News Brief

Design Like You Give a Damn

edited by Architecture for Humanity. Metropolis Books, New York, New York, 2006. Paperback, 336 pages, $35.00.

In 1999, Cameron Sinclair and his mentor Charles Lauster felt called to respond to the conflict in Kosovo, which resulted in the damage or destruction of more than half of the housing stock in the region. Their response took the form of a design competition for emergency housing that operated from a laptop computer in the corner of Sinclair’s office cubicle; it has since grown into a major nonprofit organization, Architecture for Humanity, that connects architects and their designs with relief agencies around the world. In

Design Like You Give a Damn, the organization’s first book, Sinclair and others lay out the history of the group amid the larger history of affordable and disaster relief housing, and provide 80 case studies to illustrate the history of such initiatives.

Architecture for Humanity emphasizes “open source” design, asking architects to share their designs and make them adaptable without asking them to relinquish control over them. The book focuses mainly on case studies in that spirit, looking at the successes and failures of many designs in a balanced manner. The editors celebrate innovation even as they keep the reader’s feet firmly on the ground; good designs for emergency shelters, for example, must be lightweight enough to make shipping economical and should ideally make use of materials readily available after a disaster. Interviews with several designers offer a deeper look into the design process and further emphasize the need for design to work with the practical realities of relief work.

Although professing no special interest in green or sustainable design, the book discusses many projects that have low environmental impact and are designed for passive survivability (see

EBN

Vol. 15, No. 5). Furthermore, the focus of the book and the organization—on providing for basic human needs through humanitarian design—reinforces many of the lessons of sustainable building, including those of integrated design. In order to provide effective emergency shelter, or to fully embrace the possibilities of green building, all of the members of a project team must work together from the beginning.

All in all, this record of Architecture for Humanity’s history offers a well-balanced look at the organization’s efforts. Despite the design and implementation challenges of emergency and transitional housing, the breadth of creativity showcased in the book’s case studies offers hopeful new approaches to a form of shelter increasingly in demand.

Published August 29, 2006

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