Architecture for Humanity,
In 1999 the fighting in Kosovo was at a peak and tens of thousands of refugees from the fighting were fleeing to camps. Their prospects looked grim. Cameron Sinclair was then an architect in our office. One day he asked a simple question, “What can architects do to ease this misery?” Then he answered it, “Not much really, but they can design.” So began an architectural call for ideas from around the world on how to build temporary refugee housing. It was also the beginning of Architecture for Humanity.
The resulting competition was extraordinary. A jury was selected that included architects, like Steven Holl, Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, experts on refugees and disaster relief professionals. With a simple web page, the competition sought submissions from around the world. Entry fees from entrants were donated to War Child, the children’s relief organization. Over two hundred arrived in our office.
One Saturday morning the jury assembled and the boards were laid out for judging. The debate was very spirited and winners were selected. The deliberations have stayed with me. All the various solutions actually illustrated different aspects of the horror of war and displacement. By far the best solution was no war in the first place.
Cameron and Kate Stohr, never let up after that. They kept Architecture for Humanity going, often on sheer willpower, and they have prevailed. The architectural profession has an obligation to use its talent to reduce the suffering of those caught in disaster and war. Before Architecture for Humanity it did not have a focus for that talent. After 1999 it did.
I am honored to have been part of that first competition and to have collaborated with Cameron and Kate. I look forward to many more years of Architecture for Humanity’s good and necessary work.
Charles Lauster Architect, PC
Charles Lauster, a former Architecture For Humanity advisory board member and long time supporter, is the President of Charles Lauster Architect, P.C a firm that provides development and planning services to companies worldwide through its headquarters in New York City.