How to improve the quality of life for underprivileged people? How to utilize the resources and technologies available to us and solve the environmental crisis that we face today? How to design in preparation for and mitigation of disruptive effects of natural disasters?

An architect, through his design, has the power to mold the perception of a viewer towards their surroundings and influence their emotions for the betterment of the society. 

Rather than just designing structures that satisfy the basic need for shelter, architects also aim to improve the quality of life for the people who live in it. Due to the importance of their role, architects around the world have strived to answer some of the questions which are prevalent in society – How to improve the quality of life for underprivileged people? How to utilize the resources and technologies available to us and solve the environmental crisis that we face today? How to design in preparation for and mitigation of disruptive effects of natural disasters?

1. Alejandro Aravena

This award-winning Chilean architect has been leading ‘ELEMENTAL’ since 2001, a company focusing on projects in the domain of public interest and socially aware designs including transportation, infrastructure, civic buildings, and residential projects. Through this company, architect Aravena has completed projects addressing the global housing crisis in many places around the world like Chile, Mexico, the USA, China, and Switzerland. Not limiting their involvement to just designing, this company also takes part in discussions with researchers, lawyers, politicians, residents, and local authorities to provide the best outcome for the underserved people of the society. While working with ELEMENTAL, Aravena was also involved in the reconstruction of the town of Constitución in Chile which took a hit by the earthquake and tsunami in 2010. 

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2. Diébédo Francis Kéré

Born in the village of Gando in Burkina Faso, Kéré was inspired to build the Gando primary school, the first one in that village, while still pursuing his studies at the Technical University of Berlin. The use of mud-brick construction replacing concrete for the design of this school was innovative and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004. After the success of his first one, Kéré developed many projects with a communal approach towards design, using sustainable materials and construction techniques altered to work without the use of heavy machinery. 

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3. Julia King

This multiple award-winning architectural designer and urban researcher at LSE Cities runs a design and research firm in collaboration with the Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE) to develop projects for low-income neighborhoods, sanitation systems, and housing. Her initiative in New Delhi, where she constructed sewers for 322 low-income houses, greatly improved the health and hygiene of the residents. 

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4. Shigeru Ban

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, founder of the Voluntary Architects Network, won the Pritzker Architecture Prize for his humanitarian efforts and innovative use of paper, particularly recycled cardboard tubes for construction in disaster-prone areas where construction material is hard to come by. Along with his innovative paper structures, Ban also designed several other socially impacting projects including prefabricated wooden housing in Kumamoto, Temporary house in Ecuador, Hualin elementary school, and Onagawa container housing.

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5. Liz Ogbu

Architect, urbanist, and social innovator Liz Ogbu is the founder of the multidisciplinary design firm Studio O which works in providing consultancies regarding racial and spatial justice. Spurned by the desire to reduce the difference between privileged and underprivileged people, Ogbu designed and strategized many projects for public welfare including Shelter for immigrant Day laborers in the United States, a Multiple-use water system in Nepal and Ethiopia, Water and Sanitation project in Ghana, a social enterprise for low-income Kenyans.

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6. John Peterson

Architect John Peterson founded a non-profit organization Public Architecture based in San Francisco, to transform communities by building architecture and providing pro bono services for the development of the society. He also initiated the 1% program which called for all architectural firms to dedicate a minimum of 1% of their time for pro bono services. Through his organization, Peterson also suggested many advocacy and design demonstration projects like the Day Labor Station for laborers to wait for temporary employment opportunities every day, the sidewalk plaza initiative to create green spaces, and demonstration of a temporary Scrap house made up of locally-sourced scrap materials. 

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7. Kunlé Adeyemi

Kunlé Adeyemi is a Nigerian architect and urbanist who founded the firm NLE in Amsterdam which provides sustainable solutions for the development of social, economic, and environmental challenges of this century. Tackling problems like climatic changes and rapid urbanization, Adeyemi has completed many exceptional projects in China, Korea, Italy, and Nigeria. These include easy to assemble, cost-effective projects like the floating school in Makoko and the floating school in Venice.

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8. Kotchakorn Voraakhom

Founded and chief executive at Landprocess, a landscape architecture firm, which focuses on developing cities towards a carbon-neutral future with the help of landscape elements like water-efficient design, urban farming, use of sustainable materials, and other green practices. In 2017, she also founded Porous City Network, a social initiative for increasing Bangkok’s resilience to effects of climate change like flooding, and received fellowships from the Echoing Green and Equity Initiative for it.

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9. DK Osseo-Asare

DK Osseo-Asare is co-founder and principal at LOWDO, an architectural studio based in Texas and Ghana. He is a designer who promotes innovative designs that are inclusive of people in resource-constrained parts of the world. He is also an assistant professor at Penn State University where he researches materials for resilience in an urban context, computer-generated fabrications, and architecture robots. He launched the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) in 2012 with Yasmin Abbas to empower grassroots makers in Africa and other places. 

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10. Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy is the founding principal and executive director of the international organization known as MASS Design Group, which works with communities across Africa and America to create functional designs with local and environmentally sustainable materials and construction methods. 

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Author

An architect who strongly believes that architecture can influence and bring about a change in society for the better. While actively involved in humanitarian work, a lot of her free time is spent in reading, thinking about life and writing about her revelations.'

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