Humanitarian Architecture – College of Design – 38°84° the power of place

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Humanitarian Architecture

A call to help build a Haitian orphanage in Professor Bruce Swetnam’s Spring 2017 studio has evolved into a project driven by a passion for humanitarian architecture.

Students from Swetnam’s studio last semester as well as those in the current studio have created the Big Blue Crowdfunding project “Humanitarian Architecture: Empowering Haitian Orphans” as a means to raise funds for travel to Haiti and additional building materials. They met their initial goal of $5,000 but the more funds they raise, the more building materials they can purchase for the renovation, according to Professor Swetnam. Also, “The more travel money that comes means more students can go to the orphanage and be a part of this humanitarian effort,” he said.

In April 2017, six students went on the inaugural trip to Chez Moi orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They experienced firsthand the needs of the girls who lived there as well as their culture to fully understand how best to renovate the building. “We had to experience the site, the climate, to make it realistic,” said Nick Hodge, a fourth-year student who went on the trip. “Being able to watch them [just] be, to interact with them, gave you insight into what was really important to them and what type of space they needed.”

In 2010, the orphanage was severely damaged by an earthquake that registered a magnitude of 7.0. Swetnam had firsthand knowledge of the damage in Haiti, having made previous philanthropic trips to support the rebuilding of the country in his personal time.

After this latest trip with his students, word got out and many more are interested in participating in the orphanage renovations – and perhaps even making humanitarian architecture their profession after school. “The last day before we flew out, we were talking and asking how this fits into a professional career,” said Abbi Evans, a first-year graduate student in architecture. “Maybe social impact architecture is possible as a career, maybe we should pay attention to this and not just write it off as a side job.”

To help students discover this niche of architecture and its possibilities as a career, the School of Architecture in the College of Design needs your help. To contribute to the crowdfunding project, please visit


Professor Bruce Swetnam works with architecture students and community members on the rebuild project for Chez Moi orphanage. His Spring 2018 architecture studio went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in February 2018.

Students from Professor Bruce Swetnam’s architecture studio recently returned from another trip to Haiti where they continued work at Chez Moi Orphanage. Watch the process of building a play area for the girls. Many thanks to the UK Student Sustainability Council for their support in purchasing materials for the play structure.