Blueprint for the Future

‘Too often architects are desperately needed in the places where
they can least be afforded,’ reads a line in the book jacket of
Design Like You Give a Damn (Metropolis, 2006).
British-born architect Cameron Sinclair and his colleagues at
Architecture for Humanity (AFH), a small-staffed but bighearted
nonprofit whose leaders edited the book, are working to fix that
disconnect. The California-based group lines up altruistic
designers with needy communities across the globe, and the book,
subtitled Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises,
highlights projects by AFH and others that advance this grassroots
approach.

Apart from being a cleanly designed compendium of canny ideas
and a valuable resource, Design Like You Give a Damn is an
impassioned call to action. Sinclair reveals that he was a
‘disillusioned CAD monkey’-computer-aided designer-at a New York
architecture firm before he saw a documentary about the ethnic
Albanian uprising in Kosovo. Moved to help refugees, he and a
colleague organized a relief housing design competition, and within
a few years he cofounded Architecture for Humanity. Now he’s a
globe-hopping advocate for the cause, encouraging and enlisting
other like-minded designers to share their talents. And Design
Like You Give a Damn
is essentially a manifesto for the
movement.

The book describes innovations ranging from low-tech fixtures
(toilets, water filters, antimalarial bed nets) to temporary
structures (shelters for the homeless, relief housing) to permanent
ones (schools, chapels, community centers). Many have been
field-tested, while others are works in progress. The common
thread: All demonstrate ‘the power of design to improve lives.’
Context is provided by Sinclair’s introduction, a chapter by his
wife and AFH cofounder Kate Stohr on relief housing during the past
century, and quick-hit statistics about refugees, health care,
education, literacy, and other issues that drive the need for
cheap, functional architecture. (One person in six lives in a slum,
the book notes, and ‘that number could grow to one in three by the
year 2020.’)

Some of the designs are attention-getters because of unusual
materials or dual uses. The inflatable hemp house uses hemp sacks
to make a balloon structure, which is then covered with mortar to
make a transitional house. One AFH project under way in South
Africa combines a soccer facility with a health clinic. Sometimes
innovation at first looks like gimmickry, but this book’s
willingness to present new and occasionally far-flung solutions is
part of its eye-popping appeal.

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.