Humanitarian architecture seeks to improve humanitarian issues such as a disaster relief, poverty, or conflict. It is also a way to improve the welfare and happiness of individuals and communities. When combined with architecture, it can mean striving for sustainable design solutions that offer safety and shelter to vulnerable populations.

Rendering: Foster + Partners; Boathouse in Manhattan’s Harlem River, Image Courtesy Row New York

Intern Study
By Jenny Gercilus
Architectural Intern

During my internship at Design Collaborative, I researched humanitarian architecture. My researched focused on how humanitarian architecture can benefit the firm and how this type of architecture can be implemented into our pro-bono work. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, at the end of 2018, 70.8 million people around the globe were forcibly displaced. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that unexplainable and unexpected world events can impact the way people live their lives at any time, and architects should rise to solve the complex problems that face their communities. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic affects the entire world, Design Collaborative can still make a big difference in their own backyard.

I was inspired to dive deeper into humanitarian architecture after a personal experience I had on a study abroad trip to Asia. Through Ball State’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Thailand. For three months, I explored the area and built relationships with people in the community. As architecture students, we explored the issues facing the community and completed design-build projects to solve these problems.

Design Collaborative does a great job of providing sustainable design solutions, and it is exciting to explore more possibilities involving humanitarian work. This type of architecture can play an important role in providing community support and creating infrastructure that can transform people’s lives. At its core, Design Collaborative desires to improve people’s worlds, and humanitarian architecture is the perfect medium to achieve this goal. By pursing this type of architecture, DC could gain other benefits, such as boosting staff morale, connecting architects to their community, and paving the way for other revenue-generating commissions.

There are numerous ways that Design Collaborative can get involved with humanitarian architecture.

In researching how other architecture firms fund these projects, donations and capital campaigns seem to be the two most common methods. Some firms even create a non-profit foundation with a focus on pro-bono work, applying for grants using their 501( c )(3) status. Even doing small things such as volunteering for nonprofit organizations and donating space for meetings can cultivate new connections. Attending organizational events for a special cause and providing pre-analysis design development services can lead to bigger opportunities in the future. There are numerous awards and architectural publications that recognize firms who participate in this type of architecture. The AIA encourages humanitarian architecture, as well as pro-bono projects. Some of the benefits of being known for humanitarian work are stronger connections to community, gaining the trust of clients, and increased billable opportunities.

Photo: MASS Design Group; Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture – Gashora, Bugesera District, Rwanda

Michael Murphy, founder of MASS Design, gives four important reminders to firms interested in humanitarian architecture. These four reminders are to hire locally, source regionally, train where you can, and invest in dignity. For every problem, there is a solution, and smart strategies, such as utilizing locally sourced materials and implementing new passive and green design strategies, can go a long way for humanitarian architecture.

Design Collaborative does so much good work for the Fort Wayne community, but there are always more opportunities to explore.

Architecture is a transformative engine for change, and great architecture can lead, heal, and inspire. With humanitarian architecture, Design Collaborative can truly improve people’s worlds.

Fazzare, Elizabeth. “Norman Foster Is Designing a Rowing Boathouse for a Non-Profit on the Harlem River.” Architectural Digest, Architectural Digest, 25 June 2019,

DesignGroup, MASS. “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.” MASS Design Group, 2019,

Fracalossi, Igor. “Quinta Monroy / ELEMENTAL.” ArchDaily, ArchDaily, 31 Dec. 2008,

Block, India. “ZAV Architects Completes Home with Veiled Balconies for Orphaned Iranian Girls.” Dezeen, 19 July 2019,

DesignGroup, MASS. “Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture.” MASS Design Group, 2019,

Gibson, Eleanor. “Architecture Students Build Latticed Wood Community Centre in German Refugee Camp.” Dezeen, 23 Nov. 2017,

Copyright ©2024 Design Collaborative