Is Volunteer Work In Architecture an "Easy Option"? One Starchitect Says Yes, Cameron Sinclair Says "Wot?"

Architecture for Humanity Haiti Partners' Childrens' Academy/CC BY 2.0

Architecture for Humanity not only does important work, but their hundreds of volunteers do some pretty good architecture. But not good enough for Farshid Moussavi, former partner in Foreign Office Architects (seen in TreeHugger here) She has created a stir with her comments, quoted in Architectural Record:

Speaking at the V&A last week, the former Foreign Office Architects partner said that she was "dubious" about volunteers who see working in these places as an "easy option". Moussavi, who teaches at Harvard and runs her own practice in London, said: "It's quite telling that Harvard students, when they want to be activists, have to go to these areas of the world. It's tougher to be an activist in America. She said a lot of her own students wanted to join organisations working overseas but that "most of them are not the really good students. It also can become an excuse and an easy option."

Some in the audience were "stunned." In Facebook, Cameron Sinclair of Architecture For Humanity was dismissive:

The 1% delusion: Farshid Moussavi, whose salary is paid by Harvard GSD student loans, says activists and public interest designers "not the really good students" and doing this work is "the easy option".

Farshid, spend one month in Haiti, rebuilding in Joplin or on the borders of her home country Iran working with communities in need and then tell us it's the easy option.

A commenter to Cameron's post put it nicely:

There is nothing easy about working in rural Africa where poverty and disease prevail; where locals that choose to participate in projects are often making choices between cultivating subsistence crops and searching for water today OR working to better their communities for the future; where effective design solutions can significantly impact public health; where architects are navigating scarce funding, scarce material choices and scarce (and safe) local building knowledge; where architects are working side by side with tribal AND governing bodies; where gender hierarchy prohibits full participation by half the population, and where the stakes are so high. I've worked on Prada and Chanel stores, institutional buildings at Harvard, $20million residences, AND projects in rural Africa. I can safely say Africa wins by a mile in the contest for most "challenging."

And I have designed and built condos and offices and houses and stores in Canada, and hope someday soon to work for Architecture for Humanity. I suspect it will be the hardest thing I have ever done.

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Tags: Architecture | Architecture For Humanity | Cameron Sinclair