Shelter Stories – a temporary installation at River Terrace Federation Square – and interactive response to the global challenge of slums.

Architects Without Frontiers is an amazing, amazing Australian initiative which essentially manages and provides assistance to pro-bono architectural projects in developing countries all over the world. Until recently, AWF has been run entirely with volunteers. It has only this year that they’ve had the means to take on staff – it now employs only one full-time person, and that person is Lucinda Hartley!

Lucinda is one of those amazing people you can’t help but admire. She’s a Landscape Architect, and volunteered with AWF for 2 years before starting in her new role just 3 months ago. She has been actively working in pro-bono developmental projects for the last 6 years since finishing her studies. She co-ordinated several design/build projects for Habitat for Humanity in post-tsunami areas of Thailand, and for the past year or so has been working on a Slum Mapping project in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She’s now working on a Disability Day Centre in Vietnam which hopes to set a benchmark for sustainable building in the region, as well as setting a precedent for purpose-designed facilities for disabled children.

Architects Without Frontiers have an installation/event called Shelter Stories, running as part of State of Design. The installation at River Terrace, Federation Square is an interactive response to the global challenge of slums, and invites the public to think about the need for shelter, and urban water and energy use on a global level.

Shelter Stories
is an interesting combination of installation and light projection, and is best viewed at night! I think tonight is the last night too… if you’re in the city do pop down and check it out!

Tell us a little about your background – how did you come to be working with AWF?


I’m actually a Landscape Architect which confuses some people as I work for
Architects without Frontiers, but we’re a mix of built environment professionals and not all architects. I’ve been working with AWF for only 3 months, but I’ve been a volunteer with them for a little over two years and my interest in social and environmentally conscious design goes back much further than that.

I started actively working in pro-bono and social projects about 6 years ago. When I was studying I had the opportunity to live and work in Cambodia for several months which sparked an interest in a more lateral application of my profession – i.e. that design was not only a tool for commercial, residential and public projects but had a wide and direct application to development projects. I focused this attention when I returned to Australia where I coordinated several design/build projects with Habitat for Humanity in post-tsunami areas of Thailand. In late 2007 I was fortunate to receive an Asialink Weary Dunlop Fellowship with which I undertook an internship with the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights in Thailand, Cambodia, Japan and Vietnam – looking at best practice development architecture practice in the region and how various local NGOs engaged design professionals on development projects.

For the past 14 months I’ve worked as both an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) and an Endeavour Executive Fellow in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on a Slum Mapping Project. I was actively involved in AWF’s Vietnam projects at the same time, so when I came back to Australia earlier this year, I was really fortunate to be able to take up the position of Executive Officer with AWF. I see this as an opportunity to build the social design consciousness in Australian architectural and design practice and demonstrate high quality design solutions for communities in need.

Can you give us a bit of an insight into the inner workings and structure of AWF?

Architects without Frontiers provide pro-bono technical services to humanitarian design projects. Until recently, Architects without Frontiers has been entirely volunteer run. The organisation is part of an international network but started in Australia almost 10 years ago by Melbourne architects and planners, Esther Charlesworth, Garry Ormston and Beau Beza as an avenue for using Australian design expertise (architecture, urban design and landscape architecture) in post-conflict areas. Since then AWF have completed almost 40 projects in 12 countries in Australia, Africa and Asia Pacific have expanded its focus to long-term community development projects, integrating design and appropriate technology into sustainable development practice through partnership with communities, other non-profits, clients and organisations.

It is only recently that we have had the capacity and means to take on staff. I’m actually the only full time staff member, we have one other part time staff member and an active board of directors. Our plan is to expand to 5 full time staff by the end of 2012 to meet capacity. Our projects are managed through our extensive volunteer network of pro-bono partners, members and volunteers and we are currently managing projects in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nepal, India, Vietnam and the Northern Territory. The number of projects we can take on is really only limited by the number of pro-bono parter firms willing to take on the projects, and support funding.

What has been the most rewarding project you’ve working on recently (either with AWF or in your previous roles elsewhere)?

I’m currently working on a Disability Day Centre in Dien Ban, Central Vietnam, which is really interesting as it hopes to set a benchmark for sustainable building in the the region as well as providing a precedent for purpose-designed education, health and recreational facilities for disabled children. The project builds on AWFs relationship with partner organisation the Kian Foundation a charity with a long term involvement in Quang Nam Province as well as integrating several different aspects of AWFs services into one project. The project involves both architectural and landscape architectural professional services, an educational component through RMIT University with a strong emphasis on participatory, sustainable and community-focused outcomes. AWF’s pro-bono partners BURO architecture are currently developing schematic drawings for the proposed centre. In January 2010, 12 RMIT Studuents together with 12 RMIT Vietnam students will work collaboratively on the project as part of a multi-disciplinary design studio. Construction will begin in mid-2010.


Which architects, designers and visionaries do you admire or take inspiration from?

The more I explore the role of design in development the more I discover inspirational people, organisations, designers and communities but I want to outline three key influences: First, I’ve been long inspired by the Design for the other 90% exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum which centres around the following quote from Dr Paul Polak of International Development Enterprises who calls for a design revolution:The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.” This quote is very true for the Australian Design context and I believe we need to fundamentally shift the way we think about design.

Second, I’m very interested in the work and philosophy of Frederick Law Olmstead, the famous Landscape Architect who designed New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park among many other public spaces. Olmstead believed in the power of design, and particularly of landscape design, to bring about social change – that by improving the quality of cities and spaces you could improve quality of life. The relationship between public open space and social improvement is as important today as it was 150 years ago.

Thirdly, Community Architects for Shelter and Environment (CASE) who operate in Thailand and Japan, are grass roots organisations who are demonstrating leadership and innovation in affordable housing, appropriate building technology and slum upgrading in Asia. Like “barefoot” architects these inspiring designers demonstrate how design professionals can effectively engage with community. In 2008, with the generous support of the Asialink Foundation, I had the opportunity to meet with CASE in Bangkok and Osaka. There is much that Australian designers can learn from their integrated, grass-roots approach to problem solving and design integration.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Too much! With only a few staff my role involves a bit of everything – design, project management, talking with clients and communities, writing funding applications, liaising with volunteers and pro-bono partners and organisational development. Basically quite a lot of time at the computer, but there’s not a dull moment. Right now we’re really trying to develop and grow the organisation so its a really exciting time as we plan our vision for the future. I’m a keen cyclist, so I try to get a ride in before work most days too.

What would be a dream project for the AWF team?

An ideal project would be one where we’re no longer needed! The aim of our programs and projects is to work with the community and capacity build so that they can work for themselves. If we complete a project, and we’re not needed for additional work, then we’ve done our job well. Until then, we’ll continue to work closely with communities in a way that is participatory and appropriate.

What are you looking forward to?

Heading back to Vietnam in October to see the progress of the Dien Ben Disability Day Centre, brushing up my Vietnamese and meeting up with friends, colleagues and communities over there.


A Preschool project in Ahmedabad, India, supported by City of Melbourne and Australian award-winning socially responsible design company Bholu.

Shelter Stories – Visualising out Urban Future

River Terrace, Federation Square
until July 19th (tomorrow!)

Free