Architecture for Humanity, the National Design Award-winning charitable organization dedicated to “building a more sustainable future through the power of design,” is no more.

The news comes just several weeks after a more celebratory announcement that AfH had finished its work in Haiti, a country where the nonprofit has completed more than 50 individual rebuilding/revitalization projects including the construction of 13 beautiful new schools. Architecture for Humanity quickly mobilized and opened an office in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince during the aftermath of the magnitude-7.0 tremor that devastated the island nation in March 2010. 

As reported by John King for the San Francisco Chronicle, all of Architecture for Humanity’s staff was let go on Jan. 1. The nonprofit’s San Francisco headquarters have also reportedly been shuttered.

No official announcement has been made by the organization.

Architecture for Humanity’s closure comes a little more than a year after the departure of its fearless co-founders, TED Prize-winning British architect Cameron Sinclair and former television journalist Kate Stohr. The heralded duo founded the organization in 1999 in response to the bloody conflicts in Kosovo that left many refugees homeless.

Initially a scrappy grassroots effort revolving around the do-goodery of a small number of volunteers, AfH eventually grew into a highly respected, action-oriented charitable organization with upwards of 60 local chapters spread over a dozen countries across the globe, all dedicated to constructing housing and other much-needed structures (social centers, schools, medical buildings, etc.) and offering pro-bono planning and design services to in-need communities. Numerous awards and accolades followed. In 2006, Sinclair and Stohr released "Design Like You Give a Damn," a compendium of innovative sustainable architecture projects with a humanitarian slant. A follow-up book, "Design Like You Give a Damn {2}: Building Change from the Ground Up," was released in 2012.

In recent months, Architecture for Humanity did not appear to falter in the absence of Sinclair and Stohr. The organization continued its good work in areas across the globe impacted by natural and humanitarian disasters: Tohoku, the Gulf Coast, Joplin, Moore, Rwanda, Myanmar, Pakistan, Peru, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, New Zealand, New York, New Jersey and the list goes on and on.

This past June, the organization celebrated its 15th anniversary with the announcement of a newly appointed leader in the form of Executive Director Eric Cesal. An author, designer and humanitarian, Cesal joined the organization in 2006 as a volunteer on AfH’s Hurricane Katrina reconstruction efforts in New Orleans. He later moved to Port-au-Prince and headed the organization’s Haiti Rebuilding Center. In 2012, he relocated to San Francisco for a more formal desk job of sorts, leading AfH’s global disaster operations.

With a new leader, also came an expanded and reworked mission for Architecture for Humanity. Launched largely in response to Superstorm Sandy, the new aim was to focus not just on reconstruction but also on resilience.

Explains Cesal in a news release from June 10:

We will not be an organization that only responds to crisis and misfortune. We will be an organization that prevents crisis and misfortune. We will continue to stand on the side of communities that have been harmed by extreme weather, crisis and neglect. However, we will expand our focus to include communities at risk from harm, and help them strengthen against future calamities.
So what, in the end, did in such an important and hugely inspirational humanitarian organization?

A lack of funding, essentially.

Speaking to the Chronicle, Margie O’ Driscoll — former executive director of the San Francisco Chapter of the America and, until very recently, the newly installed programs director at AfH — hints that the organization’s adopted city, San Francisco, played somewhat role in the organization's demise: "The travesty isn’t that the organization went over budget serving communities around the world. It is that humanitarian design isn’t considered a fundamental right. And that today, in San Francisco, it is easier to find funding for an app than to fund an organization that transforms lives in places that most Americans don’t know exist."

A "deeply saddened" Sinclair and Stohr react in a joint letter published earlier today: "Our hearts are with the staff and chapter members who worked so hard to build a wonderful organization that did so much for communities around the world. We made so many wonderful friends and will continue personally to support your work."

Discouraging and disheartening, yes, but instead of wallowing in the demise of such a singular organization, take a few moments to recognize some of the damn great design work, more than 250 completed projects in 28 countries, that Architecture for Humanity managed to accomplish in its 15-year existence — work that not only improved but saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, both at home and abroad.

It's also worth noting that while Architecture for Humanity's U.S.-based parent organization has ceased operations, many independently operated — and independently funded — AfH chapters in cities including New York, Washington, D.C., London, Vancouver, Chicago, Boston and even Abuja, Nigeria, have indicated that they fully intend to continue their work.

Via [SFGate]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.