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Architecture for Humanity

Kathryn Frankel, June 30th, 2006

Architecture for Humanity is a California-based non-profit organization aimed at encouraging architects and designers to seek architectural solutions to humanitarian crisis.

Launched in 1999 from a single laptop computer, Architecture for Humanity has spread into a global movement with local chapters around the world engaging talented young architects to rethink the mission of their profession. Architecture for Humanity hosts open design competitions for such projects as Transitional Housing for Returning Refugees in Kosovo, Mobile Health Clinics for Sub-Saharan Africa and a Sports Facility and HIV/AIDS Outreach Center in South Africa. Currently, Architecture for Humanity is providing design services and funding for reconstruction in Tsunami and Katrina affected regions.

Architecture for Humanity use the Creative Commons Developing Nations License on some of their designs. The CC Developing Nations license allows anyone in a developing country to freely use a copyrighted work whilst allowing a licensor to retain full copyright in the developed world.

In 2006, Executive Director and Co-founder Cameron Sinclair was awarded this year’s TEDPrize and with his “Wish” is developing an open source humanitarian design network to provide a global platform for designers to collaborate and develop projects to solve humanitarian issues.

Kathryn Frankel of Creative Commons met up with Cameron to learn more about Architecture for Humanity (“AFH”) and their experience in using Creative Commons licenses.

Creative Commons (“CC”): What is AFH’s mission?

Cameron Sinclair (“CS”): Architecture for Humanity was founded to promote architectural and design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. Through competitions, workshops, educational forums, partnerships with aid organizations and other activities, Architecture for Humanity creates opportunities for architects and designers from around the world to help communities in need. We believe that where resources and expertise are scarce, innovative, sustainable and collaborative design can make a difference.

CC: What are AFH’s current projects?

CS: We’re working on a health center in Tanzania. We’re doing new housing construction and rehabilitation of Katrina affected homes in the Gulf Coast as well as an art center and residence in the lower ninth district of New Orleans. Post tsunami, we’re doing a number of community buildings in Sri Lanka and India. We’re still in the building process of the Siyathemba soccer field project in South Africa. We’ve also just released our book, Design Like You Give A Damn, which is intended to bring the best of humanitarian architecture and design to the printed page, and consists of a collection of innovative projects from around the world that demonstrate the power of design to improve lives.

CC: How does AFH use Creative Commons’ licenses?

CS: We use the Developing Nations license for the designs of our buildings. Once the first prototype building is completed, we can essentially give away the designs to other communities in other developing nations.

Licenses are granted in the designers’ names. This actually came out of a project we did, the architect felt that by doing the project, he would lose the design. So half of it is a reassurance, the other half is to give architects the confidence to actually do pro bono work and not feel that their creativity will be given away.

CC: Why did AFH choose to adopt the Developing Nations license?

CS: Because the focus of our organization is to provide design services to communities where resources are scare, in many instances, we’re working in developing countries. By using the license, we can assure the architect that we’re protecting their intellectual property rights. This works in both directions, not only benefiting western designers but also local architects; a local architect may come with a scheme that works well in their country but it could also be marketed in the West.

CC: Has there been much reaction by the architectural community to your decision to CC license your works?

CS: I think it’s been positive. We’ve spent a lot of time explaining what the license does. This is a brand new concept within the industry. We’ve initially just been using licenses for our own projects. If a more robust version comes out, we can promote it more broadly. One of the issues the license would need to address is liability. Architects are licensed professionals and by sharing their design concepts they are opening themselves up to lawsuits should someone else adopt the design. In architecture, there’s not really a Good Samaritan’s law so maybe this can be an alternative—a way of allowing architects to share their ideas without sharing the liability should someone adapt the idea in a structurally unsound way without their knowledge.

CC: How do you think CC licenses can benefit the architectural and humanitarian design community?

CS: By engaging more people in getting involved in these issues, CC licenses could act as a platform, like a legal standard, that designers could work from. At the moment, the industry is in a very gray area and nobody knows what belongs to who, who’s really the designer, who’s liable. CC licensing could clear that up.

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