BLOG: VISITING ARCHITECTURE FOR HUMANITY

For three months Finish architect Inari Virkkala volunteered at the headquarters of the non-profit organization Architecture for Humanity. In the San Francisco-office, a small team of staff and volunteers manage and develop the organization’s current programs, these years in places including Haiti, Japan and the Philippines, where instant help is needed and long-term commitment necessary. Virkkala shares her experiences from her stay with the organization.

Inari Virkkala joined Architecture for Humanity between November 2013 to January 2014. She worked at the headquarters in San Francisco, as part of the development team of the Chapters, by drafting a development plan for the 60 volunteering chapters of Architecture for Humanity.

More precisely I worked together with a team of MBA students looking at the financial issues of the chapter management, organized the first ever Chapter webinar focusing on the typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, collected statistics on Architecture for Humanity’s impact in Social Media and supported the editing of the Chapter Quarterly-newsletter,

Virkkala explains and continues on, why she came to work for the organization;

I see that architects can have a great role in making our societies more sustainable by providing physical shelters to poverty alleviation as well as by promoting ecological materials and buildings. Architecture for Humanity has done amazing work during their 15 years of existence. I wanted to learn from them and to hear how humanitarian architecture can be done with such high impact and efficiency. For the future I am hoping to keep on working on humanitarian projects. Working at Architecture for Humanity gave me one model of how this can be achieved. I hope to be able to share that knowledge also with others aiming to change the world into the better via the means of architecture.
There is a lot of talk about humanitarian work but architecture for humanity is able to focus on the building and delivery of projects in an admirable way. Working at architecture for humanity gave me one model of how this can be achieved. I hope to be able to share that knowledge.

The internship with Architecture for Humanity was a natural continuation of Virkkala’s professional experience and studies, which have revolved around ecological and social sustainability and humanitarian architecture.

Previously I have worked in various architecture offices in Finland and done a summer internship in Belarus. My final thesis on refugee centers was a commission for the Social Services Department of the City of Helsinki. In terms of “humanitarian architecture”, as part of Komitu Architects we designed, financed and built a youth center of bamboo and earth bricks for local ngo’s in Cambodia, to be taken into use in April 2014.

Inari Virkkala is also one of the main organizers of the South of North Exhibition, a collaboration project, which aims to create a forum and network for the Nordic NGO’s and architectural practices working in foreign cultures, often for people living in poverty. The primary focus of the discussion of the exchange of knowledge and experiences, particularly on the issue of funding and the problems of executing the building projects in foreign cultures satisfyingly.

Most participants are organized in groups having a single building project, while others have a number, yet none, besides Architecture Without Borders Denmark, have an actual organizational structure supporting the work of managing the projects.

Even more evident, why it is interesting to gain experience from Architecture for Humanity, who seemingly has a well-functioning organizational structure, not to mention the ability to attract funding and raise awareness. Three massively important features for executing the building projects successfully.

The experience of having worked in the office made me even more impressed of  their work. They have developed a well functioning project pipeline for efficient execution of projects as well as the needed structures and tools to support the process. There is a lot of talk about humanitarian work but Architecture for Humanity is able to focus on the building and delivery of projects in an admirable way. This model of the execution of projects is something that I would wish to share with all the other actors on the field of humanitarian and social impact architecture, for the other actors to be able to improve their work, Virkkala elaborates.

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