Non Profit







Photo by Tommy Stewart

Architecture for Humanity, through its global volunteer network, brings design, construction, and development services to bear on humanitarian crises worldwide. With 50 U.S. chapters, the organization is also a force domestically, working on a wide array of projects in cities big and small. Its flagship Open Architecture Network (newly rebranded as “Worldchanging,” and still in transition) is an open-source platform intended to facilitate sharing of information on humanitarian design projects. For information: and
buildingcommunityWORKSHOP is a community design center that undertakes projects in under-resourced areas of Dallas, where it is based, as well as Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley. Chief among its projects is Congo Street Initiative, an effort in Dallas to revitalize a narrow street with a dozen and a half homes in need of repair in the inner city. For information:
Build.Found. started as a project called “Building Foundations with Haiti” and is now an independent nonprofit hosted by the AIA Center for Architecture in New York. Most of its work to date has focused on rebuilding in Haiti, but Build.Found. aspires to link local capacity-building to infrastructure development in impoverished communities, while professionalizing volunteer opportunities throughout the building industry. For information:
Catapult Design, based in San Francisco, is an interdisciplinary design practice that brings engineering, technology, and products to resource-limited settings. It focuses on delivering culturally sensitive, environmentally friendly, location-appropriate solutions for communities in need. All of its work is undertaken on a fee-for-service basis, for nonprofits as well as governments, social ventures, and even Fortune 500 companies. For information:
The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), which is based in Brooklyn and is focused on the greater New York metropolitan area, uses art and design to improve civic engagement. It addresses communities with populations whose voices have historically been underrepresented or suppressed. CUP’s Making Policy Public poster series uses graphic design to explain and improve understanding of fundamental but complicated public policy matters that shape lives. For information:
The Community Design Center of Pittsburgh is an advocate for design, planning, public policy, and sustainable communities. Among its four principal programs is a dedicated design fund that provides financial and service grants to aid in early stage development of projects. For information:
The Community Design Collaborative of Philadelphia connects nonprofits in need of pre-development design services with architects and others professionals willing to offer their time on a pro bono basis. Now in its 20th year and based out of the AIA Philadelphia Center for Architecture, the organization plays a crucial role of matchmaker and is a highly leveraged model for other cities. For information:
The Community Design Resource Center of Boston, like the aforementioned Philadelphia collaborative, connects community groups, nonprofits, and public agencies with architects and other design professionals willing to offer their services on a pro bono basis. For information:
Design Corps is a national nonprofit, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. For over 20 years, it has worked with and advocated for low-income and migrant farm worker communities, building housing and other amenities. Design Corps maintains a long-running fellowship program, hosts the annual Structures for Inclusion conference, coordinates the SEED Network’s myriad activities, and facilitates the Public Interest Design Institute training programs, all described below. For information:
Design Ignites Change encourages and supports design and social change work by students and creative professionals. Its two main initiatives for design professionals include a six-week, intensive summer program, called “Impact! Design for Social Change,” at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and its Funding Social Change workshops, which travel nationally. For information:
Design Impact is a Cincinnati-based nonprofit that partners American and international designers with community organizations in India. In approaching issues ranging from education and healthcare to social equality, human rights, and economic development, Design Impact practices “embedded design,” focused on cultivating relationships and fostering local ownership of solutions. For information:
The Design Trust for Public Space concerns itself with public life in New York’s five boroughs. It explores the history, current state, and potential of public buildings, parks, plazas, streets, and broader transportation systems. Most of the Design Trust’s work happens on the front end of a project—with arguably its biggest-impact contribution to date being a feasibility study for what is now the High Line Park in Manhattan. For information:
DesigNYC is another important connector of designers and nonprofits serving the public good. Focused exclusively on the New York area, it undertakes both communications design and environmental design projects, issuing an annual call for participants and showcasing its results through a yearly public exhibition. For information:
Emerging Terrain is a research and design collaborative with a mission of creatively engaging the public in reshaping the built environment. Through programming and partnerships, Emerging Terrain advocates for the adaptive reuse and repurposing of landscapes, spaces, and structures that help build community. For information:
Engineering Ministries International (EMI), based in Colorado Springs, is a Christian ministry that designs facilities for the poor in developing countries. Its project types include hospitals, orphanages, schools, and water systems. EMI recruits architects, construction managers, engineers, and land surveyors from around the world to donate their time and travel costs. For information:
Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA), headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, boasts a 12,000-member network with 350 projects in over 45 countries around the world. It maintains roughly 250 chapters for students and professionals, the majority of which are based on college campuses. Its members engage directly with communities though partnering with non-governmental organizations. For information:
Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and focused on the construction of housing for low-income families. The organization comprises independent affiliates, which together have built more than 500,000 homes around the world. Those affiliates engage architects and designers to varying degrees, as is the subject of a book due out this year from Routledge, titled Designed for Habitat. For information:
Hester Street Collaborative (HSC) is an outgrowth of public-interest design work undertaken by Leroy Street Studio, a New York-based architecture firm. HSC engages local residents in a participatory design process with the aim of having public spaces more directly reflect local desires and needs. The organization advocates that residents play an active role in shaping their built environment to foster a sense of ownership. For information: is the brainchild of design and strategy giant IDEO, which brings what it calls “human-centered design” and a “beginner’s mind” to chronic problems facing the developing world. It partners with major foundations, NGOs, and other entities on an array of projects, ranging from water delivery and education reform to gender equity. Formally launched this past fall, the organization is staffed in large part by a diverse team of fellows, described below. For information:
Make It Right Foundation, established by actor Brad Pitt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, engages architects and designers on both a pro bono and fee-for-service basis to aid in its rebuilding of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Notably, the foundation has historically employed as many social service workers as design professionals. Now, as its New Orleans target neighborhood approaches its 150-home goal, Make It Right is embarking on similar work in Kansas City, Newark, New Jersey, and others cities to be announced. For information:
MASS Design Group, with offices in Boston, Haiti, and Rwanda, designs, builds, and advocates for buildings that improve health and strengthen communities. Its maiden project, the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, represents its commitment to “immersive design” and deep relationship with Partners in Health. Its Girubuntu School in Rwanda is featured in the March 2012 issue of Architectural Record. MASS runs its fellowship program through Global Health Corps, described below. For information:
Planning Corps, based in New York, is a new and evolving network of planners who volunteer their time on nonprofit and public interest design projects. The organization is focused, for now, on public spaces, streetscaping, and transportation systems. For information:
Project H Design undertakes and supports design projects for the public good. Its public high school design/build program, called Studio H, is based in Bertie County, North Carolina, fueling rural community development through educational and built projects. For information:
Project M is a platform for designers and creative people to put their skills to work for the public good. The organization runs several programs, including workshops and intensive residencies around the world. Its most celebrated domestic projects include water access awareness and a storefront pie shop in Greensboro, Alabama. For information:
Public Architecture, now in its tenth year (and directed during its formative years by this author, for full disclosure), is a San Francisco-based nonprofit and advocate for pro bono design, embodied in The 1% pro bono service program (profiled below). Public Architecture also initiates temporary and conceptual design projects—like its highly publicized ScrapHouse and Day Labor Station projects. For information:, also founded and directed by this author, is a web-based communications hub for the growing movement at the intersection of design and service. It is a daily source for the latest news, events, opportunities, publications, and other information on the public interest design field. For information:
The Public Policy Lab, based in Brooklyn, New York, is a nonpartisan organization working to improve the delivery of public services—ranging from healthcare and housing to federal programs, like Medicare and Social Security. The organization engages in research and advocacy at the intersection of policy and what it terms “user-centered design.” For information:
Public Workshop, based in Philadelphia, describes itself as a “cheerleader of possibility.” It seeks to redefine the way that youth participate as citizens and leaders in the design of their communities through innovative education, training, and design/build programs. For information:
SCALEAfrica, based in New York, is focused on bringing better classrooms, libraries, and entire schools to parts of Zambia and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa without them. The organization practices an active community participation model, intended to yield culturally responsive, sustainable architecture as well as increased educational access and effectiveness. For information:
Van Alen Institute, a century-old organization based in New York, initiates and facilitates projects in public architecture through a mix of competitions, publications, and other programming. The Van Alen has maintained several fellowship programs over the years, including the one profiled below. For information:
VisionArc, also based in New York, is a think tank dedicated to exploring the role of design within complex global issues, including environmental and social sustainability. It partners with entities such as the World Economic Forum on initiatives involving research and visualization. For information: