Disaster Relief / Humanitarian Architecture


I am looking for suggestions and proactive discussions on:

design/build firms, or organizations that deal with disaster relief and sustainable design. (excluding Architecture for Humanity. I'm getting to them - there's GOT to be more than one, right?)


grad school programs that might prepare one for taking this on by themselves - would this fall under urban planning, civil engineering, social service and all of the above or what?

I don't think I'm the only one thinking that I'm tired of working for high-end clients that don't give a damn about sustainable design
and cities where there's an imbalance of community outreach. If anyone knows of organizations out there that would need more architects to innovate on deployable, sustainable, and/or mobile structures...
please, let's get this discussion going! Architecture has gotten so meaningless and thoughtless for the "greater good". Surely we could be spending our time traveling the world re-building destructed cities.

Jun 30, 08 6:56 pm


I agree with your statement. And there are some other organizations that do this work (eg 1%), but many times you'll find firms that do a portion of their work for humanitarian purposes, but still hold a portfolio of profitable work because they must make the $$$.

The reason why you don't see more of this is because there are no large governmental subsidies for this line of work, and if there isn't gov't subsidies, then a majority of the work has to be fundraising, which takes up more time than design.

As far as schools are concerned, I think a number of studios try to address these problems in many good schools. Peruse some of the schools' galleries of work.

I would suggest getting involved with some competitions that work on this as well (eg P3). There is some satisfaction in this when your studio work for the semester is based on a high-rise development that is suited for the top 5% of America's wealth.

Bottom line, architects still have to get paid.

Jun 30, 08 7:24 pm

oh, that's E3, not EP, sorry.

Jun 30, 08 7:25 pm

If you find anything, let me know.

Jul 1, 08 10:57 am

there are a bunch of 501c3 orgs:

Architects for Aid (now called Article 25) - British
Emergency Architects - French
Architects for Peace
Architects without Borders
Architects without Boundaries - Australian
Architecture and Development - French
Aga Khan Development Network

that's off the top of my head - sorry if I forgot anyone. I'll add to the list when I remember. We had a long list in Design Like You Give A Damn

Also The IRC, Save the Children, CHF International, GTZ and Oxfam occationally have on staff architects (we've been recommending a few from our resume file)

We are hiring up a storm for West Africa and Myanmar/China right now. Soon we will have gigs in Brazil and South Africa (I'm ED of AFH btw.)


ps. NoSleep - our current position for a licensed architect in SF is $65-80K with medical : : not amazing but better than being cad monkified to death.

Jul 1, 08 10:56 pm

Please let us know about those positions for AFH; they sound like great opportunities...

Jul 2, 08 10:54 am

Humanitarian architecture sounds like a bunch of malarkey...

We already practically give our services away for free.

Jul 2, 08 11:29 am

Thank you, NoSleep and Cameron for your helpful replies.
Your suggestions have been very encouraging and I will look into these organizations immediately.

As a recent graduate from Sciarc, I left with some great design and build skills. But both in school and out, there is an enormous lack of social responsibility carried out in the buildings that we put out into this world.

There has been an interesting evolution of architecture for centuries, but the most fascinating to me are those buildings that are still standing, consume the least of our limited resources, and exonerate the culture in which it was built in.

I am honored to give my serviecs away for free, Archmed, for my energy exchange and intention put back into society is far greater and more rewarding than any money I get paid. I don't expect you to understand that, and it's a hard one to say when in reality I have some crazy bills to pay in this expensive city I live in.

Architecture originated as humanitarian. It was shelter, it was sacred space, it was meeting grounds for communities to come together. I am dissappointed in where architecture has strayed - but even more so where the ARCHITECTS have strayed from the civil service that they have the power to provide....because of this thing called ego.

I mean, c'mon, we have the training and skills to design entire cities if we put the key people together - and thus why are we building cities that fall apart? that are made of toxic materials? that are uncomfortable to live in? UNHEALTHY to live in?

But most of all, how can one conciously sit behind their plastic desk at their flourescent lit job, pay oodles for health insurance they may never use, spend long hours working out a flooring detail or where to put the hot tub, when there is an imbalance of skilled designers and thinkers pulling together with political leaders and putting their time and energy into those who don't even have safe shelter.

And I ask, what would you do if this was happening in your very own city?

Jul 2, 08 12:11 pm

Design Corp.

Are they still around? I haven't heard much from them/Bryan Bell in quite sometime?

Jul 2, 08 11:39 pm


Aug 31, 08 12:30 pm

this seems like a great idea:

Santa Ana house-building will aid two struggling populations

Former gang members learning trades and building affordable housing in Santa Ana. It's seems beautifully efficient to help multiple groups simultaneously. I don't know where architects fit in: other than designing an efficient structure with a great set of CD's to spell it out. I don't know who's designing them... anyone?

Aug 31, 08 12:36 pm


You definitely aren't alone in your passion for the world and for the bottom of the social pyramid that make up 95% of our world but have the least monetary wealth. I too am on the search for the organizations or businesses that are achieving the ability to use our God given talents of spatial design and planning for the betterment of the world. 

I'm not overly knowledgeable about those kinds of organizations quite yet but some I've looked into include Engineering Ministries (eMi) and one I just read about today was started by Scottish students last year called Terreract Humanitarian Architecture. Anna Heringer has done some neat work in Bangladesh - she's from Germany.

Currently I'm searching for possible architectural graduate degree programs, either in the US or abroad, that will begin to support my dreams.

Be encouraged though E3 and keep caring for the world!

Sep 14, 11 9:43 pm
Dani Zoe


I totally empathize with you, and tried to find similar opportunities after school as well. I have to warn you. If you aren't a registered architect, there were few to no paid positions at many Architecture NGOs. In fact, I applied for paid positions at several NGOs, then they turned around and tried to offer me unpaid positions, and I have two years of experience and two professional degrees. I guess that's symptomatic of the entire profession at the moment, but seemed worse at the NGOs.

I think your best bet is to apply for something like Design Corps or an Enterprise Rose Fellowship (though its less design and more community development I think). Definitely gain fluency in another language too, preferably French or Mandarin. Just looking at Architecture for Humanity's website shows that they are serious about their Architects knowing local language and culture.

Ultimately, I decided to learn French (I'm working towards fluency) and get my registration, then I'll try re-applying for those jobs. This is perhaps more important than what school you went to (I got experience working with communities in Bangladesh at UPenn, and they were interested, but asked more about my registration status) Hope this helps!!!

Sep 14, 11 10:15 pm


You should also check out Public Architecture and MASS Design Group.  

Sep 15, 11 5:02 pm

Greening the Ghetto in the Bronx is doing some really interesting stuff in the U.S concerning areas burdened with environmental inequity.  Check out the TED talk by the founder (youtube) it's very inspiring.  Not exactly disaster relief but worth looking at!

Sep 16, 11 12:26 am

I'll bump this since I think it's a very interesting topic and wanted as well to ask something more.

Anybody knows architectural firms or projects which carry on reconstruction in Japan? I'd love to know..

Oct 27, 13 4:55 pm

With Oxford Brookes MArchD RIBA Part II [2 year programme] - you do 1 of 6 - 1 year design specialisation during your first year.

One of the choices is Humanitarian based: Development and Emergency Practice [DEP]  run through the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice-   A student who is presently on the 2nd year of the course worked this past summer with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

Oct 27, 13 5:06 pm

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