As we step into the third decade of the 21st century, the number of challenges is increasing at a tremendous rate. The tone of architecture is witnessing a drastic shift from “iconic buildings” to something more “sustainable” and “environmental-friendly.” We are shifting to a time where we do not need “starchitects” but people who would design to create a social impact. Nowadays, Architects are not only hired to build iconic museums, headquarters, and public buildings but also for places such as slums and community centres. 

Activist Architects and Designers have brought a huge change in the perception and mindset of the people, a slum dwelling in Mumbai or a skyscraper in New York can now fall into the category of the iconic structure. Growing urbanization is one of the root causes for the need of Activist Architects and Designers for problems such as housing, sanitation, electricity, and other necessities. 

Here we are going to discuss some of such activists who adopted the other road and are working to create an impact on social well-being.

1.  Liz Ogbu

A graduate of the prestigious Harvard University, Liz is a designer, urbanist, social innovator, and spatial justice activist. She has been long working on and advocating for issues of spatial and racial justice. She focuses on sustainable design and spatial innovations in urban environments. She has designed shelters for immigrant day labourers in the U.S, created a social enterprise for low-income Kenyans, and also developed a Social Impact Protocol for housing with university researchers and LISC. 

Apart from her practice, she has also previously taught at the California College of the Arts, UC Berkeley, Stanford’s She even wishes to bring social impact work into the curriculum with her courses and research to explore opportunities for the intersection of design, innovation, and community engagement.

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Liz Ogbu_©lizogbu

2. Santiago Cirugeda

San Cirugeda, a social architect from Seville, Spain, empowers the citizens to act in their locality by showing how it is possible to overthrow laws, regulations, and conventions. His works focus majorly on the possibility of action, appropriation, and use, where the citizens can come forward and act as initiators to build, display, and create space with the help of the guidelines and instructions prepared by him. 

He is dedicated to reclaiming urban spaces for the public on those sites that have been left over after demolition or abandoned. His projects are not only fast-built but also made from recycled materials. He believes that because of the trend of obsession with aesthetics, the structures are losing their purpose of social function.

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Santiago Cirugeda_©Angel Manso

3. Vo Trong Nghia

Vo Trong Nghia is an established architect from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam who is inclined towards sustainable architecture by including local, inexpensive materials such as bamboo and Vietnamese traditional building skills with modern technology and contemporary aesthetics. 

He aims to build green architecture for the 21st century while maintaining its Asian essence. According to him, currently, the biggest responsibility of an architect is to retain and bring back green spaces.

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Vo Trong Nghia_©Vo Trong Nghia Architects

4. Yasmeen Lari

The Jane Drew prize winner and first female Pakistani Architect Yasmeen Lari was known for her brutalist architecture back in the 1960s and ’70s. It was the earthquake in 2005 which changed her life and got her back to practice. 

She worked in collaboration with the dispossessed families to rebuild houses with alternative materials such as mud, stone, lime, and wood. The sequence of calamities made her work on developing agile techniques with bamboo, with the principles of low cost, zero carbon, and zero waste.

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Yasmeen Lari_©archnet

5. Eyal Weizman

An alumnus of the Architectural Association, British Israeli architect Eyal Weizman founded the research agency Forensic Architecture at the Goldsmiths, University of London and even directs it. He also works there as a professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures. 

His organization examines the remains and debris of drone attacks and recreates detailed architectural reconstruction of events to define the sequence of events.

Eyal Weizman_©Michael Leckie

6. Kunlé Adeyemi

Kunlé Adeyemi is a Nigerian architect, designer and development researcher based in two cities, Lagos and Amsterdam. His notable work “Makoko Floating School” is a floating structure located in Lagos. He further evolved it and made a “Makoko floating system,” which would be an alternative prefabricated building solution on water. 

His studio has worked together in creating this easy-to-build, low-cost and sustainable prototype of a floating building.

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Kunlé Adeyemi_©nleworks

7. Ricardo de Olivera

Ricardo is a Brazilian activist architect and is responsible for building over 100 houses, apartment blocks, and shops at the age of 12, that too without any formal training. He has a strong vision for the development of his area Rocinha but is held tight because of politics. 

He wishes to destroy the area entirely and build it all over again by solving all the pre-existing issues.

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Ricardo de Olivera_©Al Jazeera English

8. DesignCan

Led by designers Mac Collins, Yinka Ilori, Priya Khanchandani, and Sarah Mann, DesignCan is a campaign and online tool calling for the design industry to be more inclusive and desires to inspire the next generation of designers. It not only provides a collection of informational and inspirational content but also is a one-stop solution for practical employment and collaboration opportunities.

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DesignCan_©design can

9. What design can do

An initiative of Richard Van Der Laken and Pepijn Zurburg, What design can do is a platform, which showcases the power and impact of design in solving society-level issues through creative thinking and alternative strategies. They hold multiple workshops, masterclass, and design jams to connect and exchange ideas. They even provide research, design briefs, coaching, promotion, presentation, and Annual conferences.

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What Design Can Do_©whatdesigncando

10. Migrants bureau

It is a people movement led by environmental designer, practitioner, and researcher Alisha Morenike Fisher, along with curator, writer, and designer Hani Mohamed Salih migrants bureau is committed to recognizing the “influence that culture, geography and social circumstances can have on people’s experiences of our urban landscapes” and promises to curate, imagine, and design sustainable interventions at a local and global level.

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Migrants bureau_©Migrants bureau


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Activist architects: Designing social change | Business and Economy | Al Jazeera  [Accessed 9 July 2021].

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  2. Rebel Architecture.Guerrilla architect.[online]. Available at:  [Accessed 10 July 2021].
  3. Rebel Architecture.Vo Trong Nghia: ‘Living close to nature’. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 10 July 2021].
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Architecture and design activism strives for a better future | Wallpaper*  [Accessed 10 July 2021].

  1. DesignCan. Manifesto.[online]. Available at:  Design Can ( [Accessed 10 July 2021].
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  3. Migrants Bureau. Our Purpose.[online]. Available at: Migrant’s Bureau ( [Accessed 10 July 2021].
  4. Holcim Foundation.Eyal Weizman.[online]. Available at: 

Eyal Weizman | Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction [Accessed 10 July 2021].

  1. Holcim Foundation.Kunlé Adeyemi .[online]. Available at: 

Kunlé Adeyemi | Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction  [Accessed 10 July 2021].


Ashruti Singh is an Architect based in Lucknow with a passion for reading, writing, and research. She loves exploring and reading about Interactive urban design and Sustainable alternative materials. She is strong-headed and soft-hearted, who believes in expressing emotions through her work.

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