Bogotá Chapter: lessons in humanitarian design

ricardo(Architecture for Humanity)

Ricardo Daza is beyond dedicated to the Bogotá Chapter he himself launched in 2009 with two of his non-architect friends.

In four years the Chapter has helped hundreds of people over a dozen projects – all conducted in their own time after work, with the help of other volunteers and interns. It hasn’t been easy, and when life calls, and key members have to pull away, a chapter confronts in another way the issue of sustainability.

How do the Bogotá folks do it? Find out below.

Architecture for Humanity Headquarters: Hi Ricardo, thanks for taking the time. Bogotá Chapter seems to have a lot going on – how did this all start for you?

Ricardo Daza: I was developing some projects with a friend of mine that went a little bit crazy. I decided to go somewhere else to develop other projects. I found Architecture for Humanity, and thought about applying for a Design Fellowship. Then I saw that I could start a Chapter and that’s what I decided to do.

I saw there were too many architects in the architecture world! We need other kinds of professionals getting involved. So I called two of my closest friends, Hector and Alejandra. Hector is a political scientist, and Alejandra is an anthropologist, and sociologist. We decided to found the chapter. That was in 2009.

HQ: When you say “another kind of professional involvement,” could you expand on that?

RD: Yeah – architecture is plotted with too many architects not thinking about the people, so we decided to found the chapter with non-architects. That’s how we started.

HQ: How do non-architects engage in architecture work?

RD: We created three different lines of development. Alejandra was developing design charrettes and population studies, making characteristics of those populations and making sure that the activities we developed were focused on those people. Hector was in charge of the “architecture organization” line – basically working with owners and finding funds for the projects.

HQ: Where did you guys start working – how did you find your first projects?

RD: Ever since we started a chapter, new projects keep coming in.

The first one we developed I was on a trip with some friends, and met a girl working with a children’s foundation to help kids get out of a circle of abuse, with training and proper education. I worked with her regularly on weekends to develop the project. They needed more space for their programs…it was fun.

We never built it. When we presented the project to their board members, one of them was the owner of the houses [that the org was currently using]. He decided not to continue borrowing that property, and wanted to move the organization outside the city.

We wanted them to think outside the box – they had a clouded vision at first, with no possibilities – and I think we helped them open their prospective, and that helped them get a good place to move to.

HQ: That got you guys started.

RD: Yeah. Right now our problem is we have too many projects and not enough funding, so we need to get more people involved in fundraising. We do have a lot of contacts but we haven’t bridged that because we don’t have enough time to do it.

HQ: It’s a time issue as well?

RD: Definitely. Definitely. Right now, Hector just had a baby – so he’s quite busy with it. Alejandra is working and studying nights. I’m also working with my projects, so time is scarce. We are right now trying to find people to continue developing the chapter so we can get some rest!

HQ: How’s that been going?

RD: Ah, not that good. We have to launch an open campaign, with proper profiles and all that. The people we’ve spoken with – they’re not quite ready to get involved. People tend to help on the weekends, but not in a more constant way.

HQ: Right. It’s hard to find time after work for this kind of stuff. Is there trouble finding space to work?

RD: We do have an office – it’s one of the things that keeps us going.

We opened the office when we had our first student intern come in from Canada. She had applied to different chapters to come to help with for six months, in 2010. We said yes. So she was coming and we didn’t have a proper place for her to work in.

So we rented a place. Here it’s not that expensive to do it. She was the first, and the next semester we had a student from Bogotá, the next year we had six interns, and then another girl from Canada who was a friend of the first intern, and a few students also. Right now we have one intern.

HQ: Cool – how’s it been managing interns and keeping everyone on the same page?

RD: It takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it. We have volunteer internships, meaning the students have to take care of their expenses, whether they’re from abroad or local. Once they’re here they can work on projects with more time than any volunteer could do in their free time. This way the projects get developed, and then built.

HQ: What kind of projects have been managed by interns?

RD: The first that was designed and built by an intern was a playground for a school – it was 2010 – called “Guillermo Cano Isaza.” It’s on the Open Architecture Network.

Intern-developed playground for Colegio CEDID Guillermo Cano Isaza, Bogota

The other projects that were designed by students – right now Falawa is developing a park for a community outside Bogotá. She also designed a house for one of the construction workers we work with.

Last year, one of the interns designed a park with tires. We’re still waiting for the tires to be delivered, but hopefully they will come this semester and we can build it.

Samantha was working on two bedrooms for a house in Bogotá – that was designed and built.

It’s really nice because students get to do the whole process. When I was studying I couldn’t do that.

HQ: Any intern openings right now?

RD: We always have! Right now we have two girls coming from England. One works on water/sewage and the other works on conservation of energy – renewable energy and all that.

HQ: Those are great complementary skills.

RD: Since we work on those three lines that I mentioned – we had an anthropologist coordinate community gatherings and charrettes. We had one designer help us with web hosting and videos, trying to help place better content on our website. Volunteers get involved from their perspective.

AFHBog-FUNES_130117_1395-charrete-700FUNES charrette, Fondation para ninas especiales, Calle 25, Bogota

HQ: Are there any projects taking shape now that you want to talk about?

RD: Sure. One of the projects we’re trying to gather funding for is for an organization for kids with disabilities, it’s called FUNES [“Fundación para Niños Especiales”]. They’ve been renting a place for quite a while. A year ago they got a notice from the owner that he needed the place. Now we know that was just because he wanted to rent it for more money. But since then FUNES started to find funding for a proper place. They contacted us the help them with the design.

We not only did the design but helped them find a place – check out prospects. We found a site, they bought it and now they don’t have the funds to make the place proper for the kids. This is our focus for funding right now.

Now we’re working with an interior designer, Architecture and Interiors (in Spanish though), they’re basically running the project, trying to get the funding. It’s a two story structure, and it’s not fit to code. We’re trying to decided whether it can be retrofit or needs to be demolished and rebuilt.

HQ: How much do you think you need?

RD: If we manage to raise $5K that would be a great start.

There are some more projects that are coming along. I’m flying tomorrow to one of those projects that we’ve been working hard on since the 2010 flooding in Colombia – it’s a community development plan – five or so municipalities, so about 50K people. The area’s to the north, close to Cartegena. We’re calling the projects “Water Proof Design,” for buildings that would be safe from flooding.

AFHBog-APDA_110714_010-flooded-fields_Daniela-Garcia-640Flooded fields. Image by Daniele Garcia

HQ: You guys tweeted these youth charrette picture the other day – what was that all about?

RD: Oh, hah, that was another project. That’s a park. Here the municipalities aren’t very highly staffed, they don’t have a lot of budget. Maybe a Secretary of Planning from one municipality doesn’t have a team, he does all the work himself. Since he is alone, he doesn’t have time to develop new projects.

Municipalites can ask for money but they have to present a proposal to get the funding.

AFHBog-bosq_130116_3124-nuestro-parque_AFHBog-700Youth charrette image from Polideportivo Bosque de la Esperanza, Soacha

This community has a site to build a park, but obviously they don’t have the resources, and the municipality doesn’t have it either. So what we’re going to do is design the park and find the money, by either applying for funds form the national government, or asking local companies to get them funding.

There are those pictures, and we have videos too, of activities we did with the kids and adults – asking them to draw and design it. Not only that but we did another one of the community building a model of what they want – trying to figure out the design.

For the model we built the terrain and we got local materials, old cardboard, things like that. It’s not too elaborate.

HQ: Is there any kind of message you’d want to send out to the Network or to the wider world?

RD: We’re eager to get the chapters connected. A few weeks ago Denver sent out an email, and people responded to it – it will be great if we could get the chapters even more connected somehow. There’s a lot of knowledge that needs to be coordinated.

AFHBog-bib_120215_676n_AFHBog-960Volunteers and members of Barrio El Mirador Codito gather in front of a revamped community library, after a long day’s work


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