Architecture for Humanity

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Architecture for Humanity
Non-profit organization
Industry Architecture, International Development, Non Profit, Construction
Founded 1999
Headquarters San Francisco, CA
Key people
Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, Co-Founders
Revenue $12,011,838 USD (2012/2013)[1]
Number of employees
65 (2012)

Architecture for Humanity was a US-based charitable organization that sought architectural solutions to humanitarian crises and brought professional design services to communities in need. Founded in 1999, it laid off its staff and closed down at the beginning of January 2015.


The organization was founded on April 6, 1999, by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr in response to the need for immediate long-term shelter for returning refugees in Kosovo after the region's bloody conflict.[2] After hosting a series of open design competitions, the organization then began taking on a number of built projects, pairing local communities with design professionals to develop a ground up alternative to development and reconstruction.

In 2005 they adopted an "open source" model and were the first organization to utilize the Creative Commons licensing system on a physical structure.[3] To date it has worked in 45 countries and over 2.8 million people who now live, work, learn, gather and heal in 2,348 places helped by Architecture for Humanity design fellows, chapter members and volunteer design professional.[4]

In 2006 the organization published Design Like You Give A Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises,[2] which chronicles the early history. The second volume, DLYGAD: Building Change from the Ground Up. was published in 2012.

Stohr stepped down from the organization in spring 2013 and Sinclair in fall 2013;[5] former studio director Eric Cesal became Executive Director.

The staff were laid off on January 1, 2015, and the organizations San Francisco office was closed down.[2]


Yodakandiya Community Complex, Sri Lanka (2007) shortlisted for the 2010 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

The organization provided pro-bono design and construction management services and funding for projects around the world, including developing and building schools in West Africa and Haiti, developing long-term rebuilding efforts in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis, and constructing sports for social change facilities in Africa and South America. Work has also included long-term reconstruction in India and Sri Lanka following the Indian Ocean Tsunami, rebuilding initiatives in the United States after Hurricane Katrina, as well as hosting a number of international design competitions.

Architecture for Humanity promoted humanitarian and social design through partnerships, advocacy and education based programs. To that end, they have consulted with government bodies and relief organizations on a number of projects, including landmine clearance programs and playground building in the Balkans; transitional housing for IDPs in Afghanistan, Sudan and Grenada; school building in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda; and earthquake reconstruction assistance in Pakistan, Turkey and Iran. The organization also sought to foster public appreciation for the many ways that architecture and design can improve lives.

While Editor in Chief of Architectural Record, Robert Ivy wrote, "Architecture for Humanity represents the finest of the new breed of architectural leadership, employing architectural skills and directing them for the larger good."[6]


In 2005 Architecture for Humanity received the Index Award - Design to Improve Life (community category), in 2006 it was awarded the Rave Award for Architecture by Wired Magazine and the Innovation of the Year as part of the Observer Newspapers' Ethical Awards, and in 2007 it won the Center for Architecture Foundation Award. In March 2006 its co-founder Cameron Sinclair was awarded the 2006 TED Prize, which awards its recipients "One wish to change the world".

In May 2008, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum awarded Architecture for Humanity the Design Patron Award, highlighting its commitment to improving communities by providing pro bono, sustainable design services.[2][7]

In June 2008 the organization was profiled on Frontline as part of their series of Stories From A Small Planet.[8] That year co-founder Cameron Sinclair was profiled as one of CNN's Principal Voices and on the series Iconoclasts on the Sundance Channel.

Open source architecture[edit]

As a result of the TED Prize the organization worked with Sun Microsystems and Creative Commons to develop the Open Architecture Network, the first open source system for supporting sustainable and humanitarian design and architecture. This network includes project management, file sharing, a resource database and online collaborative design tools. A beta version of the site launched on March 8, 2007, at the 2007 TED Conference. It has garnered over 27,000 members and 5,000 projects. In late 2010 a version of the network was created as a mobile application that is showcased in the Museum of Modern Art.

International design competitions[edit]

Architecture for Humanity has hosted a series of open international design competitions focused on systemic issues of poverty. These have included including Siyathemba youth sports and outreach facility; Outreach - Design Ideas for Mobile Health Clinic to Combat HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa; and Transitional Housing for Kosovo's Returning Refugees.

In 2007 the organization began hosting its competitions on the Open Architecture Network and every two years hosts its premier design competition, The Open Architecture Challenge. That year the inaugural competition, the AMD Open Architecture Challenge, sought ideas to develop innovative off the grid technology centers. Clients include a chocolate co-operative in Ecuador, a youth center in Kenya and a medical organization in Nepal. The competition culminated in the construction of a youth community and resource center in Nairobi, Kenya.

The 2009 Open Architecture Challenge was launched on January 29 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. With support of more than two dozen organizations it invited architects and designers to partner with schools to design cost effective and sustainable classrooms. An international jury convened in July at the 2009 Aspen Ideas festival and selected eight finalists from the tens of thousands of entries from more than 65 countries.


Architecture for Humanity has more than 59 chapters in many countries,[9] many independent charities.[2][10] The chapters worked primarily in their regions. In August 2008, members of Architecture for Humanity New York were declared New Yorkers of the Week by cable news network NY1 for the chapter's first project.[11]

In January 2015, many of the chapters formed an alliance[9] and vowed to continue. Since forming all 59 chapters have joined this federation and continue to work on pro bono projects around the world.


  1. ^ Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (IRS Form 990) (PDF), Architecture for Humanity, 2013 
  2. ^ a b c d e King, John (January 17, 2015). "Architecture for Humanity shut; nonprofit helped disaster victims". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  3. ^ "Cameron Sinclair on open-source architecture". TED. February 2006. 
  4. ^ "2013 Year in Review", Architecture for Humanity, December 30, 2013 
  5. ^ "Architecture for Humanity founders step down". Fast Company. January 22, 2015. 
  6. ^ Ivy, Robert A. (June 2002). "Is Idealism Dead?". Architectural Record (editorial). 
  7. ^ "Design Patron: Architecture for Humanity". Archived from the original on July 27, 2009. 
  8. ^ India: Design Like You Give A Damn, PBS Frontline 
  9. ^ a b AFH Chapter Network – Home 
  10. ^ Architecture for Humanity Chapters, Architecture for Humanity 
  11. ^ Nissan, Rita (August 7, 2008). "NYer Of The Week: Architects Volunteer To Build Space For Needy". NY1. 

External links[edit]