1st Edition

Design for Fragility 13 Stories of Humanitarian Architects

By Esther Charlesworth, John Fien Copyright 2023
    232 Pages 154 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    232 Pages 154 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The demand is now urgent for architects to respond to the design and planning challenges of rebuilding cities and landscapes being destroyed by civil conflict, (un)natural disasters, political instability, and poverty. The number of people fleeing their homes and being displaced by such conflict now totals almost 100 million. Despite the massive human and physical costs of these crises, the number of architects, planners, and landscape architects equipped to work with disaster and development professionals in rebuilding in the aftermath of conflict, floods, fires, earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis remains chronically low. Design for Fragility expands the nascent, but rapidly growing field of humanitarian architecture by exploring 13 design responses to such conflict and displacement across 11 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Iran, Pakistan, and the USA. Linked to this displacement is the systemic poverty that often lingers from previous colonial territories and eras, in which many of the featured projects in the book are located.

    This book follows Charlesworth’s Humanitarian Architecture: 15 Stories of Architects Working After Disasters (Routledge 2014), which analysed the role for architects in exercising ‘spatial agency’ while designing shelter and settlement projects for communities after conflict and disaster. Since that time, the humanitarian architecture movement has expanded globally with the prominence of design agencies including the MASS Design Group and Architecture Sans Frontières (ASF) International. Design for Fragility analyses this role of spatial agency in architecture by addressing diverse conditions of fragility across 13 built projects – from refugee housing in Uganda and an orphanage for teenage girls in Iran to a residential centre in Northern Australia for people with acquired brain injury.

    Each of the projects profiled in this book explore:

    •  The experiences and perceptions of fragility – or precarity – that provided a design challenge and directed the particular spatial response.
    •  The specific typology of the project, whether that be a housing, health, children’s, or a First Nations project.
    •  The personal values that influenced the architects to work on humanitarian/community projects and how consultation occurred with diverse and often contested project stakeholders.
    •  The experiences of the design team as well as project managers, occupants, and donors of the built project, exploring what they deemed successful about the project, and what, if any, were its limitations.

    Beautifully designed with over 150 illustrations, this practical and inspiring book is for architects, landscape architects, design educators, humanitarian and development aid agencies that are involved, or seeking to be part, of future disaster mitigation and reconstruction strategies and projects, globally.

    Introduction  1. Design for Fragility and Children  2. Design for Fragility and Health  3. Design for Fragility and Housing  4. Design for Fragility and Justice  Epilogue  Humanitarian Agencies and People


    Esther Charlesworth is Founding Director of Architects Without Frontiers (AWF), the largest design not-for-profit agency in the Asia Pacific region. Esther is also Professor in the School of Architecture and Urban Design at RMIT University, Melbourne, where she founded the Master of Disaster, Design, and Development program degree (MoDDD).

    John Fien is Professor in the School of Architecture and Urban Design at RMIT University in Melbourne. He has led large-scale climate and sustainable development education projects for organisations that include UNESCO, UNEP, and WWF in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

    "Confronted with the intersecting crises of climate breakdown, rising authoritarianism, increasing social inequalities and mass migration, the architectural profession urgently needs to look to new ways of working. Design for Fragility provides very useful insights into how more responsible and equitable design might unfold within current precarious conditions."

    Jeremy Till, Professor of Architecture, University of the Arts London

    "Designing for a fragile world inherently means designing for dignity and hope.

    These outstanding projects testify of how humanitarian architecture upholds the values of our profession, linking entire communities to the prospects of better lives. Whether these are schools withstanding floods or cyclones, maternal wards welcoming newborns in healthier conditions or designing shelter for refugees or indigenous populations, all contribute to building pathways to protect and empower the most unprivileged.

    The book is a source of inspiration of what can be achieved despite disasters and crises. As long as the problems remain endless, so do the solutions."

    Sandra D’Urzo, Humanitarian Architect

    "Design for Fragility offers a wonderful selection of projects that exemplify that people-centered design is more than a tool and, that when it is implemented in ‘fragile’ contexts, it can provoke change, enhance dignity, and promote inclusion. The diverse typology of projects and the reflections of the architects regarding their design process and methodologies which delve into achieving community involvement, offer a useful and relevant guide for future professionals of the built environment that want to make a difference through their work."

    Dr. Carmen Mendoza Arroyo, Director of the Master of International Cooperation Sustainable Emergency Architecture 

    "In the introduction to this book, Brett Moore, Global Shelter Cluster Lead queried ‘Why aren’t architects active in these issues? Has our social agenda been lost?’ The authors - Esther Charlesworth and John Fien - are ideally qualified to assemble their positive answer to this challenge by including thirteen well selected examples of architectural projects under the themes of children, health, housing and justice. Beautifully designed and illustrated, Design for Fragility is a welcome companion to Esther’s 2014 landmark text: Humanitarian Architecture. The result is essential reading for any architect, landscape architect and planner with a concern to meet acute needs by the application of their compassion, skills and experience to the deepening problems of social displacement and the scale and complexity of reconstruction."

    Professor Ian Davis, author of Shelter after Disaster (1978)