Thursday a small crew of workers hopes to finish fixing the platforms, with a move in scheduled next week for twenty five River Haven residents.

Mark Michaels, a resident of River Haven who helps oversee the community, told us that the residents were really looking forward to taking occupancy, now that winter weather is on the way. “We can get some heavy rains here,” he said. “The whole area can turn into a lake.” But with the U-Domes sturdily perched on their wooden platforms, River Haven residents can stay warm and dry. There are six of U-Domes with 200 square feet of space for couples and 13 U-Domes with 120 square feet for singles.

Do projects like this represent the future of pre-fab used in emergency relief situations? Bruce LeBel of World Shelters will find out. In the coming weeks, he will be working with county and city governments to get approval for similar U-Dome installations elsewhere in California. There’s a lot of red tape to cut through and a lot of NIMBY – “Not In My Backyard.” But as Steven Elias, a friend of World Shelters, explained, while a 250-person homeless shelter might meet with resistance in some communities, small twenty five-person communities might answer the needs of the homeless without having a large footprint.

According to the Ventura County 2009 Homeless Count, there are 2,193 homeless people in Ventura County, counting 361 children. 161 families are homeless.

Certainly there’s a need to shelter the homeless, and pre-fab structures like U-Domes could help. Yet U-Domes are just one form of pre-fab. Generally speaking, pre-fabricated manufacturing is a method of constructing homes using manufactured sections that are assembled on site. This method can be “greener” than traditional construction methods because fabrication is centralized and homes can go up more quickly. This brings another advantage – pre-fab can cost less than conventional building.


photo from Florian via Flickr

Companies like LivingHomes offer high-end pre-fab homes. Jennifer Siegal, founder of the Office of Mobile Design, (OMD) has pioneered the construction of prefabricated homes, schools and other buildings. Ms. Siegal is a big fan of portable architecture – like the classic Airstream trailer.

But high-end pre-fab hasn’t always found an audience. One pre-fab pioneer, Michelle Kaufmann, closed her Oakland, California company MK Designs this past May, citing the bad economy and withering housing market. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Blu Homes, of Boston, MA,  purchased the rights to build Kaufmann’s preconfigured designs.

Still, what often comes out of pre-fab projects, even the expensive ones, are “ideas, experimental materials, assembly methods, and good design–which can often translate into lower costs for all housing,” including homes for the homeless, says Richard Neill, director of photography on SHELTER and an executive producer on the project.

Could be that companies like World Shelters, and groups like Architecture for Humanity are looking into the robust future of pre-fab by focusing on disaster relief, temporary housing and housing for the homeless. We’re going to tell their story in SHELTER. Look for production updates here.

Thanks to Panasonic for donating the use of one of the world’s most advanced 1080P HD cameras–Panasonic’s P2 HD Cinema VariCam, and also thanks to Marshall Thompson for additional cinematography.

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This is the ongoing  blog of SHELTER, a movie about innovative solutions to provide housing for everyone.   The film examines everyone’s right to a roof over their head and focuses on inventive methods of building as advanced by such architects as Jennifer Siegal, Whitney Sander, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, design innovators like Buckminster Fuller and activists like Bruce LeBel of World Shelters.  SHELTER is a production of DocuCinema and Adventure Pictures.  Its executive producers are Lee Schneider and Richard Neill.