Williams Terrace in Charleston, South Carolina. (Source: Chris Luker via David Baker Architects)
Buildings are more than just places where we live and play; they can be a reflection of the values we hold. That’s especially true for the following projects, each made in response to a specific need—to give back to the community, offer a safe haven, or be a place for the displaced to call home. Built between 2016 and 2020, these represent some of the most innovative and culturally sensitive works around the globe. Some have won awards in the process, but all remind us of the importance of inclusivity in design.
1. Hope on Alvarado
Factory-built modules are key to the quick construction of supportive housing complexes for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Once the concrete foundation is complete, the architecture firm KTGY can finish the build in four weeks. The first project was completed in 2020, and the replicable design means hundreds of units could be on the way soon. The project could make a great impact on the lives of the estimated tens of thousands of people struggling with homelessness in the city.
The first dedicated home for low-income seniors in the community, Williams Terrace won the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award for answering the local community’s needs. David Baker Architects collaborated with local firm McMillan Pazdan Smith on the complex, built in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2017. Williams Terrace is built in a high-velocity flood zone, so no permanent uses can be located at ground level. And yet, residents can still be active and social on the first floor thanks to screened porches and adequate outdoor seating. Wide, multilevel piazzas allow for circulation and sheltered gathering places while protecting residents from the sun and wind with moveable screens.
3. Earthquake-Ready in Lombok
Ramboll, a global civil engineering company headquartered in Denmark, teamed up with charity Grenzeloos Milieu and University College London to help create prototype homes made almost entirely from bamboo for people living in Lombok, Indonesia. In 2018, the island suffered a series of serious earthquakes. As a result, many homes collapsed, and residents were scrambling for shelter. The bamboo homes have been designed to stand up through a quake while remaining affordable and easy to make.
4. Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Centre
Libraries may be the unsung heroes of modern communities. Far from being a dated reminder of times gone by, libraries are often home bases for social services and offer much-needed refuge for community members. The Greenpoint Library is no different. Besides its collection of media, it offers environmental education and spaces dedicated specifically for community activists. The project was designed by Marble Fairbanks and built in 2018.
5. A Gathering Place for the Displaced
Refugees who enter Germany are required to spend some time in refugee camps while they’re being processed. Unfortunately, many camps lack adequate communal space. That’s why architecture students from the University of Kaiserslautern created a wooden community center for Spinelli camp in Mannheim, which provides places to sit or gather out of the rain and sun. The students built the structure over the course of three months in 2016 with the help of local builders and 25 refugees, working and living together with the refugees in the Spinelli Barracks in a project called Building Together – Learning Together.
6. Shelter for Orphaned Iranian Girls
Winner of the 2018 AR House Award, the Habitat for Orphan Girls is a project by ZAV Architects in Khansar, Iran, which provides a safe haven for girls aged seven to 16. One of its distinguishing features is its covered balconies that allow the girls to get some fresh air while being shielded enough from the public to avoid wearing any headdresses. In Iran, it’s required by law that a woman wear a hijab when in public. Also following cultural norms, a brick perimeter guards the exterior yard from outside eyes.
7. Anandaloy Therapy Center
Taking home the 2020 Obel Award, Anandology is a community center in Bangladesh that also holds a therapy center for people with disabilities. The building was designed by Anna Heringer and won the second iteration of the prestigious award, which honours works contributing to human development. Caves and tunnels of rammed earth were made from mud from local ponds, and a prominent ramp from one floor to another focuses attention on Heringer’s call for inclusion.
Architecture for Good
Architecture at its best is about more than just erecting buildings. As these projects show, designs that consider the surrounding culture and the needs of community members can be a tool to better the lives of those who will occupy them.