After Disaster, They Rebuild

Disaster Relief Organizations That Provide Housing and Construction Skills

Have you ever heard of pro bono publico? More likely you've heard the shortened version, pro bono. It's a Latin phrase you can figure out—pro means "for" and bono means "good" and publico means "public."  Many professionals do pro bono work for free, for the public good. Non-profit organizations have evolved to better organize the efforts of individuals. Architects are no exception to taking on pro bono projects, especially when earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other horrific disasters strike. Architects and designers play important roles in the recovery process, from constructing new homes to designing essential medical clinics and schools. Volunteers help rebuild devastated communities. While dozens of nonprofit agencies do wonderful work in relieving human suffering, the architecture-related charities listed here are remarkable for their ability to provide a wide range of needed construction expertise and technical skills.

1
Open Architecture Collaborative (OAC)

New Home for Tsunami Victim in Sri Lanka
New Home for Tsunami Victim in Sri Lanka. Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images News / Getty Images

The Open Architecture Collaborative (OAC) is the story of architects and designers re-organizing after their own disaster.

Back in 1999 Kate Stohr and Cameron Sinclair founded the nonprofit organization Architecture for Humanity (AFH) in the belief that architects are trained problem-solvers. Their mantra became the well-known "Design like you give a damn,” to challenge the citizen architect to solve humanitarian problems through their building and design. In late 2013, the co-founders curiously departed from the organization, and by January 1, 2015, the nonprofit's US faction suddenly closed its doors in San Francisco and filed for bankruptcy.

Not to worry. Architecture for Humanity lived on in the independent, financially stable local chapters, such as AFH-UK, who kept its registration to do pro-bono architectural services out of London. 

Other chapters of the old AFH reformed in 2016 to rebrand themselves as the OAC, with new leadership, better transparency in doing business, and the less threatening mantra of Design Together.

2
All Hands Volunteers

All Hands Volunteers in Kathmandu, Nepal
All Hands Volunteers in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by Omar Havana / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

David Campbell founded All Hands Volunteers after his personal experiences rebuilding communities devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Today, with offices in Massachusetts and the UK, the nonprofit coordinates volunteer teams toward any community that needs a helping hand. His mantra? Maximum impact. Minimum bureaucracy.

Learn More:

  • All Hands: The Evolution of a Volunteer-Powered Disaster Response Organization by David Campbell, 2015
    Buy on Amazon
  • Being There: The Creation of a Cool, Happy, and Surprisingly Effective Disaster Response Organization by David Campbell, 2014
    Buy on Amazon

3
ARCHIVE Global

People in Bangladesh Displaced to Higher Ground from Unusual Rise of River Waters
People in Bangladesh Displaced to Higher Ground from Unusual Rise of River Waters. Photo by Shafiqul Alam / Corbis News / Getty Images

ARCHIVE Global grew out of a Columbia University research project. The New York City university has a reputation for strong schools of public health and architecture, so it seems natural that someone would find a connection between the two. In fact, ARCHIVE is an acronym for "Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments. The goal of the organization is to improve health worldwide by improving housing.

Smaller organizations such as Article 25 (previously Architects for Aid), an established UK charity, have merged with ARCHIVE Global in order to take advantage of solving problems in an evidence-based, research-led environment.

4
Habitat for Humanity International

Volunteer construction workers with Habitat for Humanity work on newly constructed homes August 23, 2006 in Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisianna.
Habitat For Humanity Builds Homes In New Orleans. Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

Working in 100 countries, Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization that helps people in need build simple, affordable houses. The new homes are built by the homeowners and volunteers under trained supervision.

5
Relief International

A team of foreign volunteers and Sri Lankan workers put up a transitional house for a Tsunami affected family
Galle, Sri Lanka Replacing Tents With Prefabricated Houses. Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

In addition to constructing shelters for people in need, Relief International offers a variety of services for communities in crisis. RI's programs include health, education, agriculture, and food. The primary mission of this nonprofit organization is to bridge emergency relief and long term development.

6
Domes for the World Foundation

A boy rides his bicycle outside the dome homes in the village of New Ngelepen on May 31, 2007 in Yogyakarta province, Java island, Indonesia.
Disaster-Proof Dome Homes in Indonesia. Photo by Dimas Ardian / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Domes for the World (DFTW) provides training, tools, and methods for constructing economical, eco-friendly, storm-resistant Monolithic Dome housing for communities in need. Since 2005, the Texas-based DFTW has provided dome structures for victims of earthquakes and other disasters around the world.

7
Shelter For Life International

A Syrian mother of 3 prepares tea in a one room house in Lebanon
Syrian Refugee from Idlib in a One Room House in Lebanon. Photo by Sam Tarling / Corbis News / Getty Image

Shelter For Life (SFL) is a Christian relief organization that helps people in crisis rebuild after disasters. SFL specializes in providing sustainable housing for displaced persons, refugees, migrants, and disaster victims. The non-profit organization also helps build infrastructure projects such as schools, clinics, roads, bridges, and water supply systems.

8
Without Borders

Zhaotong, China Earthquake
Zhaotong, China Earthquake. Photo by VCG / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Since its founding in 1971, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has been a model for humanitarian assistance. The organization's success, including a 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, has spawned other volunteer organizations unrelated to medicine. The goal of promoting responsible, sustainable development practices through volunteerism is one held by all of these organizations:

9
World Monuments Fund

Windmill in Majorca, Spain
Windmill in Majorca, Spain. Photo by Julian Finney / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images (cropped)

Since 1965, the World Monuments Funds has kept its eyes on protecting civilization's heritage. Whether by natural disasters or the ravages of time and wars, the destruction of "the built environment" takes place around the world—sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. The WMF provides an array of services to local communities, including experts in ancient craftsmanship and modern technologies.

10
Inscape Publico

Temporary Shelters Need Designs and Plans
Even Simple Temporary Shelters Need Designs and Plans. Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Since 1998, the architectural firm of Inscape Studio has been providing "contemporary architecture that is socially responsible and environmentally sensitive" to the Washington, DC area. Believing in the concept of giving back to the world community, the firm institutionalized their pro bono work by creating a nonprofit sister firm called Inscape Publico. Since 2010, the principals of Inscape Studio, Gregory Kearley and Stefan Schwarzkopf, have provided professional services in the form of concept designs and "envisioning workshops" to help other nonprofit organization jump-start their building goals and renovation needs. Nonprofits helping nonprofits is a theme running through all of the organizations listed here. Architecture is about collaboration at every level, locally and internationally.