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What is Architecture for Humanity?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Architecture for Humanity is a charitable organization which applies the principles of architecture to humanitarian issues, ranging from the need for medical care in Africa to the desire to create rehabilitation programs for people in the developed world. This organization believes that by encouraging architects to collaborate on projects, they can generate smart, innovative, compassionate, and beautiful solutions to a variety of social problems.

This organization was founded in 1999 in San Francisco, California. Local chapters can be found all over the world, usually operating at a high degree of autonomy from the parent organization. Independence allows local organizations to promote regional architects, traditions, and techniques, rather than applying a one size fits all approach, which is a common problem for aid organizations based in the developed world. Architecture for Humanity provides services anywhere they are needed, and encourages a high level of international collaboration through projects such as Open Source Architecture.

While it might seem odd to think that architecture can save the world, good architecture is actually critically important, and many humanitarian issues can in fact be alleviated by projects such as those completed by Architecture for Humanity all over the world. While building structures may not necessarily solve a problem, it can be a step in the right direction. For example, it's hard to provide medical care without a clinic or hospital to do it in, and a conventional or converted hospital might not be as effective as a mobile clinic which can travel to bring health services to people in need. Architecture for Humanity thinks about how problems can be approached from an architectural perspective, and what sort of improvements in design and execution of projects could generate positive change for local communities.

Member chapters of Architecture for Humanity have worked on projects such as rebuilding after natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. They have also provided housing for refugees and homeless people, and they have worked on structures such as playgrounds for children in war zones, schools, sports facilities, and job training centers which are designed to empower populations to help themselves.

Many Architecture for Humanity projects incorporate environmentally friendly and sustainable building ethics, so that their projects do not have a negative impact on the natural environment. The integration of traditional building techniques from regional communities is also popular. For example, instead of plopping down identical homes for people in need in Mexico, Florida, and Sudan, Architecture for Humanity chapters will think about how people in those regions use their homes, what kind of building materials are available, and how the homes will be maintained in the long term to come up with projects which are appropriate for their setting.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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