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Book Review: Design Like You Give A Damn

Book Review: Design Like You Give A Damn

I always said if I weren’t an artist I’d be an architect [It’s art you live in!], and if I were an architect I'd want to work with these guys because they're using architecture and design to create long-term solutions to problems around the world.

This week I read Design Like You Give A Damn [2] by Architecture for Humanity, and it was truly inspiring.

I found this short video that explains what they do:

The book was written in 2012 and I read an article explaining that the organization closed in 2015. Apparently, it went bankrupt but I didn't find any sign of wrongdoing. Regardless, let's talk about what is left behind with this book.

The book itself is well designed with loads of pictures, charts, and design drawings. It starts with some lessons learned in working through social-centered design, then breaks into the following 5 chapters giving case studies for each.

  • Disaster Reconstruction
  • Housing
  • Community
  • Basic Services and Materials
  • Politics, Policy, and Planning

I won't go into great detail on the projects covered in each of those chapters except to say the ones mentioned are diverse in geography, scope, budget, and number of people served. 

I do want to outline the content from the books "lessons learned" introduction because I think it provides some great content that's helpful in working within communities and operating non-profit organizations.

1. Unless you build it, it doesn't matter: If you're stepping up to help a community then you have to take action and make it happen. 

2. Innovation is only valuable if it is shared: The organization grew and with that communication became difficult. When the organization won a grant they choose to use it to design an online Open Architecture Network so ideas could be shared more easily.

3. Be the last responders: When disaster strikes a community, help flocks at first then it tapers off. This organization believed rebuilding a community to be a 5+ year project. With that, they established long-term design studios that would provide resources and assistance for the community in it's rebuilding efforts.

4. It's more fun to partner: When you struggle to pull together all necessary resources then ask for help. Try to make a win-win situation happen.

5. Design is an economic tool: When disaster strikes a community basic shelter needs to be considered, schools, health centers etc.. but the community must have a system of revenue and businesses. They have made assistance to small restaurants and shops a priority.

6. Unleash local talent: They started hosting design competitions. Winners received a prize but any entrant might see their proposed design become a reality in a community. They utilize local teams for trades and design collaboration.

7. Let scale happen: They adopted a chapter system. Where those connected to a community can access assistance from the national headquarters.

8. There's no such thing as a typical architect: Architects need to be the right fit for the priorities and scope of the project.

9. Have a sense of humor: Even those in the painful process of rebuilding enjoy conversation, games, and laughter. Some of the problems they face are quite similar to everyone else's. 

10. Design yourself out of a job: Build a system of operation that's self-sustaining so growth can continue without you.


You'll like this book if you love thinking about balancing design and life Or, if you enjoy case studies and thinking about organizational systems, Or if you are socially minded. The structure, writing, and aesthetics of the book should be appealing to most readers.

Diving Into Surface Design

Diving Into Surface Design

Happy Birthday: Jan Groover

Happy Birthday: Jan Groover