Peter Williams: The Radical Architect

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Peter Williams was chosen as an Utne Reader visionary in 2011. Each year Utne Reader puts forward its selection of world visionaries—people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them.

Peter Williams Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page 

Architect Peter Williams has seen firsthand how housing affects health. When he was growing up in urban Jamaica, unsanitary living conditions contributed to an infection that left his father paralyzed. When he was a visiting architect in South Africa, he studied the relationship between HIV and housing.

Today, Williams is designing healthy homes to help prevent illnesses like cholera and malaria in poor and underserved communities through his nonprofit Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments (ARCHIVE). The five-year-old organization has regional managers in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America, and it currently has projects under way in the UK, Cameroon, and Saint-Marc, Haiti.

In Haiti, Williams says, properly constructed homes can curb the transmission of tuberculosis, which spread quickly after the 2010 earthquake. Ventilation, sanitation, natural light, and uncrowded conditions are all part of ARCHIVE’s healthy-living design philosophy.

Williams and his team do not focus only on disease prevention; they also consider the community, talking with residents to learn what they want and what will be sustainable for them. “We’re not here for ‘humanitarian efforts,’ so to speak,” Williams says. “We’re here for the long haul.”

Because Haiti’s earthquake led to scarce and expensive goods, ARCHIVE endeavors to find building materials that are local, renewable, and sustainable. They incorporate bamboo, for example, working with the community to plant and replant it.

Williams is encouraged by ARCHIVE’s progress in Haiti and won’t forget the lessons he learned there.

“I’m continually humbled by the collaboration we’ve been able to foster between local governments and local people,” he says. “When government is on board and supportive, we think that is a small but very important sign of success.”

Peter Williams Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page 

168-cover-thumb.jpgHave something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Utne Reader.