As architects, we are increasingly aware of humanitarian disasters, environmental, social and political, which impact vulnerable communities worldwide.

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Researchers analyzing the growth of the nonprofit sector point to the global economic crash and recession of 2008 as key contributing factors in the rise of civil society activism in the architecture profession. When the financial crisis struck, many professionals who had spent the majority of their careers working in established firms were released from their positions...In response, many unemployed architects began practicing as sole-traders and took on jobs such as local domestic work or offered their services pro-bono to charitable organizations.

The financial crash coincided with an ideological shift towards the social implications of architectural design. While this approach is not new, in recent years it has become firmly rooted within the mainstream consciousness. Events such as the 2016 Biennale, entitled ‘Reporting from the Front’, steered architects towards a human-centric practice, one that attempts to solve social issues through design.

More than ever before, when a building is both “beautiful” and “good” in equal measure, it is held up as a pinnacle of architectural mastery.

Local people often possess essential knowledge, not only concerning materials and construction techniques, but also regarding cultural sensitivities and how future users may engage with the buildings.

When asked what advice they would like to pass on to architects and design professionals interested in getting involved in the field of humanitarian architecture, Archive Global replied, “We must understand as completely as possible the context of the project. What needs are to be met? How does one use the space? What are the cultural practices around spaces and materials? What can the building do for the community?”

Whether all goes to plan or not—and you innovate through it—a project approached with care and sensitivity that aims to benefit others can reveal a wealth of lessons, not only about method and culture, but also about your practice and values.

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