Architecture for Humanity co-founders "deeply
saddened" as charity's head office closes



News: non-profit organisation Architecture for Humanity has closed its San Francisco headquarters and laid off its staff after apparently being unable to continue funding humanitarian projects.

Co-founders Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, who ran the organisation from 1999 to 2013, responded to the "sad news" in an email yesterday.

"We just heard the news that Architecture for Humanity, the organisation we started more than 15 years ago, has pivoted its mission and is planning to close," wrote the duo, who are pictured above. "We are deeply saddened by this."

Operating under the slogan "Design like you give a damn," AFH raised money to fund architectural solutions to humanitarian crises around the world, raising over $5 million (£3.3 million) in funding each year.

But the organisation's headquarters near Union Square were shut down and all staff laid off without announcement on 1 January, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

AFH has yet to issue a statement about the reasons behind the move, but board member Clark Manus of San Francisco firm Heller Manus Architects told the San Francisco Chronicle that the organisation ran out of money to fund its projects.

"The board tried very hard to figure out how to right the organization, and we were out there looking for angels, but the money wasn’t there to support it," said Manus. "It's not that the mission and need wasn't clear, or that the staff wasn't dedicated."

The New York Times reported that the organisation intends to apply for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection after being unable to reduce a deficit of $2.1 million.

AFH's numerous international chapters remain unaffected by the closure, since they operate independently. The organisation has over 20,000 members and 59 chapters, including 18 outside the USA.

"Architecture for Humanity London was sad to learn of the closure of the San Francisco headquarters," said Beth Worth, a trustee for Architecture for Humanity's London chapter.

"However, AFH London is still open for business as a registered UK charity and limited company."

AFH supporters called on the San Francisco office's board to explain their actions.

Jonathan Hursh, founder and executive director of non-profit organisation Included, wrote on Facebook: "As a former partner and current fan of both your work and the founders, [I] would suggest that it would be good for all involved if you can immediately send out communications to your chapters and partners to get ahead of the breaking media news as soon as possible."

"Kate [Stohr] and I can't speak or act for the organisation, due to our departure," Cameron Sinclair told Dezeen, "but it's been amazing to see chapter leaders mobilising in the last 24 hours and making the board be transparent in their actions."

The non-profit organisation was founded in 1999 when Sinclair and Stohr organised a competition to design refugee shelters for Kosovans returning home after the war in their country, but stepped down from the organisation in 2013 to pursue other projects.

AFH regularly ran open design competitions for structures that would benefit vulnerable communities and disaster victims around the world.

Recent projects that feature on AFH's Facebook page, which has not been updated since 11 December, include a school in Peru and a community centre in Slovakia.

Other headline projects included fundraising for long-term reconstruction in Haiti, after a devastating earthquake in 2010; and Japan, which suffered a similar disaster just over a year later.

Yodakandiya Community Complex, funded by Architecture for Humanity

It also helped to fund projects such as the Yodakandiya Community Complex (above), which was constructed in Sri Lanka following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and was shortlisted for the 2010 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

"We ran the organisation and grew it from just a small circle of volunteers to an international organisation with chapters in 25 countries," said the co-founders. "For more than 10 years, together we led the movement to bring social design where it is needed most.

"We built award-winning buildings, ran innovative programs, personally raised more than $5 million in annual funding, year in and year out, and established more than five community design centres that set the standard for rebuilding after disaster."

"We hope the profession will continue to design like a give damn – in whatever form that takes," said Stohr and Sinclair. "And we urge the chapters to continue their much needed work".

Sinclair is now executive director of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, a non-profit organisastion established by actor Angelina Jolie and dedicated to community development and conservation in Cambodia.

  • Felix Tannenbaum

    In other news, Architecture for Corporate Concerns posted record profits this year.

  • Marc

    They left so they could say this… shame.

  • Good. Architecture should solve architecture problems, not social problems.

    • spadestick

      Architecture should solve at least some social problems. What good is a stadium with no playing pitch, or an office with no meeting rooms/areas?

      Engineers can solve architectural problems. Architects solve social problems by making dwellings, spaces and buildings for people, not machines even if indirectly…

      They solve social problems, parts of this involve aesthetics, like plastic surgeons who reconstruct road accident damaged patients to help them re-adapt to society, good architects work to beautify and improve the environment to help blighted places regain their confidence.

      However that being said, human greed, corruption from both government and corporations have caused more grief, wars and poverty on the face of this earth much more than architecture could ever hope to solve.

      • Innovate, experiment, and expand the design language to solve architecture problems. We live in cultures where design is carefully smothered by bureaucracy, instead of celebrated. What once lowered the cost of building and design for all, has been replaced with regulations that stifle it.

        Architecture for Humanity was a good intentioned idea. Good intentions don’t advance architecture, practice does.

        What corrupt politicians label as blight, individuals see as opportunity. Let the market of ideas, specifically with local businesses and local organizations, solve the societal issues closest to them. Bureaucrats use “blight” definitions to displace people to benefit contractors with state subsidized construction, under the guise of social architecture.

        If you want a perfect example of why social design is nonsense, compare the Make It Right Foundation to Habitat for Humanity across the street in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans.

        The overpriced, forced designs from Brad Pitt are inhabited by wealthy, out-of-state yuppies, while the simple homes from Habitat from Humanity are being lived in by the actual community. One set of homes solve simple shelter problems, while the other set looked to elevate poor blacks to the middle class using magic.

        End social design. Free real architecture.

    • Kate

      The Liberty Disciple – you are a d*ck.

      • Derek_V

        He is a d*ck because he is not living in a dream world like you do.

      • Rupert Christian Rampton

        He obviously never had a dream, maybe he should go find work in a bank.

  • Jim

    I’ll wager Clark Manus didn’t run out of cash…

    • Clark Manus on the board, not too long after the organisation is closing doors. Wondering if there is any connection.

  • Derek_V

    It was a sham from the get go. Asking architects (most of which are exploited themselves) to provide pro bono work for poor regions in the world instead of paying local people to do the actual planning work. Another charity that was simply there to make a name for the founder.

    • I_ReTaiNed_|

      Not related, but I’m so tired of seeing the words exploited and architects in the same sentence.

      Related, have a look at Mass Design Group’s approach to involving the community, local architects and artisans to provide a positive injection to the local community.