“Humanitarian” follows the principle of humanity as the centre point of any actions taken to alleviate poverty and provide equity, welfare, and happiness to all individuals.
Humanitarian architecture focuses on social and reconstruction projects with a social purpose that can contribute in a significant way to a damaged community instead of just the aesthetics of the grand design. This involves solving problems on both a small and large scale, ranging from installing a system for harnessing rainwater to designing disaster relief shelters that aren’t just tents over their heads but instead spaces designed specifically with dignity for the disadvantaged occupants.
The idea of humanitarian architecture is very vast and is crucial not only in terms of housing but in terms of change, designing with a conscience that can and will influence the rest of the world. Every site that has undergone a disaster has its terrain with its constraints, and usually because the need for assistance is immediate, design is thought of in the short-term, designing quick solutions, which in the long term multiplies and becomes permanent, resulting in a problematic sequence at the core of every emergency. To tackle this properly and get a positive outcome following crises, some stages need to be well thought out, such as -preparing the ground through pre-planning, technical innovation, capacity development, and localized design.
Humanitarian architecture is well recognized when linked to conditions of emergency and disasters, but it extends beyond that; it’s meant to confront all inequalities that deprive people of opportunities for health, happiness and brings quality spaces to areas that had no prior access to it, resulting in improved settlements, institutions, and infrastructures.
The local community must be and feel involved in the entire process; because it is only through them that a better understanding of their needs and cultural and social requirements are gained. For a humanitarian project to take form, other resources are needed, such as stakeholders, sponsors, built environment professionals, and local workforces. Finance, education, and rights are other directions that need to be covered to produce a just and ethical design solution.
All architecture should be humanitarian in the way it offers solutions to problems; architects have an obscene number of skills to offer in the humanitarian sector, which goes hand in hand with other international development organizations because, truth be told, all projects are based on politics, and one can’t progress without the resources needed.
Getting involved with humanitarian architecture
One of the main reasons architects venture into the humanitarian sector is because of the reward they feel within; providing their services to those in need reminds them of why they got into the industry in the first place. Architects have been interested in working within corporate entities because that is the usual traditional path taken; who can build the largest, most incredible, and sustainable visionary design… maybe even get recognition and be a “STAR Architect”, but recently there has been a surge of interest in the humanitarian sector. Mainly because of the rise of awareness and the number of problems the world keeps throwing at us. Architects are looking to shift their focus, using their design skills and experiences to solve problems in locations and sites that are in dire need of solutions.
You can be a visionary architect without having to build the largest complex building. If anyone is proof of that, it’s Francis Kéré, winner of the 2022 Pritzker Prize for his commitment to social justice, use of local materials, and ability to work in countries with constraints and adversity.
In his acceptance speech, he said: “I am hoping to change the paradigm, push people to dream and undergo risk. It is not because you are rich that you should waste material. It is not because you are poor that you should not try to create quality. Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury, and everyone deserves comfort. We are interlinked, and concerns in climate, democracy, and scarcity are concerns for us all.”
Humanitarian architecture tackles real-life problems that affect human rights in all their forms.
Contrary to popular belief, being an architect within the humanitarian sector is extremely challenging due to the complex site considerations and the strict budget to follow; it’s a sector that forces you to step outside your comfort zone, think outside the box, and tap full force into your creativity to come up with a design solution that is feasible, aesthetically pleasing, and comfortable.
Humanitarian architecture organizations
Humanitarian architecture tackles real-life problems that affect human rights, and some organizations have made it their mission to use spatial sensibility and integrated problem-solving skills on a path toward equality and justice.
Below is a list of the very few among a very long list of architects and organizations looking to further better society and leave this world a better place.
1. Architects Sans Frontières
3. Habitat for Humanity
4. Alejandro Aravena from Elemental
5. Mass Design Group
7. Urban-Think Tank
- “Humanitarian Architecture: The Top 21 Architects, Websites and Resources.” Build Abroad,
30 Dec. 2016, buildabroad.org/2016/12/30/humanitarian-architecture/.
- PRINCIPLES and GOOD PRACTICE of HUMANITARIAN DONORSHIP Objectives and Definition
of Humanitarian Action. 2003.
- “The “Activist Architects” Working in the World’s Worst Disaster Zones.” ABC News, 9 Aug.
- Esther Ruth Charlesworth. Humanitarian Architecture: 15 Stories of Architects Working after
Disaster. London; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.
- The Hyatt Foundation. “Diébédo Francis Kéré | the Pritzker Architecture Prize.” Www.pritzkerprize.com, www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/diebedo-francis-kere.