Architecture for Humanity closes its doors in San Francisco

Design Like You Give a Damn
Screen capture Book cover, Design like you give a damn

TreeHugger has been a fan of the charity Architecture for Humanity and its founders, Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, since we started. When I first met Cameron Sinclair in Toronto, he was presenting to a half-empty lecture room at the tail end of an architects convention in Toronto; it seemed that nobody knew who he was and what AFH did. A few years later, AFH had 59 chapters and 20,000 members working all over the world. Cameron stepped down as Executive Director last April, and like everyone else, learned from the media last Thursday that Architecture for Humanity was shutting down.

Now that’s a hell of a way to find out, and he and Kate deserved better. The official announcement won’t be made until Tuesday but John King of SFGATE suggests it just ran out of money. The New York Times goes into greater detail, noting how the group had sold its building, reduced its payroll, but it apparently wasn’t enough. The Times quotes Matt Charney, the board chairman:

Very recently, it just became clear that we would be unable to completely reduce our operating deficit,” Mr. Charney said. “We ultimately lacked the funding to continue."

There is a lot of reading between the lines to be done in the New York Times article; Kate Stohr alludes to "some debt" and that "contrary to the assertions of some former staff members, Architecture for Humanity did not promise more than it could deliver."

But the dismay of Friday’s news has turned to cautious optimism; this isn’t the end of Architecture for Humanity. Sinclair told TreeHugger: “I cannot confirm but all the international chapters were independent entities. So far 12 chapters have vowed to fight on and the UK entity have gone on record.”

And indeed, the British board of Trustees writes on Facebook:

Architecture for Humanity London are saddened by news of the closure of the San Francisco office. However, we are glad to be able to reassure our volunteers, partners, clients and friends that as an independent, established, financially stable, UK-registered charity, AfH London is operationally unaffected by this news. As we enter our 10th anniversary year we are looking forward to continuing our track record of innovative, sustainable grassroots design and development.

The New York branch says much the same thing, although is not quite as independent and anticipates some changes:

The local chapters operate independently from HQ outside of fiscal sponsorship and our "staff" consists solely of volunteers. ....And though, headquarters has shut it's doors, we are happy to say that Architecture for Humanity New York is here to stay. The New York Chapter Board with careful consideration, decided that we will continue the original mission of Architecture for Humanity, and provide humanitarian design solutions in the city that we love. We may not have the same name, or the same branding, but we will continue the work.

That seems to be the consensus from branches around the world. Cameron Sinclair advises: “Keep designing like you give a damn.”

We will follow and update this story as more information becomes available.

Architecture for Humanity closes its doors in San Francisco
But is this really the end?