Sustainability doesn’t just have to mean building green anymore. The nonprofit group Architecture for Humanity is redefining sustainability to cover a building’s effect on the environment, the livelihood of its occupants, its impact on future generations and its vulnerability to disaster. This might seem like a lot to live up to, but Architecture for Humanity, a network of more than 40,000 professionals, is up to the challenge.
These men and women believe in “building a more sustainable future using the power of design.” Sharing ideas through networks such as the Open Architecture Network, they can create new and environmentally friendly solutions for many of their buildings. A building with a good design can alleviate poverty, provide access to water, sanitation, and power, act as a safe shelter for displaced populations or communities prone to disaster, create neutral spaces in post-conflict areas, and reduce the footprint of the built environment to mitigate rapid urbanization. For example, a community center can provide a safe gathering space, a place for employment opportunities and education, or act as a community library or daycare facility. However, it can serve none of these purposes if the space is not comfortable or if the costs of the center act as a financial drain on the community. A sustainable solution is not only cheaper in the long run, but can help teach the community safe and efficient building and maintenance techniques that can be applied to other shelters.
Architecture for Humanity’s clients include community groups, aid organizations, government agencies, foundations, and more. Founded in 1999 this group works tirelessly to benefit underserved communities across the world.
Here’s how the system works: an architect or architectural firm will design a project pro bono and submit it to Architecture for Humanity for review. Then Architecture for Humanity can support and manage all the rest of the aspects of the project through the design and construction process. However, before it will take on a project, the project proposal has to meet some high standards.
Project proposals must have:
• Strong partnerships with local community groups and design teams
• Demonstrate they can secure a site on which to build the project
• The proposed structures must benefit an underserved population and have strong community ties
• Local materials and labor used whenever possible
• Adherence to the LEED standards for sustainable architecture
• Innovative, sustainable, environmentally friendly design
Here are a couple of examples of current and past projects by Architecture for Humanity.
Kutamba AIDS Orphans School
Architect Matthew Miller designed this school for the village of Bikongozo, Uganda. The school will provide elementary education to children who have lost their parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It will serve the community by helping to counteract hunger, poverty and systemic depression.
The design uses renewable energy systems and local building materials and building methods. With the construction all performed on-site, Architecture for Humanity uses the construction process to educate the community on proper building and maintenance processes.
Yodakandyia Community Complex
The Yodakandyia Community Complex is a set of three buildings designed by architect Susie Platt working with UN Habitat in Sri Lanka. This area was affected by the December 2004 tsunami and the buildings are part of the resettlement program. The complex includes a community center, a library and medical center, and a preschool. The area surrounding the buildings is landscaped into a sports and recreation facility.
The complex presented a number of architectural challenges because of the hot and humid environment in an area where air conditioning is cost prohibitive. However, Platt was able to use a number of techniques to increase air circulation and naturally cool the buildings. The large roofs reduce heat and provide shade while the porous clay brick walls insulate the buildings. Strategic openings and open frame doors and windows allow for ventilation and seasonal wind reversals.
With these easy and green techniques, the complex is able to serve the community at a low cost.
Architecture for Humanity has taken on a huge responsibility, but its good works are not restricted to architects alone. Architecture for Humanity’s book, Design Like You Give a Damn reaches out to architect and layman alike to provide a history of sustainable designs and to showcase solutions to problems such as basic shelter, health care and education. Or you can get involved by volunteering, donating, or simply helping to spread the word. This is one future we ought to work to sustain.