India: Design Like You Give a Damn

India: Design Like You Give a Damn

Additional Resources

Architecture for Humanity
Architecture for Humanity has local chapters around the world from San Antonio to Sydney. Their site allows you to sponsor a design fellow in the field and help raise money to support rebuilding in areas hit by natural disasters. Additional links to like-minded organizations are found in their “Folks We Like” section.

Open Architecture Network
The Open Architecture Network is an online gathering spot for architects and designers interested in working in underserved regions. The organization sponsors annual competitions in which it challenges its members to design community gathering spots, workplaces and educational facilities for underprivileged communities.

The Open Architecture Challenge
Each year, the Open Architecture Network (OAN) poses a challenge to architects and designers: Create something that will help underprivileged communities prosper. In 2007, participants designed a chocolate factory in Ecuador, a media lab for youth in Nairobi and a medical center in Nepal. The current challenge asks architects to submit designs for transportable play areas for children in Sao Paolo, Brazil, by June 30, 2008.  

Africa Challenge
OAN’s Africa Challenge called for designs for a technology/media lab and library to empower children in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. See the plans for the winning entry, submitted by The Global Studio, which includes a wireless network designed to provide Internet access to as many local community members as possible.

Nepal Challenge
Challenge winner Max Fordham, LLP, designed a medical facility for rural Nepal, where a population of 250,000 had to rely on just one doctor.

Ecuador Challenge
Utilizing Ecuador’s staple crop, cacao, challenge winners Heather Worrell, ChunSheh Teo and Igor Taskov of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Nis, Serbia, designed a chocolate factory to connect a self-governed coalition of 800 Amazon families from 22 villages, all of which are involved in the local chocolate business.

Archinect is a Web site that aims to connect architects on an international scale. Its mission is to bring together designers to produce ideas from all disciplines. Founded in 1997, Archinect comprises students, architects, educators and lovers of progressive design.

Written by Geoff Manaugh, this blog features a compilation of architecture in the media, with the author’s commentary. A BLDGBLOG book is scheduled to be published by Chronicle Books in 2009.

The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton
Where we are heavily influences who we are and who we can be, according to Alain de Botton, author of The Architecture of Happiness. In his book, de Botton takes readers on a tour of architecture, psychology and philosophy and asks them to rethink their homes, neighborhoods and workplaces.

The Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University aims to promote an understanding of sustainable design and development through public awareness. Here, the Earth is considered to be one integrated system, and the institute is working on this notion through research and real-world projects.

The Auroville Earth Institute
The Auroville Earth Institute was founded in Tamil Nadu in 1989, with the collaboration of the government of India. The institute focuses on the research and development of earth-based building technologies. They hold trainings, publish manuals and provide consulting services around the world. 

Samuel Mockbee -- Rural Studio: The Lucy House
Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth founded the Rural Studio at Auburn University in 1993 with the goal of improving the lives of the rural poor in Alabama. Each year the design/build studio constructs approximately five houses, often integrating experimental and sustainable design elements.

The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture
Founded in 1986 by Iranian architect Nader Khalili, Cal-Earth is a nonprofit dedicated to architecture based on the “natural elements of earth, water, air, and fire, and their Unity at the service of the arts and humanity.” You can download the three-page plan for Khalili’s emergency sandbag shelter here.

The Shelter Centre, Cambridge University
Shelter Centre is an NGO associated with Cambridge University that has worked in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and Architectes Sans Frontieres (ASF). The focus has been primarily on transitional and short-term shelter. In May 2008, they published Transitional Settlement and Reconstruction after Natural Disasters, a set of guidelines developed with the United Nations and intended to guide humanitarian and relief organizations in the current best practices for sheltering communities affected by natural disasters.

The Barefoot College
The Barefoot College was founded in 1972 to address infrastructure and economic issues in rural parts of the world. The main campus in Northern India -- built entirely by resident architects -- includes models for rainwater harvesting and solar power, and has also adapted Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome.

The New York Times: “Shantytowns as a New Suburban Ideal”
Teddy Cruz has been working on the U.S.-Mexico border for more than a decade. He has helped provide safe and affordable housing for immigrants but has also taken the organic intelligence of the shantytowns and applied it to suburban developments.  

From Our Files

The Lost American
Fred Cuny, a maverick humanitarian aid expert, fought to change how the world responds to disaster. He worked for victims of earthquakes, famine and war in places like Guatemala, Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia by redesigning refugee camps and making public health and cultural issues a top priority. He disappeared in Chechnya in 1995. 

South Africa: The Play Pump
As part of the Frontline/WORLD Rough Cut series, Africa correspondent Amy Costello reports on a unique entrepreneurial strategy to solve South Africa’s water woes.

FRONTLINE/World: Social Entrepreneurs
Explore more stories in our Social Entrepreneurs series, including “Mozambique: Guitar Hero,” about a musician who sings about hygiene and sanitation issues; “Guatemala: The Secret Files,” about how a Silicon Valley nonprofit preserved a lost chapter in Guatemala’s history; and “Tibet: Eye Camp,” about an American ophthalmologist training Tibetans to perform cataract surgery.

A look at the ideas behind more socially conscious architecture and some of its early pioneers. ~ By Singeli Agnew

The question of whether architecture is a necessity or a luxury is as old as the profession itself, deliberated by practitioners and laypeople alike. To survive, humans need very little in the way of shelter: insulation from the wind and cold, a place to light a fire or escape the heat protection from animals and invaders. But a devotee will insist that a house is much more than the sum of its parts – it’s the very fabric of our lives. And for those concerned with social equality, architecture ultimately becomes a tool for greater good that can help solve some of the humanitarian crises of our time.

In the 1920s, students at the renowned Bauhaus school in Germany capitalized on the technology of the machine age and elevated rational, functional design.  These new buildings were completely different from the ornate -- some say elitist -- styles of the past.


Portrait of Swiss-born designer, architect and urbanist Le Corbusier taken in 1947. Photo: Library of Congress

Industrial Revolution
While nonprofits like Architecture for Humanity have taken humanitarian design into the Internet age, the roots of the humanitarian design movement go back at least to the tenant movements of the early 20th century. As people flocked to the cities during the Industrial Revolution, fresh challenges for housing emerged. There was unprecedented demand for cheap, safe housing, and architects took up the call. “We are dealing with an urgent problem of our epoch,” wrote Le Corbusier in Paris in 1923. “The balance of society comes down to a question of building.” Corbusier felt that without good architecture, revolution was the result. Between the world wars, a great wave of modern housing and urban design ensued, much of it involving early experiments with prefabrication and modular units that could be mass-produced.

In the 1920s, students at the renowned Bauhaus school in Germany capitalized on the technology of the machine age and elevated rational, functional design.  These new buildings were completely different from the ornate -- some say elitist -- styles of the past. 

Early American Influencers
In the United States, the eccentric genius R. Buckminster Fuller was on his own lifelong pursuit of the role of design in modern society: “Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth?” he asked. “And if so, how?" During the 1930s and to the end of his life in 1983 at 87 years of age, Fuller was steadfast in his devotion to humanitarian causes, and Architecture for Humanity calls him “the first evangelist of humanitarian design.” He sought affordable and practical shelter designs for the masses, but is best known for inventing the geodesic dome. Fuller’s buildings worked with tension and suspension, rather than gravity, and became the basis of modern tent design – and by extension the basic framework for emergency shelter. His influence is visible today in refugee camps across the world. He was also remarkably progressive in using green-building technology for the time, incorporating composting toilets, water catchments and wind energy in his housing designs.

This year, for the first time in history, more people will live in cities than in the countryside. In the last 10 years, the average stay in a refugee camp has nearly doubled.


This tower block in the town of Firminy in France, is an example of the "brutalist" style of architecture that became popular from the 1950s to the 1970s. The term is derived from the term "béton brut," which mean "raw concrete," in French.
Photo: Library of Congress

The Impact of World War II
The end of World War II brought another wave of humanitarian housing challenges and major changes to the built environment. After the war, tens of millions of people were displaced, and whole towns needed to be rebuilt. It was during this period that the NGO – or nongovernmental organization – became the standard vehicle for relief and recovery work. Sometimes NGOs hired architects, but increasingly, they did not. The 1950s and 1960s saw a building boom in the West, and mass-produced housing exploded across increasingly urban landscapes. It was also a time of urban renewal programs, and their sometimes controversial results. Slums were cleared, subdivisions built and the terms “white flight,” “tower blocks” and “suburbia” became part of the modern lexicon.

Self-Help Movement and Locally Sourced Building Materials
One architectural response to this mass urban development and increasingly homogenous design was the so-called self-help housing movement. Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, who lived from 1900 to 1989, led the movement and declared that the “apostles of prefabrication and mass production” were naïve to the challenges of the world’s poor. Referring to the millions of people in his own country living in squalor, Fathy said, “There is no factory on earth that could produce houses these villagers can afford.”

Fathy devoted his life to housing the poor in developing nations, with the idea of owner-built housing at the core of his work. He studied ancient architectural and town design techniques and married them with contemporary economics and concern for public health. He borrowed the same dense mud brick walls and traditional courtyards of ancient buildings to provide passive cooling. Even though many of his grander social township designs were never realized, his legacy lives on in today’s humanitarian design movement, particularly his desire to use local materials, adapt organic forms and encourage true collaboration in the design and building process. Today, Habitat for Humanity embraces many of his ideals across the world.

Three billion people – or 50 percent of the world’s population – live in buildings constructed of earth, and Nader Khalili wanted to bring this age-old process into the technological age.


Refugee camps in the Trans Caucasus. Photo: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress

Building From the Earth
Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili carried on Fathy’s work with the traditional earthen adobe dwelling. He founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth) in 1986 and is known for revolutionalizing earth building around the world. Three billion people – or 50 percent of the world’s population – live in buildings constructed of earth, and Khalili wanted to bring this age-old process into the technological age. He looked to nature for inspiration and natural structures such as beehives and seashells that minimize materials and maximize space. Khalili also focused on disaster relief, and he is famous for creating a sandbag-and-barbed-wire technology, named Superadobe. The simple emergency sandbag shelter relies on the local soil for construction and is easy and cheap to build.

Bringing It All Together
One of the biggest heroes of humanitarian architecture in the United States is Samuel Mockbee, who cleverly combined modern and vernacular aesthetics into his designs. He was also deeply committed to addressing social inequality in the south. “Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor,” he said, “not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul.” Mockbee founded the Rural Studio in 1993, a design-build architecture studio run by Auburn University. The studio focuses on architectural education steeped in social responsibility and community involvement, and the group has built dozens of homes for poor communities in rural Alabama. The Lucy House, one of its more famous designs, used recycled carpet tiles to construct walls.

A new wave of socially driven architects has emerged from this long tradition of design. Architecture for Humanity is at the center of this new network, using its online open source library of designs to encourage collaborations and make sustainable design more accessible and affordable.  Hundreds of designers from all over the world are tackling temporary and long-term housing issues in their own communities – some of them are humble and practical, others are radical and spectacular.

This year, for the first time in history, more people will live in cities than in the countryside. In the last 10 years, the average stay in a refugee camp has nearly doubled. One in seven people live in a slum, and millions lack access to adequate water and sanitation. The need for thoughtful and accessible design solutions to humanitarian crises has never been greater.

Sources: Design Like You Give a Damn (published by Architecture for Humanity/Metropolis Books), The New York Times.