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Thursday, June 06, 2013

So You Want to Learn About: Socially Responsible Architecture

The "So You Want to Learn About" series highlights books focused on a particular theme: think "socially responsible architecture" and "phenomenology," rather than broad themes like "housing" or "theory." Therefore the series aims to be a resource for finding decent reading materials on certain topics, born of a desire to further define noticeable areas of interest in the books I review. And while I haven't reviewed every title, I am familiar with each one; these are not blind recommendations.

Architecture in Times of Need
Edited by Kristin Fieriess with contributions by Brad Pitt
Prestel, 2009 (Amazon / Review)
This book documents the efforts of Brad Pitt and the Make It Right foundation in rebuilding houses in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. It is a thorough case study of more than just the house designs; a focus on the families whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is evident and admirable.

Beyond Shelter: Architecture and Human Dignity
Edited by Marie J. Aquilino
Metropolis Books, 2011 (Amazon / Review)
This book focuses on architects' responses to disasters, arguing that architects have a lot to offer in the rebuilding efforts after disasters, even as their training and profession deter them from helping marginalized communities. Case studies provide lessons for architects interested in such efforts by highlighting designers already doing work in the realm of disaster recovery.

Design Like You Give a Damn [2]: Building Change from the Ground Up
Edited by Architecture for Humanity
Abrams, 2012 (Amazon / Review)
This follow-up to Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses To Humanitarian Crises collects over 100 projects that highlight practical solutions for disaster reconstruction, housing, education, healthcare, recreation, clean water, and other means. Well-known projects like the High Line in New York City are actually overshadowed by the numerous smaller budget projects that address very particular needs.

Empowering Architecture: The Butaro Hospital, Rwanda
By MASS Design Group
MASS, 2012 (Amazon / Review)
MASS Design Group's design and execution of the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda is carefully and beautifully documented in this book, accompanied by Iwan Baan's photos. The photos, text, and drawings work together to explain a project that should have influence on similar buildings on the continent and beyond.

Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism
Edited by Bryan Bell and Katie Wakeford
Metropolis Books, 2008 (
Amazon / Review)

Thirty essays focus on architecture devoted to a broader public not typically considered in the profession and in schools: the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the individuals, families and organizations outside of upper-class private clients and exclusive institutions. The contributions spread the experience of architects to others not sure how to take that leap into activist design.

Massive Change
By Bruce Mau and the Institute without Boundaries
Phaidon, 2004 (Amazon / Review)
Mau's exhibition and companion book may be nearly 10 years old, but their impact lives on in many of the other books collected here, among other places. It's a very optimistic collection that sees design as the way to solve many contemporary problems: poverty, energy shortage, and war, to name a few.

The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories About Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients
Edited by John Cary and Public Architecture
Metropolis Books, 2010 (Amazon / Review)
This book aims at overcoming the stigma against architects doing pro bono work, giving them advice on how to do it and presenting case studies of successful precedents. A great addition to the projects comes in the form of text from the clients alongside the words of the architects, which makes sense given the importance of the architect-client relationship in pro bono work.

Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency
By Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley
Princeton Architectural Press, 2002 (Amazon)
Samuel Mockbee and Rural Studio are two names that come to the fore when considering socially responsible architecture. This is the first of three books (followed by Proceed and Be Bold: Rural Studio after Samuel Mockbee in 2005 and a third book coming this fall from PAPress) on the studio's design-build projects for Hale County and other parts of rural Alabama; an excellent book with beautiful photos by Timothy Hursley.

Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement
By Andres Lepik
Museum of Modern Art, 2010 (
Amazon / Review)

MoMA's 2010/11 exhibition Small Scale, Big Change focused on "eleven building projects on five continents that bring innovative architecture to underserved communities." The book expands on the eleven projects with strategies found in some more projects, but the focus remains on the photogenic projects from the show.

Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture
By Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till
Routledge, 2011 (
Amazon / Review)

This encyclopedic book isn't focused solely on socially responsible architecture, but its emphasis on "other ways of doing architecture" includes a number of examples and tactics for those interested in such. It is a valuable book for those interested in pursuing alternatives to traditional architecture and those searching for ideas about how to make positive change when other means are not available.

Testify!: The Consequences of Architecture
Edited by Lukas Feireiss
NAi Publishers, 2011 (
Amazon / Review)

This book—a companion to the NAi exhibition Architecture of Consequence—presents wide-ranging transformative architectural projects, though many of them do not even fit the mold of architecture. The inclusion of short interviews with clients, users, and other people beyond the architect make this book unique.

Where Art the Utopian Visionaries?: Architecture of Social Exchange
Edited by Hansy Better Barraza
Periscope Publishing, 2012 (
Amazon / Review)

The essays and projects in this book ask readers to "consider the people routinely consigned to silence and invisibility in the design process." It's a small yet solid collection that arose from the 2004 symposium at the Rhode Island School of Design, Social XChange: Architects Committed to Social Change.


  1. This is absolutely brilliant that you have put this list together! Thanks!

  2. Architecture in Times of Need book is innovative, it talks about rebuilding new orleans, the deconstructed city. this book is a good choice of temporary architecture.


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