The Nineth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2007
Berkeley Prize 2007

Essay Question



What do you believe is the most needed project in your town that, when built, would better the social situation for a population in need?  Please fully and clearly describe the project and why you feel it is so important.

In Stage One of the Competition, you will write a 500-word proposal that describes the project, the reasons for selecting the project, and an indication of how you as an undergraduate student might participate in making the project become a reality. In addition, from the list provided below, you are to select one of the 15 teams of architects, designers, and planners dedicated to the making of social architecture whom you believe would be the best suited to help you as a partner in developing your proposed project.   For Stage One you will only list this team by name.  If you are selected as a Semifinalist and invited to submit for Stage Two, you will be required to explain in detail the proposed project and why the commission for it should be awarded to the team of your choice.


Applying social architecture ideals to built projects

The current generation of architecture students is greeted with multiple new models and precedents for practice, ranging from the most traditional of corporate firms, to virtual offices, to nonprofit design organizations.  Many examples of the latter—nonprofit design organizations—have their roots in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Renewed energy and interest in serving society and engaging communities, largely on the part of students and young professionals, has fueled a new breed of public interest pursuits.  These new organizations and practices—which we are referring to generally as “teams”—are the focus for this year’s Berkeley Prize Competitions.

There is a global framework in which making social architecture can and does occur today. This framework consists of the United Nations Millennium Project and the Millennium Development Goals which have as their primary aims: poverty reduction, the improvement of people’s lives, and environmental sustainability. 189 countries have signed on to the Goals, with the intention of achieving them by 2015-2020.  Some teams see these goals as the context within which they work; others have much more site specific and limited goals.  In either case, there are many possibilities for creating positive social change through design.

Identifying a project

As you embark on selecting a potential project in your community, and a team for you to partner with, it is critical to break outside the architect’s usual role as simply a problem-solver.  You will need to look at the world in new ways and think proactively as a problem-identifier.  Though rarely addressed or even encouraged to do so in school or practice, the skills acquired through architectural education and training give you unique perspective to identify social injustices—and potential design remedies. 

In identifying the population and project that you would like to focus on, consider the following questions:

  • What population needs help?
  • What are the social and cultural issues affecting this population?
  • Why is this population important to you?
  • What role does design have to play in this social situation?
  • How might a built project or design intervention impact this population?

For one example of how to select a project, see Charles Debbas's essay on Zimbabwe Childcare Centers.  

Selecting a team

Having proven themselves unusually capable at making highly personal connections and commitments to the communities they serve, the teams profiled below have become important vehicles for public interest design, research, and advocacy.Despite small budgets, these teams’ shared desires to address ever-broadening social strata have impacted people and communities that might not otherwise have ever been touched by an architect. 

In making your team selection, consider the following questions:

  • What attributes of the team, their work, or approach resonate with you?
  • Has the team taken on a project similar to your proposal?
  • Is the team experienced working in your geographical area or places like it?

You should become well informed about the team of your choice in thinking about your project proposal.  Each team has a dedicated website, the link for which is provided below.  Many also have books or articles written about their work.  Out of respect for each team’s time, you are strongly discouraged from directly contacting representatives of your selected organization.  Most of these teams are simply unequipped to respond to any volume of emails, phone calls, or other inquiries. 

As you embark on your career, we know that your research of these teams will demonstrate the fact that nonprofit design organizations are unique vehicles for tackling highly relevant and challenging social issues.  Many of these organizations present incredible opportunities for designers to transform spaces into places and, in doing so, for designers to play a pivotal role in transforming the lives of communities and people.


(Select one team from the following fifteen options.)

Architectes de l'Urgence (Emergency Architects)
The aim of Emergency Architects is to bring advice and assistance to the populations afflicted by natural or technological disasters and more generally to bring help to everyone who is suffering morally or physically in France or abroad.

Architects Without Borders
Architects Without Borders is a non-governmental, not-for-profit, volunteer humanitarian relief organization, committed to helping communities develop self-directed sustainable recovery and reconstruction programs.

Architects Without Frontiers
Architects Without Frontiers works with communities in the reconstruction of their physical and social infrastructure; as an integral part of a project, AWF trains or educates members of a community in the services being provided to help foster self-reliance.

Architecture for Humanity
Through competitions, workshops, educational forums, partnerships with aid organizations and other activities, Architecture for Humanity creates opportunities for architects and designers from around the world to help communities in need.

Building Sustainable Communities Initiative
BSCI draws upon the unique relationship of communities to their environment, finding solutions that embrace appropriate technologies while reinforcing local values to spur self-initiated development.

Building & Social Housing Foundation
The BSHF promotes housing policy and practice that is people-centered and environmentally responsible, and which also has practical relevance and addresses a range of current housing issues worldwide.

Design Corps
Design Corps primarily works in rural areas, serving low-income populations where other resources for quality design are currently lacking, while training students and interns in the practice of quality community-based design.

ELEMENTAL Housing Initiative
ELEMENTAL is an innovative housing initiative in Chile that fuses architecture, technology, urban design, and community development for the purpose of designing and building low-cost housing for those who cannot afford a mortgage. 

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is dedicated to improving the social, economic, and environmental benefits of bamboo and rattan as viable and sustainable solutions to housing problems around the world.

Public Architecture
Public Architecture identifies and solves practical problems of human interaction in the built environment and acts as a catalyst for public discourse through education, advocacy, and the design of public spaces and amenities.

Shelter For Life
Shelter For Life takes on comprehensive, grassroots projects that enable beneficiaries to rebuild not only homes, but entire communities that have been affected by conflict or disaster.

shelterproject is devoted to consolidating expertise in responding to the transitional settlement and shelter needs of populations affected by conflict and natural disasters.

Volunteer Architects Network
VAN addresses the need for shelter and structure in any place where minority groups exist; the group focuses on the use of local materials and skills.

World Hands Project
World Hands Project helps communities worldwide develop a better quality of life through natural building solutions, such as providing passive solar straw bale homes, creating waste and water systems, and helping establish micro-economies.

World Shelters
World Shelters designs, produces, and delivers temporary and permanent structures that can be easily assembled in a variety of configurations for both emergency response and long-term humanitarian needs.


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Post-tsunami Housing Sigli, Indonesia Emergency Architects (Architectes de l'Urgence)
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