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Jonathan Mariano headshot

Cameron Sinclair Becomes Advisor to Obama Administration

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration under the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) launched the advisory committee on voluntary foriegn aid (ACVFA).  On that list advisors was none other than Cameron Sinclair, a person who has revolutionized the way we think and speak about people and architectural spaces, and actually acts and implements these thoughts and words into reality.

The ACVFA committee role is to consult and provide information to USAID on development issues relating to foreign assistance.  The committee is also expected to foster public interest  in private voluntary organizations and voluntary foreign aid.  Sinclair's experience founding and running Architecture for Humanity seems to fit well into the committee mission.

We’ve covered Cameron Sinclair on his philosophy of architecture for people, not spaces.  Most recently, I had the honor and pleasure of sitting in on Sinclair’s keynote for the Sustainable Operations Summit, at The Langham Huntington in Pasadena, CA.  Although Sinclair serves as the ACVFA in a representational rather than individual capacity, his keynote speech may be indicative of how he may positively influence the administration.

Decentralization: Decentralizing Physical Network to Scale Impact
Architecture for Humanity has about 70 chapters with over 4500 members.  Detroit, Atlanta, and Boston in the United States, to foreign cities like Santiago, Chile; Shanghai, China; and Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan.  Although headquartered in San Francisco, CA, the emphasis on decentralizing the physical network helps to scale impact to those in need, especially those in poverty.

Sinclair suggests that they don’t just design, but they embed into the community.  For instance, they partner with locally licensed building professionals, to “make sure there is a cultural and social marriage.”  Communities lead the design and and construction, thus empowering community resiliency through building together.

Transparency: Open Sourcing All Projects
Sinclair suggests, “We open source all projects, including construction documents.”  The benefit of open source, specifically the Open Architecture Network that Sinclair founded is multi dimensional.  Not only do people from across the globe get to share ideas, designs, and plans.  But people have the opportunity to also communicate and collaborate with each other despite being thousands of miles away.  A solution in China could very well inspire a solution in Chile.

Most importantly, the Open Architectural Network allows for project management from concept to implementation.   Think of it like an SAP or Salesforce for open source architecture.

Stakeholders: Engaging the Un-engagable
One core concept of sustainability is stakeholder engagement.  Sinclair takes this to a level that may seem crazy, but actually provides results.  When designing a community in Santa Cruz, Brazil, he wanted to do something preemptive about the crime stricken area.  They didn’t want drug dealers dealing drugs, in the yet to be built community.  So in a counter-intutive manner, he invited drug dealers on to the design team!

Since music was a strong part of the local culture, his team further engaged the community with radio broadcasts with music, as well as a dialogue of the site being built.  This helped build a sense of ownership for the community.  By engaging both the engagable and “un-engagable” during the design and build process, the new site saw a decrease of the crime rate by 20% whereas the rest of the country saw a 1% increase.

Sinclair lives and breathe the concepts of decentralization, transparency, and stakeholder engagement.  He has changed the way we think and build communities, focusing on the people in the space to be built.  He is continually scaling impact with Architecture for Humanity.  Perhaps his input to the ACVFA will help scale positive impact even further.

Jonathan Mariano headshotJonathan Mariano

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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