Thoughts on The End of AfH

Like many people in the architecture and design community, I was saddened with the news last Friday that Architecture for Humanity (AfH) was closing. See my updated report on Contractdesign.com here.

I was aware since 2013 that the organization was experiencing significant challenges, but the closing was unexpected. It had weathered the economic woes of 2009 and 2010, and still received financial support enabling it to deliver important public interest design services. That work was implemented in a range of places, including Haiti after the earthquake that had struck five years ago this past week and the New Jersey shore hard hit after Hurricane Sandy.

Architecture for Humanity established a benchmark and grew as not just an organization but a movement. It was exciting to see the work of Cameron Sinclair and his colleagues, contemporaries of mine, as a new field of public interest design emerged this century. That work was led by Gen X designers [who said we are all slackers?] who wanted to accomplish great things utilizing design skills with a strong sense of purpose. The Clinton Foundation, the American Institute of Architects, and many other professional organizations proudly affiliated themselves with and supported Architecture for Humanity because the essence of AfH conveyed the highest aspirations for what architects and designers can do.

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The Rainwater Court is a multi-purpose basketball court designed by Architecture for Humanity for the St. Joseph Mahiga Primary School and community of Nyeri, Kenya. Photo by Michael Jones.

As of this writing, we all await more detailed information regarding the exact reasons why the board of directors chose to end the organization. But, we know this: the field of public interest design is now established and robust. As we see in many social medial posts in less than a week, many people, worldwide, are passionate about this work. While AfH as a U.S.-based operation may have ended, there are many others who are going to carry the torch and continue the good work that architects and designers can do to assist communities in need.

Contract’s 2012 Designer of the Year MASS Design Group continues to grow and produce excellent work that has significant social impact in places like Rwanda, Haiti, and other countries. The Public Interest Design Institute provides training to architecture and other design professionals in public interest design. Contract will continue to seek out excellent work in public interest design and advocate for it as an important component of a relevant architecture and design profession. In fact, we are preparing a March issue that has an outstanding example of a new generation of public interest design.

Also, Contract will be producing the seventh annual Inspirations Awards [inspirations.contractdesign.com] to specifically honor architecture and design that benefits the public good. Sponsored by Tandus Centiva and presented by Contract, the call for entries will go live in early March and the final deadline for entries will be April 17. Winners will be honored in a ceremony at NeoCon in Chicago this June, and the work will be published in Contract. The awards recognize a commitment to social responsibility in commercial interiors, using design to improve the quality of life for those in need. Winning designers of the Inspirations Awards will be honored for their work completed for clients that are a worthy cause. The winning clients, in turn, receive generous grants from award sponsor Tandus Centiva.

We all look forward to continuing to support public impact design, and with so many passionate designers, I am guessing we will see exciting new organizations and initiatives that will develop from the end of AfH. Perhaps the 15-year history of AfH is only the first chapter of public interest design as we will come to know it as well as the broader role of architects and designers in the 21st century.

 

 

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