Author Q&A with Kate Stohr: Design Like You Give a Damn [2]

By Steve Kroeter September 20, 2012

Kate Stohr

Co-founder and Managing Director: Architecture for Humanity (San Francisco)


Kate Stohr, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity (AfH)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing design solutions to humanitarian crises and challenges worldwide, including needs for housing, education, health care, clean water, and renewable energy—discusses the new follow-up edition to AfH’s enormously successful first book. Published in May 2012 by Abrams, Design Like You Give a Damn [2] profiles more than 100 projects for reimagining community and improving lives across the globe, from a skate park in war-torn Afghanistan to innovative materials such as smog-eating concrete.

Designers & Books: The first book from Architecture for Humanity, Design Like You Give a Damn, came out in 2006. How did you come up with the idea to do that book?

Design Like You Give a Damn [2]: Building Change from the Ground Up, edited by Architecture for Humanity, 2012 (Abrams)

Kate Stohr: To be honest, it came from sheer curiosity and the desire to learn what others were doing in the field of community design. It was a new practice area at the time, and there was a lot of interest. However, no one was really sure who was doing what. So, we wrote the first book to learn. The second book was also all about learning. In this case it was learning what made great projects great and learning how to finance community design.

D&B: How was it received?

KS: The first book really took hold. We’d get pictures from all over the world of designers carrying a copy. Having a copy of Design Like You Give a Damn was like being a part of something real that was bigger than just design or a single project.

D&B: How did you figure out how to organize the book? The project overview format you utilize is universally lauded.

KS: The big challenge was the project details. Again, it was really about getting to the nuts and bolts of the work and making it accessible. We wouldn’t include a project unless people told us how much it cost. We wanted to learn and we wanted to understand the full cost of a project or program, not just the construction cost. So, I think it helped all of us benchmark good design and understand how little it can cost and in some cases how much it needs to cost to really effect change.

Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, 2006 (Metropolis Books)

D&B: What are some of the outcomes from the first book that you are happiest about?

KS: I love seeing people reference it and I love seeing the projects replicated. I suspect we'll see a lot of much more useful and beautiful underpasses once people see the Marsupial Bridge and underpass project by La Dallman Architects that we’ve included in the second book.

D&B: Are there any projects discussed in the first book have had significant changes since it came out?

KS: Many of them, and actually we started to do a bit of a recap in the second book of some of the more significant changes. Most were positive. Some projects needed to adapt or change focus.

D&B: How does Design Like You Give a Damn [2] differ from the first book?

KS: We focused a lot on the technical underpinnings of projects in terms of how they were managed, financed, and how impact was measured. So it’s a much more nuanced and technical book. The opening essays include a pretty comprehensive chart on financing community design. (Incidentally that was an essay, but alas, space and common sense prevailed!)

Marsupial Bridge & Media Garden, Milwaukee, designed by La Dallman Architects, 2005-06. Once an unused, unsafe space, the new Urban Plaza under the bridge hosts a Media Garden and is a vibrant neighborhood gathering space. From Design Like You Give a Damn [2]. Photo: La Dallman Architects
Marsupial Bridge & Media Garden. Glowing acrylic “lumibenches” keep the urban space safely lit at night and provide seating for visitors. From Design Like You Give a Damn [2]. Photo: La Dallman Architects

D&B: There are over 100 different projects discussed that are grouped in five different areas. Which project do you feel has had the most profound impact on its community?

KS: I think they are all equally profound, or they wouldn't be in the book. I will say that it was interesting to see how many projects came from New York City—five or six in total. That's unheard of and they were each stellar. It really shows what happens when a city takes on a design focused planning process. There have been amazing changes in New York in the past ten years. I also was able to see the changes that came about through the organization Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading’s (VPUU) violence prevention mapping program (by AHT Group and SUN Development PTY) and it was transformative. GIS mapping as a design tool is underutilized today and has enormous potential.

D&B: Which project holds the most promise for scalability and helping people beyond the site where it was implemented?

Special NO 9 House designed by architecture firm KieranTimberlake, New Orleans, 2009. Supported by the Make It Right Foundation. From Design Like You Give a Damn [2]. Photo: Rafael Longoria

KS: Again, that was one of the requirements for inclusion, so I do think that you can learn from all of them. People tend to reference ideas on some and technical details on others. So, that's what makes the book resonate, I think—that it responds to both types of readers.

D&B: What would you like the primary takeaway to be for readers of the second book?

Olifantsvlei Primary School, Kliptown, Johannesburg, South Africa, designed by Institute of Experimental Architecture./Studio 3.The school building is integrated with the play area. From Design Like You Give a Damn [2]. Photo: ./Studio 3

KS: You can do this. You can go out and raise the capital you need to reimagine your community. Go out and give a damn.

D&B: One of the reviews of the first book on Amazon called it “an encyclopedia of inspiration.” Of the books that have recently come out that address design as a way to bring about change, which have you personally found to be moving and inspiring?

KS: I really liked Bjarke Ingels’s recent book, Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. I love the way he thinks about projects and design at-large.

D&B: Will there be a Design Like You Give a Damn [3]?

Kitchen of sustainable home made mostly of recycled materials, Nuevo Almaguer, Mexico, designed by Diez Casas para Diez Familias, 2010. From Design Like You Give a Damn [2]. Photo: Pedro Pacheco

KS: Of course! We just need a few willing designers to go out there and make some beautiful things happen.

Images from Design Like You Give a Damn [2] courtesy of Abrams.

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