Written by SXSW Staff Writer | August 28, 2015

Photo courtesy of AFH Chapters

Building a Community Design Network

Written by Alicia Breck, Transition Coordinator at the AFH Chapter Network

All it took was one really weird job description and I was hooked.

Ok, that’s not entirely true, I had been following Architecture for Humanity for years, but never really felt invited to join in on their activities because I’m not an architect. As someone with a social science background, there wasn’t a way to engage with the organization, no matter how much I believe in the power of design to transform the world. Sure, I taught in Architecture Schools, consulted with design firms, and facilitated community development and design, but it was still a challenge to integrate my experiences in policy with public interest design. I struggled to find a position that fully encompassed what I was aiming to do. But that was before - before the weird job description.

Now I work as the Transition Coordinator for the AFH Chapter Network. The Chapter Network not only created a position for an architecturally-obsessed policy wonk, but is also an organization with the promise of being an accessible platform for anyone who believes that shaping the built environment is an inclusive, comprehensive, and empowering tool for change. Building on the rallying cry of Architecture for Humanity, which closed its doors nine months ago, The Chapter Network is continuing to motivate designers to pledge their valuable time to communities in order to help local leaders and community organizations realize their dreams of creating spaces that empower and inspire. What is more, they are creating a new, stronger, more inclusive network of their own built upon a collective vision of what design can be in the 21st century: participatory, needs-based, and empowering. Now this is an organization I can get involved with!

Since joining I have had the incredible privilege of collaborating with dozens of leaders from around the world. It is inspiring to see so many people pitching in to help develop this truly collective organization and voice. Everyone is working hard to create a new model, one where the local chapters will be responsible for delivering projects while the network itself will be responsible for supporting the development of chapters and members. It will be a model supported by professions outside the design field - because designers alone cannot address all the urban issue we face. As a social scientist I am thrilled to see such collaboration and design partnerships. As a result we are creating a program for professional development through community design.

This is why I am involved with the AFH Chapter Network, because the vision moving forward is one that is working to create alignment and empowerment between people in the architecture industry, the nonprofit sector, allies in the design world, and most importantly community members. I may not be an architect, but with the Chapter Network I don’t have to be because this network serves as the entry point for anyone looking to get their hands dirty gaining valuable experience designing, developing, and delivering on community visions for their home, neighbourhood, and city. There is a strong need in the design field for more opportunities to operationalize pro-bono service and this network is filling that need. It is providing support for those who believe design can make a difference.

Catch us on October 5th at SXSW Eco in Austin for our session Beyond Just Giving a Damn — the Future of the Architecture for Humanity Chapter Network

To keep in touch, sign up for our newsletter here, follow our activity on Twitter, or reach out to your local chapter.


Alicia Breck is the Transition Coordinator at the AFH Chapter Network, which is retiring the Architecture for Humanity title and structure and moving into its next phase of life. Breck is a long time volunteer and strategist working with government and not-for-profit organizations involved in city resilience and socio-economic development. She has a BA in Political Science and an MA in Legal Studies and is currently based in Vancouver.

Photo courtesy of AFH Chapters