Over the past decade or so, architecture has seen a wave of interest in humanitarian design. Once a marginal subfield, humanitarian architecture has come into the mainstream of the discipline through exhibitions, institutions, and practices: the 2016 Venice Biennale curated by Alejandro Aravena; MoMA’s Small Scale Big Change, Uneven Growth (2016–2017) and Insecurities (2010–2011) shows; Cooper Hewitt’s series Design for the Other 90%; organizations like Architecture for Humanity (AfH) and Architecture Sans Frontières (Architecture Without Borders); prominent architects like Aravena, Frances Kéré, and Shigeru Ban, and younger practices like MASS Design Group and Rural Urban Framework. While this turn toward a newfound sense of altruistic purpose was perhaps a needed corrective, arriving just as the myth of the “starchitect” was imploding with the 2008 financial crash, the apparent benevolence of humanitarian architecture belies a far more complicated set of ethical dilemmas. Despite the suggestion by Cameron Sinclair, the founding director of Architecture for Humanity, that he had “six billion clients” compared with the very few who could afford a certain Pritzker Prize winner, architecture in the name of a universal humanity obscures the fact that the powers that made a group like AfH’s work possible represent particular alignments of interests and actors. These actors—international NGOs, national governments offering development aid, private foundations and philanthropies, corporate social responsibility programs, and supranational entities like the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization, and the World Bank—are certainly not the “humanity” invoked by Sinclair, but rather comprise a heterogeneous complex of international organizations, infrastructure, laws, technologies, industries, and weaponry. Humanitarian architecture participates in a series of entanglements that take cover under the name of humanity, and the humanitarian project is enlisted, often knowingly, in the interests of national or international security and economic globalization. Rather than pursuing a righteous moral position self-evidently aligned with “the good,” architectural practices that work in the context of disaster relief operations or refugee crises could make evident the complexity of their ethical commitments. One way for architects to do so is to consider the spatiality of aid operations. Rony Brauman, the former president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), introduced a key term into the lexicon of aid work, the concept of “humanitarian space,” an operational environment in which humanitarian organizations are free to deliver aid without the interference of political forces. Crucial to Brauman’s definition is the political independence and neutrality, at least in theory, of the institutions, technologies, and actors that participate in relief efforts. The concept of humanitarian space thus implies the separation of a moral imperative from the narrow interests of politics, one oriented toward the preservation of human life and the lessening of suffering. While Brauman understands humanitarian space as a neutral sphere, architects are perhaps better prepared to recognize the politics at work in the repertoire of spatial and architectural forms through which this abstract space becomes instantiated, localized, and concretized in specific cities following a disaster or conflict. Unlike the abstract “space” of humanitarian space, these particular physical spaces suggest the outlines of the political and economic interests at work in humanitarian contexts. The buildings, walls, checkpoints, and infrastructures that organize these spaces give weight, form, and durability to Brauman’s concept of humanitarian space. The spatial devices of humanitarian aid, such as tent camps, peacekeeping bases, water and sanitation systems, as well as more complicated derivatives like export processing zones, are repeated in similar physical forms at sites across the globe, but in each context nonetheless produce a different configuration of the surrounding space. Architects are perhaps uncommonly attuned to the ways in which these spatial-architectural forms act as a kind of short-circuit between the universalizing claims of the humanitarian project and the particularities of the sites that are the staging grounds of humanitarian operations. Sites of humanitarian operations are organized by a repertoire of architectural techniques of separation and incorporation, dividing the spaces of relief operations from civic life while simultaneously negotiating adjacencies and channels of circulation between the city and humanitarian spaces. Walls separate the normal order of a city from a tent camp, slum, export processing zone, or embassy complex, while the gates and checkpoints of these places regulate the movement of people and supplies across their boundaries. The temporary shelters provided by humanitarian organizations offer relief from homelessness and space for daily routines, but also indefinitely defer the resettlement of displaced populations. In simultaneously separating and incorporating, humanitarian spatial devices participate in what the anthropologist Didier Fassin paradoxically terms “humanitarian government.” A humanitarian government, in Fassin’s conception, works not only across national borders, but also on the very boundaries between state and non-state formations and between universal moral imperatives and particular political conflicts. The result is a form of international humanitarian order that is sustained through the coordinated activities of NGOs with national and local governments, supranational organizations like the UN, military operations, and multinational corporations. The recent resurgence of nativist politics in the U.S. and Europe represents a significant challenge to the future of this humanitarian order, or at least proves that the spatial devices it employs in the name of humanity can easily be turned toward violently nationalist ends. But this has always been the case: The spatial form of the refugee camp, of course, has its origins in military operations, as do the bases of peacekeeping missions. Many manufacturers of relief aid supplies are offshoots of defense contractors. The most sophisticated spatial practices for managing displaced populations can be found in ethno-nationalist states. The threat of the withdrawal of America and European states from the liberal international order, including its humanitarian mandate, is likely only to exacerbate humanitarian crises, as seen in the past several years in Europe’s response to migration from Syria and North Africa, and most recently on the U.S.-Mexico border. Faced with the violence of the nation-state, architectural practice in humanitarian contexts could rethink the spaces of refugee camps and settlements as representing the possibility of a non-state politics. Humanitarianism claims a moral purpose, in that it acts not in the interests of any parties, but for the good of humanity itself. In this sense, humanitarianism is sometimes seen as opposed to or transcending political life. But humanitarian operations and their effects on cities are perhaps opposed not to the political, but to the state; or, more precisely, to the spatial ordering of state territory through the institutions of private land ownership and national boundaries. Humanitarian spaces point toward new spatial and political formations: governance structures, property laws, and models of land tenure that respect the complex forms of ownership seen in refugee camps and other communities where no land titles exist, or where land has never been formally divided into parcels, or where a legal distinction between public and private space is not specified. The refugee camp is therefore not outside the realm of politics, but rather points toward a political community beyond the nation-state, and beyond property and territory, the spatial extensions of the state. Seen in this light, humanitarian spaces, like camps and settlements, might not be outside the polis; rather they are emerging sites of non-state politics. The architecture of these humanitarian spaces would be designed not for a universal humanity reduced to its basic needs, but for the humans of a political life still to come. Benedict Clouette and Marlisa Wise are the authors of Forms of Aid: Architectures of Humanitarian Space.
Posts tagged with "Architecture for Humanity":
Late in the day on Friday, December 16, Cameron Sinclair, the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, sent a letter that stunned the world of public interest architecture. According to Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity is closing its doors. John King of the San Francisco Chronicle confirmed that the San Francisco–based staff had been laid off at the beginning of the month. The organization, which Sinclair founded with Kate Stohr, responded to natural disasters around the world with innovative pro-bono architecture in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. At its peak, Architecture for Humanity had 60 chapters and won a National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Sinclair and Stohr are no longer with the organization. Calls to Architecture for Humanity did not go through. Sinclair's letter in full:
We just heard the news that Architecture for Humanity, the organization we started more than 15 years ago, has pivoted its mission and is planning to close. We are deeply saddened by this. Our hearts are with the staff and chapter members who worked so hard to build a wonderful organization that did so much for communities around the world. We made so many wonderful friends and will continue personally to support your work. We ran the organization and grew it from just a small circle of volunteers to an international organization with chapters in 25 countries. For more than 10 years, together we led the movement to bring social design where it is needed most. We built award-winning buildings, ran innovative programs, personally raised more than $5 million in annual funding, year in and year out, and established more than five community design centers that set the standard for rebuilding after disaster. We hope the profession will continue to design like a give damn--in whatever form that takes... And we urge the chapters to continue their much needed work. Thank you, Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr Co-founders, Architecture for Humanity
Brad Pitt's home-building operation, Make It Right, was initially established in 2007 to rebuild homes in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. The non-profit has built dozens of starchitect-designed houses in New Orleans and a subsequent expansion to Kansas City, near where the actor grew up. Now the organization has taken up its latest charitable challenge: the construction of several sustainable housing developments in Fort Peck, Montana for a Native American tribe there. Fort Peck, Montana is home to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which in turn is the homeland of the Assiniboine and Sioux Native American tribes. The grounds are the ninth-largest Indian reservation in the country, but records indicate there are over 300 people without homes. To solve this problem, Make It Right is teaming up with the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes and the architects and designers from Architecture for Humanity and Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative to build 20 houses at the site. The project's chief architects first surveyed the lands and deliberated what kind of structures would be ideal before going to the tribes themselves to ask what sort of houses they preferred. The houses are designed with the customs and traditions of both tribes in mind, such as the directions the doorways face or the significance of certain colors. Construction is slated to begin by the end of the year. All of the homes are expected to be LEED platinum certified when complete incorporating numerous sustainable building practices. You can donate to the project here.
As the northeast is slowly getting back on its feet, non-profit Architecture for Humanity is already commencing its plans for rebuilding and recovery. While it's still early, the organization, which is partnering with AIA chapters in the hardest hit regions, is starting first with impact assessment. Generally working in hard hit areas around the world, this is the first time their New York chapter has had to respond locally, pointed out Jennifer Dunn, New York Chapter Leader. AFH is not only looking to re-build, but to re-build better. “We don't just want to help build back the coastline but create more resilient communities that can withstand future disasters,” said co-founder Cameron Sinclair in a statement. Architecture for Humanity is looking for support in the form of donations or volunteers. Donations can be made online here, while volunteers should email firstname.lastname@example.org. Flood repair strategies are posted here. Further updates will appear on the Architecture for Humanity website as soon as they are available.
Let’s face it, outside of Central Park, Manhattan isn't known for its abundance of open space. This is beginning to change, however, as in this increasingly innovative architectural age, people are looking to odd, underutilized remnants in the city, from abandoned rail lines to decrepit industrial buildings and toxic waterfronts to create the next amazing public space. One such space sits just beneath the Manhattan Bridge, where Architecture for Humanity has secured a grant and invited nine design firms to take on Coleman Oval Skate Park. Holm Architecture Office (HAO) with Niklas Thormark has taken on the challenge and revealed their program-driven proposal. HAO looked to the surrounding Lower East Side and Chinatown neighborhoods for inspiration and the site conditions informed their comprehensive program strategy. Currently shrouded by the massive legs of the Manhattan Bridge, the design seeks to address the park’s lack of exposure by providing opportunities for local artists to create murals, signage, and other installations, giving the park local identity. Other program intentions include adding bike paths (above), an elevated dog-run with views to the East River, the opportunity for a pop-up movie theater under the bridge (bel0w), and a space for potential street festivals and markets. At the heart of HAO’s proposal is the skate park. The design combines successful elements of other skate parks in New York City but maintains its originality and affords the opportunity for iconic status by using the existing bridge structures as walls for a "super-pipe." It's hoped this new layout developed with skate consultants Shan Reddy and Jack Dakin will not only challenge skaters, but also perform as the stage for a complex design strategy, befitting of the entire local community. Check out the rest of the proposal:
Two new competitions of note explore possible futures for Chicago's public realm. The 2011 Burnham Prize ideas competition sponsored by AIA Chicago and the Chicago Architectural Club calls for new visions for the McCormick Place East building, the 1971 modernist covention center on the lakefront designed by Gene Summers of C.F. Murphy Associates. The massive, Miesian building has a powerful presence on the lakefront, and a vast column-free interior, but parks advocates have long contended it should be removed. Meanwhile, the building's owner, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, says it needs $150 million in repairs and is functionally obsolete. The competition aims to inspire new dialogue around the future of the building and site. The Street Furniture 2011 competition sponsored by Architecture for Humanity's Chicago chapter aims for something more universal, new street furniture that could be deployed to activate almost any vacant site. With a $1000 budget in mind, the competition calls for a piece or pieces of street furniture that could activate an open lot for a year in anticipation of future development as a garden. The furniture could then also be moved to a new site. The winning design will be built and installed at an unnamed location.
A formal dedication for a creative urban intervention called ARTfarm brings flowers and greenery to a formerly barren step street in the Bronx. Architects Valeria Bianco, Christian Gonsalves, Shagun Singh, and Justin Taylor designed and built the project with help from Architecture for Humanity and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Drawing inspiration from a nearby farmers' market, ARTfarm recycles wooden cabinet doors and crates into 59 planters for a variety of plants and transforms a concrete and stone stairway into a lush tiered garden. ARTfarm received $5,000 in funding from the New York Department of Transportation Art Program, pARTners. The program seeks to transform New York's public realm through art and design to create a safer, more inviting streetscape. “From concrete step streets to chain link fences on ordinary street corners, we’re bringing art to streetscapes citywide to redefine these in-between spaces,” said Commissioner Sadik-Khan in a release. “With the help of our local partners, New Yorkers are rediscovering slices of neighborhoods near and far through colorful artwork that makes these places more attractive, welcoming destinations for everyone.” ARTfarm was built by local school children, community residents, and Architecture for Humanity volunteers and will be in place for eleven months. The installation is located on Step Street at 165th Street and Carroll Place in the Bronx.
There's never been a Pecha Kucha in Port-au-Prince before. But on February 20, some 280 cities across the globe that have hosted the 20-seconds-per-20-slides architecture presentation cum party will join together to try and raise $1 million for Architecture for Humanity's relief efforts in Haiti. As the Pecha Kucha people put it on their site, it only took a matter of seconds for hundreds of thousands of lives to be forever changed. Hopefully, 200,000 design-savy, humanitarian-minded types will get together for a few more seconds in a week-and-a-half and start to put things back in order. There are nearly a dozen planned all across California, including an appearance by Cameron Sinclair in San Francisco, and about as many are planned for the Midwest, including a nice line up in Detroit. If we may brag for a moment, New York has it best as usual, not only with the proceedings taking place at 7 WTC, but including an all star panel of presenters, including Florian Idenburg, Gregg Pasquarelli, Craig Dykers, and our new bestie Iwan Baan. For 20 bucks, you bet we'll be there. And hopefully you'll be there, too.
Architecture for Humanity just announced the winner for the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom. The global competition involved 1,000 registered design teams from 65 different countries. The challenge for the architecture, design, and engineering community was simple--partner with actual students and their schools to create real solutions for a classroom of the future. The winner, Teton Valley Community School in Victor, Idaho, was designed by local firm Section Eight. The concept is centered around the idea of place-based education in the school, a mode of learning that gives more importance to cultural and environmental sustainability than technology and consumerism. The design is set on an existing two-acre site. An open-flex learning space includes collapsible and foldable partitions, allowing the reconfiguration of the area as needed. Section Eight collaborated with students, parents, teachers, and members of the community to create an environment which also teaches its students. Apertures, which let in light, also allow students to see the thickness of the strawbale walls. The mechanical systems for the geothermal heating and cooling system are visible through large viewing windows.--Christina Chan Other notable entries include:Founders’ Award: The Corporación Educativa y Social Waldorf, Bogota, Colombia . Designed by Arquitectura Justa, Bogota, Colombia . Best Urban Classroom Upgrade Design: Rumi School of Excellence, Hyderabad, India. Designed by IDEO, San Francisco, CA. Best Rural Classroom Design: Building Tomorrow Academy, Wakiso and Kiboga, Uganda. Designed by Gifford LLP, London, UK . Best Re-locatable Classroom Design: Druid Hills High School, Georgia. Designed by Perkins + Will.