Friday, March 31

Friday Photography | Lower 9th Ward, 6 Months After Katrina

A good friend took these shots of the Lower 9th Ward over Mardi Gras weekend, aproximately 6 months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. See the full set

Thursday, March 30

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Part 2: THE NEED TO DO SOMETHING

(Part 2 of a 13 part series)

Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the second installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world'’s most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.


On the day after Christmas I got a cryptic phone call from my mother. My mother lives in Singapore and has a vacation home on an island near there on the sea. At about 7AM I heard the phone ring but was slow getting to it so I went back to sleep. I woke up about 2 hours later and listened to the message from my mother. She simply said she was in the center of the island at a hotel and was OK and that was it. I didn't understand what that meant until I flipped to the CNN website and suddenly realized that a major tsunami had struck the same region where my mother was. Like many Americans over the course of that day I was shocked by the images of destruction and the rising death toll. I realized right away that this was a disaster like no other and that as a human being I needed to do something.

Over the course of the next week I helped to organize a coalition of local Asian-American groups to work together on tsunami relief. The scope of this disaster brought together Asian communities that don'’t often work together and it was heartening to see such diverse groups as Tamils working alongside Japanese for one cause. All of us felt that this was a unique disaster and that our response not only would help thousands of our brethren in Asia but also could bring together the disparate Asian community here. For me at times bringing together the community seemed almost as important as the disaster because without immediate family or friends the tsunami and its victims were tragic but still remote and impersonal.

As the relief effort got going I had a long planned for trip pending to go see my family in Asia. Raising money for the tsunami I decided that since I was going to the region I should also go see first hand the affects of the tsunami and how people were recovering. I considered going to a few different locations and settled on Phuket, Thailand as the most practical. At the travel agency in Singapore I was told that my choices for lodging were limited because several resorts had been destroyed but that it was still safe to go. So I put aside any concern and went ahead to Phuket, not fully knowing what to expect but still excited.

Tuesday, March 28

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Part 1: THAI BAY

(Part 1 of a 12 part series)

Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the first installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world‚’s most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.

Part 1: T

I hesitated for a moment as I walked up to the sea that swallowed people. Then I stepped into the clear blue waters of the Thai bay. I had just arrived in Phuket, Thailand a few hours ago and morbid thoughts like that were hard to avoid. This was a place that I had wanted to come to for years and even though I had been to Southeast Asia many times something else had always come up. Finally five weeks after a tsunami that had killed hundreds of people on the beach that I was standing on I was here. I had come to one of the hardest hit places by the December 26th tsunami to see for myself how the people were recovering and how those of us concerned about them could help. I came expecting to see devastation and hardship, which I found, but also much more. I found a beautiful country and people rapidly rebuilding from one of the worst disasters in human history and who are eager to invite visitors back to their country. I heard gripping tales of survival, tragic stories of loss and witnessed destruction on an unbelievable scale. I found frustration among survivors and aid workers but also surprising resilience. I found unbridled hedonism in the midst of wreckage, economic recovery and aid in unlikely ways.


Border Stability: One Home at a Time

Positive change is occurring on the border of Mexico and the United States and the non-profit World Hands Project is a small initiative desperately trying to make a difference. The work of World Hands Project is focused in and around the community of Anapra, Mexico. This is an area devastated by poverty and pollution resulting from the tragic circumstances of a great influx of new residents responding to opportunities promised by international corporate investment. Those promises have turned out to be untrue as investing companies have brought agendas permiated by an obvious lack of commitment to the place and its people.

A majority of Anapra is an illegal community, situated on privately owned land on the western outskirts
of Ciudad Juarez across the U.S. and Mexico border from El Paso Texas. Living conditions and the hope for positive change are bleak except for the efforts of a few dedicated organizations, one of which being a group of natural builders and sustainable living advocates dedicated to improving the outlook for the masses of poor Mexicans resettling their lives in the shadows of the hope created by the machiladoras or factories.

The mission of World Hands Project is to, “empower individuals throughout the world by introducin
g co-creation models of sustainable living”. Through a collaborative effort blending the expertise and relative wealth of motivated individuals including architects and builders with the skills of local tradesmen and the immense needs of families, a powerfully positive result occurs. Jobs are fostered, people are educated through collaboration and sustainable, livable and efficient housing is created. These homes, constructed of straw, pallets and the surrounding clay, are a striking contrast to the existing homes that are mostly pieced together with salvaged materials made weather resistant by tar paper and plastic. The magic that occurs from the work of World Hands Project is the realization that with local involvement and a little guidance, almost any resident in Anapra can “gather” the materials they need for a home, and with the support of the community build homes that works to support their hopes for the future while adding stability to their lives. At the core of World Hands Project is the empowerment of individuals to help themselves by providing education, support and a model for local residents to gather around and advance on their own.

World Hands Project is always looking for direct assistance from individuals. Give your time, your expertise, and/or your money, just get up and “design like you give a damn”!

Friday, March 24

Friday Photography | Border Film Project

Friday Photography this week is special. Three friends "spent three months on the U.S. Mexico border filming and distributing hundreds of disposable cameras to two groups on different sides of the line: undocumented migrants crossing the desert and Minutemen volunteers trying to stop them."

They've received 1,500 pictures to date and more are coming every day. The photos show a human element that isn’t there when you watch the news or read the paper. They are a first person account of the inhumanity that borders, walls, fences - whether built or psychological - can invoke.

Go to: Border Film Project

The photos they’ve received from the migrants and the minutemen document both differences and, like the photos above, similarities.

“The similiarities resonate with a deep lesson of the project. We have realized that although the Minutemen and humanitarian organizations on the border have very different motivations, both, paradoxically, have much in common. Both groups believe that U.S. border policy has failed by allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants to cross the desert each year, and both have taken it upon themselves as U.S. citizens to rectify the situation."

Tuesday, March 21

Structures For Inclusion 6

The Structures For Inclusion conference, held in San Francisco, runs from Friday, March 24th to Sunday, March 26th. Architecture For Humanity's co-founder Kate Stohr will be a moderating a panel entitled "Designers Roles in Disaster Preparedness & Relief". AFH|MN's own Maureen is excited to be able to attend the conference and we are excited to hear about it when she gets back. Expect more from her later.

"From its inception in 2000, the dual mission of SFI has consistently been 1) to showcase design efforts that reach out to and serve a diverse clientele, and 2) to provide information on alternative career paths available to students and young designers."

For more information: Structures for Inclusion 6

While looking into this conference I found out that it is put on, in part, by the Design Corps. The Design Corps works in conjunction with AmeriCorps, linking interested and skilled volunteers with groups around the US in need of design services.

They offer 1 and 2 year Fellowships. Past and ongoi
ng projects include a farmworker/ migrant housing program, self-help housing, and other various community planning/ building projects. They have ongoing projects in Alabama, Florida, New Orleans, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as a summer design/ build studio for students.

In my hectic last months of school I entertained the idea of working for AmeriCorps but had trouble finding a program that was design related. How I missed such a great resource I have no idea, but I'm now beginning to entertain similar thoughts...

Two other groups have a hand in the SFI conference as well: Public Architecture, and Urban Ecology. A more in depth look into these and other related organizations to come.

Friday, March 17

A Planet of Slums

For the first time in human history, the number of people living in urban areas matches the number of people living in rural areas. In fact, after 2020, cities will account for all future world population growth while the number of people living rurally will shrink at a constant rate. The majority of these new "urbanites" will live in cities like Lagos, Mumbai, Mexico City, and Jakarta.

But what's really fascinating is that of all urbanites, world-wide, 3/4ths of them will live in something that can't even really be called a "city" by Western standar
ds. These are the slums, the shantytowns and the favelas... the peripherally urban.

Kibera, Kenya - Africa's largest slum:

This is what humanity looks like, and it's hardly a blip on the radar of what Western culture considers important. Mike Davis, a self-described "Marxist-Environmentalist", explores this complex reality in his new book, Planet of Slums.


"The cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood... Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay." Review
New Left Review

Friday Photography | Sprawl

David Maisel - Oblivion

Aerial Photography of Mexico City

BLDG BLOG: Thousand Mile Colosseum

How bad is sprawl?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 16 gets a much needed makeover

Check it out. Many thanks to Yust for putting together such a lovely site.

Monday, March 13

Shantytowns as New Sub/ Urban Ideal

What can the shantytown teach us about urban development? What can it teach us about suburban development? Will we be retrofitting multi-unit apartments into today's McMansions in 50 years? Architect Teddy Cruz is hard at work answering these questions as we speak.

See Rio de Janeiro:

See Tijuana:

Now see Teddy Cruz's "Mi Pueblo" San Ysidro Pilot Village:

NYT article about Teddy Cruz via Archinect. See the Wikipedia entry for "shanty towns" for more on that topic. Robert Neuwirth writes about his four years living in squatter towns in his blog, squattercity. And be sure to check out Bryan Finoki's tour-de-force post, urban syntax: at the border, at his blog, Subtopia: A Field Guide to Military Urbanism.

Thursday, March 9

Mind the Gap, Minnesota

Despite consistently ranking one of the healthiest, smartest, and most livable states in the US, Minnesota, and specifically the Twin Cities metro region, does not work for everyone. The Brookings Institution released a report in October of 2005 that delves into disparities between groups within this region.

Click the picture to see a full size version:

The report can be found on this page, under the title. This is required reading for anyone interested in some of the problems facing the Twin Cities.

Thursday, March 2


... to the official AFHMN weblog!

While there are many wonderful blog's out there about architecture and design (Inhabitat, BLDBLOG, Pruned, and Archidose - to name a few), we here at AFHMN want to bridge that gap between architecture and social crisis. While sometimes our interests might wander, our primary concern is humanitarian, with an architecture and design based focus.

We are a group of 20 or so (and growing!) individuals residing in the Twin Cities of Minnesota who believe that architecture and design are powerful tools that can be used to find solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. We came together through Architecture For Humanity - International.

We are starting this blog with one thing on our minds: There are other people out there that think like we do... Let's find them. If you happen to come across this site and like what you see, email it to a friend. Hell, email it to all of your friends. We want to hear from you; email us, make comments, join your local AFH chapter, if you don't have a local AFH chapter... what are you waiting for? There are people out there that think like you do, START ONE.

And above all, Design like you give a damn.