January 8, 2018 by 2019-2020 Equity & Diversity Task Force, 2019-2020 Sustainability & Resiliency Task Force, 2020-2021 Council of Global Representatives, 2020-2021 Learning & Teaching Culture Advisory Group, 2021-2022 Professional Development Advisory Group

In the wake of recent natural disasters, I started wondering, “Was there anything I could do to help?” In what ways could a student help cities and countries get back on their feet? Throughout this blog I discuss the reasons why students should get involved in community design, current campaigns/organizations you can get involved in, highlight some AIAS students and their relief efforts, and list some great charities you can donate to.

Why should you get involved in community design and disaster relief efforts? Getting involved in your community can expand your learning beyond studio. Getting to see your designs built and benefiting the community is a feeling that cannot be experienced in a studio setting. Engaging in a community service project provides real-world experiences, allowing you to see the impact of architecture and design. By volunteering, you can refine your problem-solving skills and build character, while working side by side with like-minded individuals, who also care about helping and bettering their communities. This will expand your networking opportunities and allow you to establish relationships with other people in the community.

There are currently many efforts by AIA and AIAS to encourage students and professionals to engage in community service design.  The AIA’s “iLookup” Film Challenge was formed to promote public awareness in the field of architecture and highlight what it is architects do and how it affects society. In 2017, the film challenge was to describe “projects and architects that are helping to change communities for the better.” Another campaign by AIA is 1+; which pushes for architecture firms do donate 1% of their services to pro bono projects. There are currently 581 firms Nationwide that have pledged to the 1+ Campaign. AIAS also encourages its members to get involved in community service projects through Freedom by Design. This joint effort with NCARB embraces efforts of design-build and engagement with solutions to problems affecting physical, educational, environmental, socio-economic, and cultural barriers.

Even with all these benefits and ways to get involved you still might be wondering how you can have an impact. Upon the devastation left by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Harvey, in the areas of Houston, TX and Puerto Rico, some students engaged in disaster relief efforts. The students of Andrews University participated in disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico, as part of a studio service project. The sixteen architecture students, along with two professors, spent nearly two weeks aiding the people of Puerto Rico. The students “armed with saws, cleaning supplies, baby formula, solar lamps and thousands of dollars of relief materials,” were ready to tackle the dirty work, providing assistance to the residents of Caño Martín Peña.

After Hurricane Harvey, the University of Houston College of Architecture & Design, along with other organizations, began efforts help get students back on their feet.  They held donations and fundraisers to get supplies to the students affected by the disasters. Those donations and efforts then started to expand throughout the community and the city. Multiple volunteer missions have been conducted such as; volunteering in shelters, mucking out homes, setting up food drives, and donation collections.

Although, the volunteer efforts made by the students of Andrews University and the University of Houston are above and beyond, there are still ways in which you can help. Donations to charitable organizations such as: Unidos Por Puerto Rico, the Hurricane Harvey Irma Relief Fund, and Global Giving’s Hurricane Irma Relief Fund. 

The efforts put in by the students of Andrews University, the students around Texas, and all other students who have aided in the relief efforts upon the devastation of these natural disasters have not gone unnoticed, however, it doesn’t take a natural disaster to get involved in your community. You can get involved in your community today! Start a Freedom by Design program in your AIAS Chapter, reach out to nonprofit groups and firms doing pro bono work, or talk to your school about setting up service learning project in your studios because, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop.

Check out these Helpful Links:

AIA I Look Up Campaign

AIA 1+ Campaign

AIAS Freedom by Design

Unidos Por Puerto Rico

GlobalGiving’s Hurricane Irmas Relief Fund