Dear Architecture For Humanity,
I first met Kate Stohr in one of the early planning meetings for the Open Architecture Network (OAN). That was October 2006. I was in my first semester at Presidio School of Management studying sustainable business, while also working at Sun Microsystems as an Architect (not the licensed kind that designs buildings, but the virtual geeky kind that works on Internet systems designs). It was through Sun’s support of Cameron’s 2006 TED Prize wish that I got connected to this project and Kate was my first contact with AFH. It was immediately clear to me that Kate and the rest of AFH were doing something relevant, unique, and valuable, so I was excited to help in any way I could.
The OAN project was already underway, with support from Hot Studio designers and Sun programmers working on project plans and design directions. Important decisions had already been made about feature priorities and choice of technology by the time I got involved, so it wasn’t immediately clear how I could help. Then I discovered that some fundamental requirements were not established. In particular, the sustaining model for the OAN software had not been considered. What was the support model going to be after Hot and Sun delivered the initial system? Who would AFH call for help? AFH had put a lot of faith in the professionals to build something that met their unique needs. So, my first opportunity to help was to raise the sustaining issue, which ultimately led to a change in direction. The team of programmers, who were poised to build a custom Java implementation, were none too pleased to be told that an open source content management system called Drupal would be the platform upon which the OAN was going to be built. Drupal was a natural fit for the OAN, not just for it’s content management feature set, but also because it was backed by a thriving community of open source developers.
I had seen it first hand during, and especially at the end of, the dot-com boom. Inefficient, malfunctioning and insecure systems were not the result of poor design as much as a lack of design altogether. Since then, architecture and design had become my primary focus in my client work at Sun, but AFH opened my eyes to a broader significance for design. That humanity might suffer less and prosper more with the help of design seems self-evident, but it was only against the back drop of refugee camps and AIDS ravaged communities that I came to appreciate the greater value of this discipline we call architecture. Since coming to understand the work that AFH does in these troubled communities, I have become a student of design for good, and feel a kinship with those who Design Like They Give a Damn.
Just the Beginning
As the open source model for community driven products and services gains momentum and transforms industries, we can look at AFH as one of the early practitioners of this approach outside of the software business. The model for collaboration and sharing of shelter designs and community planning implemented in the OAN foreshadows a broader trend across a range of industries to connect users and consumers with the design process and take a stake in the results. This is the main reason I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in the OAN and to support AFH. The opportunity is available to you too, and it is no less than an opportunity to influence the transformation of business and industry, while improving the living conditions of others through design.
AFH Board Member and Avid Supporter