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Architecture for Humanity

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was draw houses, castles, haunted houses, plans for forts, tunnels, etc. Graph paper was a major revelation to me so I could figure out exactly how large to make the secret rooms in my dreamhouse. Designing spaces was a great escape from a rainy afternoon, or assigned homework. In Junior High, I got to take a class that included drafting and some general residential construction (we did architectural models and also built half-size corners of a home, including electrical, HVAC ducts, plumbing, drywall, exterior siding, sub roof, and shingle roofing–such a cool class) and I was sure I wanted to be an architect, just like Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

Like a lot of things I wanted to be (astronaut, zookeeper, cowboy), it wasn’t to be, but I sure do still respond to architecture and design in a huge way. Architecture for Humanity is a non-profit design services organization dedicated to building a more sustainable future through the power of professional design. More than 40,000 professionals have, over the last decade-plus (they started in 1999), given their time and expertise to bring development to the areas where it is most critically needed. Here is a list of current, inspiring projects, from earthquake reconstruction in Haiti, Navajo Elder strawbale construction in the Navajo Nation, and an orphanage in India to schools, academies, and community centers in several African and Latin American cities. US projects are also active, and the training they do of the local communities where the projects are based can positively influence community development for years to come, long after a ribbon across a new front door is cut.

From the AFH website:

Thoughtful, inclusive design creates lasting change in communities by:
• Alleviating poverty and providing access to water, sanitation, power and essential services
• Bringing safe shelter to communities prone to disaster and displaced populations
• Rebuilding community and creating neutral spaces for dialogue in post-conflict areas
• Mitigating the effects of rapid urbanization in unplanned settlements
• Creating spaces to meet the needs of those with disabilities and other at-risk populations
• Reducing the footprint of the built environment and addressing climate change

Architecture for Humanity is a catalyst for innovation. We learn by doing. We know the value of sharing success stories and lessons learned—our own as well as those of others. To foster knowledge sharing and promote best practices, we developed the Open Architecture Network ( This groundbreaking on-line network empowers architects, designers, builders and their clients to share architectural plans and drawings—including CAD files. All plans are shared through an open-source model and can be freely downloaded by all.

If you are a design professional looking for a volunteer opportunity, get involved here.


Ben Stiller is a smartass. We knew that–it’s why we love him. He is able to send up serious situations that bring levity while still being respectful (though not necessarily exhibiting outer respect). We see it in films and TV appearances, and I saw it when he hosted the final evening of last year’s Clinton Global Initiative. Sometimes we can’t believe we are laughing in light of such seriousness, being in the presence of majesty (literal and figurative) and victories over suffering and the face of so much suffering still to be vanquished–and there’s Ben, goofing on it all and on us. Well, he’s at it again–blessedly. He has launched a new foundation, STILLERSTRONG, and uses as a catch phrase “Stealing Great Ideas from Other Charities to Build Schools in Haiti.”

Stiller actually started his work before the January quake, inspired by a visit to Haiti in 2009. He has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build schools in the country, in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, Causecast, and the Global Philanthropy Group.

“Our goal is to help kids get back in school as quickly as possible,” said Stiller. “Schools are a safe haven for kids in times of crisis, and are instrumental in delivering not only education but also healthcare, nutrition and other critical services.”

I hope I’ll see Ben when I’m there building schools in August. Flashing a little Blue Steel. We are not on the same project, but have the same dream and goal for helping heal Haiti.