Humanitarian Architects Work From the Ground Up

In the age of skylines, steel and star architects, it is easy to forget that the basic role of architecture is to provide shelter. Housing, when stripped of its ability to represent and impress, remains a basic need. This is particularly important for communities who have lost their homes following disaster, or who live in precarious conditions at the margins of society.

“There is a much wider role for architects and architecture than I had been led to believe both in my undergraduate education and training in more traditional architecture practice,” says Esther Charlesworth, professor of architecture at RMIT University in Australia and the founder of the Australian chapter of Architects Sans Frontiers (ASF), Architects without Frontiers, a not-for-profit working on post-disaster reconstruction around the world. “I saw that there was a valuable role for design to play in rebuilding people’s communities after war or after disaster.”

Charlesworth is part of the emerging field of humanitarian architecture, where architects focus on projects with a social purpose. This may include working with vulnerable or rural communities, or looking at how people can be best housed during a crisis and how long-term housing stock should be built to better withstand disasters.

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