One third of the world's urban population lives in slums. And their
numbers could double in the next 30 years, a United Nations report
warns, unless swift action is taken to reverse the trend. A movement of
socially conscious architects is emerging around the globe with novel
ideas for solving the slum problem.
At its hub is Architecture
for Humanity, a global non-profit organization that promotes design solutions to
humanitarian crises. It was founded by British-born architect Cameron
Sinclair in 1999, as civil war raged in the Yugoslav republic of
"I began to think, how do architects create structures
that will allow people to live in their own communities while they
rebuild back their own homes? So this wasn't replacement, World War
II-style concrete block housing. This was about building these small
anchors that would allow people to rebuild their own lives."
Sustainable building, from New Orleans to Sri Lanka
says Architecture for Humanity deploys volunteer architects, designers
and engineers to work with communities hit by natural disaster, war or
public health crises.
"We pick a place where there is strong
community involvement, an architect or a team that is able to respond,
and funding to make sure it's built."
Over the past decade,
Architecture for Humanity has helped design and build mobile HIV/AIDS
clinics in sub-Saharan Africa, joined in earthquake recovery efforts in
Turkey and Iran, and developed an athletic field in South Africa that doubles as
a medical clinic.
Sinclair says more than 1,000 residents
in Sri Lanka, displaced by the 2004 tsunami, have worked with the non-profit on
several redevelopment projects, including a new library and medical
center and a preschool.
"They design with us. They construct
the buildings. We pay them to construct the buildings. But in the
process of doing this, we were able to introduce rainwater catchment
systems, natural ventilation, solar, and almost 95 percent of our
structures internationally are off the grid, so the community can
maintain them in the long run."
The 36-year-old architect says
building sustainably saves energy and money. That was evident in
Architecture for Humanity's home-building efforts in the U.S. Gulf
Coast region devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
[if] we can keep the maintenance bills low enough so that the family
can afford the insurance on the home, that's equity, and if there is
another disaster, they don't lose everything. They've got the funding
there to help rebuild."
Training a new generation of socially conscious architects
this day, Cameron Sinclair has brought his ideas to an environmental
at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, where students are putting finishing touches on
Sinclair urges the students to build sustainably and be mindful of their ethical responsibilities.
is the responsibility of an architect who designed that building
knowing that the people building it are not being treated humanely? Do
we have a responsibility to say, 'I am not going to build a building
unless the following construction standards are adhered to'? I think
we do have that responsibility," he says.
Bruce Coffee gets the message. He's designed so-called "off-grid"
housing for post-war Liberia, in west Africa. He says new homes in the
capital city, Monrovia, would generate their own electricity from wind
and have slanted roofs to catch rainwater for household needs and
thirsty vegetable gardens.
"I wanted to make it so that it was
very, very, very feasible. I was really interested in trying to find a
way of re-powering Monrovia, and then maybe, hopefully, that would be a
model for the rest of the country."
An added incentive, Coffee says, is that his family is from Liberia, and he wants to give back to his homeland.
Roberts has a similar dream to make a difference. Her focus is on the
urban poor in Baltimore. Her design transforms their concrete-block
high-rise apartment building into a vertical community with a movie
theater, restaurant, office center, gym and a roof-top garden with a
swimming pool. She says the project embodies how she hopes to put her
design skills to work after graduation.
"I want to be able to
help people that I guess don't have an opportunity to hire an expensive
designer or have the option of even hiring any one at all. So that's
really my values, and, when I look for a job I am [interested] in, what
kind of work they do."
Cameron Sinclair likes what he sees.
He encourages students to stay connected through Architecture for
Humanity's online community called the Open Architecture Network. Here, as in their
face-to-face projects, designers and architects collaborate on ways to
improve housing and living conditions for needy people around the