The nine myths and one rule about Architecture for Humanity
1. We are just individual designers
While we do have a large number of individuals looking to donate their services, we work with small, medium and large firms from around the world. To date over 100 firms have taken part in our projects and over 2100 designers from 65 countries have been a part of our design competitions. Most recently we had an entire family of engineers and a boyfriend/girlfriend architect couple working on a projects together.
2. We are just architects
The reason we are called ‘Architecture for Humanity’ and not ‘Architects for Humanity’ is that we believe that architecture embraces all facets of building in the environment and this encompasses the entire umbrella of design world. From architects, landscape architects, interior designers, industrial designers, engineers and even the occasional elephant migration expert we believe that you can make lasting change by bringing together all the stakeholders as partners in the design and building process. We also feel our clients, and building end users, should be the designers of their own destiny and we strongly encourage them to participate in the design and development phase.
In our headquarters we’ve had writers, artists, environmental scientists, slam poets, urban activists, ex-reality stars, natural building experts, DJs and former professional snowboarders all a part of the merry band of in-house staff.
3. We just do design work
While we push design as an incredible medium for innovative thinking and development, we understand that change doesn’t happen when it is left on paper. To implement these creative solutions we are involved in a huge range of things in order to see them realized. This includes community outreach, contract development, construction documentation, project administration, fund raising, post-construction assessments … the list goes on.
4. We only work outside of the United States
We have garnered a lot of recognition in the media for work outside of the United States however we’ve done a number of projects on the Gulf Coast, on Native American reservations and, partnering with local chapters, a number of inner-city projects. In 2009 we hosted an international design competition focused on educational facilities around the world with the winning scheme located in Victor, Idaho.
5. We only do sustainable post-disaster reconstruction
After 2005 our organization became heavily associated with rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina and the South Asia Tsunami. We are immensely proud of the work done to support the communities affected by these disasters but our portfolio reaches well beyond post-disaster reconstruction. We’ve been involved in school building and health clinics in Tanzania, affordable housing on the Hopi Nation and South Africa as well as youth and community centers in Kenya and India. In the next few years we will be working on youth sports facilities in Rwanda, Ghana and Brazil as well as orphanages in Uganda and school building in Burma, Liberia and the United States.
6. We work only with local community organizations
While we always partner with a local group or individual on the ground, many of our projects include larger NGOs or Funding Agents. To date we’ve worked with groups like UN Habitat, Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, Oprahs’ Angel Network and Warchild USA. Additionally we’ve worked with corporations to help implement their CSR projects.
7. Brad Pitt works for us
Since Hurricane Katrina people kept phoning our office looking for Brad Pitt. At first we found it amusing but the truth is that he does not work with us nor is he hanging out by the coffee machine. We do know he likes our book, Design Like You Give A Damn, so we know he’s got good taste. We’ve met him and he’s quite a nice chap. However, if he’d like to work with us, he’ll have to apply for a fellowship just like everyone else.
8. We are ‘saving the planet’
Some folks really like what we do. We really love it when designers who volunteer or work with us get the props they deserve but … we are not saving the planet. We’re just doing our part to make it better. Our role is to develop build-able solutions for all the amazing organizations and individuals who are out there every day trying to make a huge difference in their communities. We feel fortunate to be a part of this process and are honored to be able to work alongside them. Perhaps one day we could get the 1,000,000+ design professionals to collectively work pro-bono, then we might have a shot at changing the planet for the better.
9. We expect our communities to build the buildings
Many of the structures we are involved in are built by community members. While they are paid for their services we do not expect them to build. We understand that development is a tool for financial stability and we use the construction process not only to keep funding in the community but, when possible, we train locals with new skills to elevate the standards of construction and to generate micro-businesses out of the process. In certain cases we help communities form local federations, small businesses and non-profit entities so they can manage the construction process and streamline the funding of projects.
and one rule.
The “No A**hole Policy”
Don’t work with them, don’t take money from them, don’t hire them.
When projects get bogged down in politics, external interests or ego the only group that truly suffers are the building recipients. There are enough hurdles that have to be overcome and many of the communities we serve have waited for years for a school, a clinic or even basic services to be implemented. Our role is to help guide the design and building process and to work alongside the community to realize these projects.
It is a huge privilege to work on these projects and it is important for all parties involved that their are no unnecessary distractions. All stakeholders should believe in dignity and respect for others. If we are forced to compromise our mission, we lose our purpose for being. This is when Architecture for Humanity should not continue. Remembering this keeps us in check.