“It angers me when sustainability gets used as a buzzword. For 90 percent of the world, sustainability is a matter of survival.“- Cameron Sinclair, Founder of Architecture for Humanity.

Operating under the slogan “Design like you give a damn,” Architecture for Humanity was an international non-profit organization founded by Cameron Sinclair. It provides professional design services for communities that need but can not afford them.

What is the purpose of Architecture for Humanity?

Architecture for Humanity was introduced to dedicate its efforts to building transitional housing for refugees in Kosovo’s war-torn country. After the success of that project, they continued to offer free architectural services for humanitarian causes worldwide, including homes, clinics, community centers, and schools.

Architecture for Humanity’s target clients were refugees and marginalized communities in a world where most architects focus on making a profit and winning wealthy clients. Consequently, the organization used to act as a role model for promoting the social role of architecture towards the community.

Collège Mixte Le Bon Berger. Image Courtesy of Architecture for Humanity

What Happened to Architecture for Humanity? The Full Story of an Altruistic Organization

Architecture for Humanity raised money to fund architectural solutions to humanitarian crises worldwide. Each year, it raised over $5 million (£3.3 million) in funding.

However, the organization has undergone multiple twists and turns since it was founded. This article briefly describes the roller coaster ride that this organization had to go through.

1. How it all started

“Design is about creating spaces for people to enjoy and, of course, creating moments where you elevate the spirit, but ‘design for good’ is figuring out a program that not only creates better spaces but creates jobs, creates a new industry, and really kind of raises the conversation about how we rebuild.” – Cameron Sinclair.

Founded on April 6, 1999, by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, the organization started due to the dramatic crisis in Kosovo. They wanted to design an immediate long-term shelter for the refugees returning to Kosovo after the conflict. This was the starting point, followed by projects such as mobile AIDS clinics in Africa.

The impact of Architecture for Humanity increased drastically, where approximately 100,000 people directly benefit from structures designed by the organization.

École Elie Dubois. Image Courtesy of Architecture for Humanity

Striving to make the world a better place, Architecture for Humanity offered a wide array of community services. These services included building safe shelters in post-disaster areas and providing marginalized communities with sanitation and clean water. The organization handled all the phases of the projects, starting from the design to the construction, in addition to fundraising.

2. How it ended

Unfortunately, the donations and the good intentions were not enough to sustain the organization. By July 2016, the influential organization was being sued for $3 million for alleged mismanagement of funds.

Eventually, Architecture For Humanity lost so many funds that it collapsed. This was a devastating incident for many people, especially the underprivileged.

École Ceverine. Image Courtesy of Architecture for Humanity

Board member Clark Manus, from Heller Manus Architects, had stated: “The board tried very hard to figure out how to the right the organization, and we were out there looking for angels, but the money wasn’t there to support it.”

“It’s not that the mission and need weren’t clear or that the staff wasn’t dedicated,” he added.

Meanwhile, the founder Cameron Sinclair explained, “As the economy recovered in 2012, donors only wanted to fund restricted projects and not contribute to the organization…this shift in how funds were allocated coupled with project overruns created a large hurdle to climb for the current management team.”

Additionally, the New York Times reported that the organization intends to apply for bankruptcy protection after being unable to reduce a deficit of $2.1 million.

3. The Comeback

Courtesy of the Open Architecture Collaborative

On the bright side, this story happens to have a happy ending after all. The famous architecture charity organization managed to relaunch, in 2016, as a new organization called Open Architecture Collaborative, founded by Maryam Eskandari. The new organization is a participatory global network of multiple people with one goal; serving marginalized communities. Instead of the previous slogan, “Design like you give a damn,” the slogan for the Open Architecture Collaborative is “Social Design for Social Justice.”

Courtesy of the Open Architecture Collaborative

The new organization aims to help reduce the negative impact caused by disasters like homelessness and tyrannical public transit systems. They prioritize marginalized groups, help immigrant communities, and provide public spaces to people who can not access such places.



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