Reimagining a Community Space

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“Good design is invisible. You don’t actually see it when it works well.”

– Cameron Sinclair, Cofounder and Chief Eternal Optimist @ArchforHumanity

When Cameron Sinclair started the organization Architecture for Humanity, his first mission was to get funding. He met with dozens of people and explained his vision: a nonprofit organization that taps designers and architects to use their expertise to build communities, not just design buildings. He pushed hard for his little project, a mission that would one day be a major organization with offices around the world. One potential investor called Sinclair an “eternal optimist,” a claim that was meant as an insult. Sinclair made it his job title.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a company or an organization, we all have kind of a civic responsibility to give back,” says Sinclair. “What we try to do is build structures that are not just meaningful for those who are using it, but for the community as a whole.”

Architecture for Humanity was founded in 1999 in New York City. Its first projects were humble and small, but Sinclair’s vision prevailed. The organization today specializes in designing both large- and small -scale solutions for post-conflict areas, impoverished regions and communities in need all over the world, even right around the corner from your home. Sinclair and the staff tap into a network of 75,000 architects and designers who are willing to give their time and efforts to help those communities that would not be able to afford their services, and to be empowered by innovation.

“It’s not what we build, it’s who we build for.”

– Cameron Sinclair, Cofounder of @ArchforHumanity

“What’s happened over the last decade is that most of the industry has turned around and said, ‘Hey, I’d rather make less and do more impact than I have to,’ rather than essentially build yet another glass office tower that’s going to push out the existing community and gentrify a neighborhood,” says Sinclair. “Architects have the ability to become civic leaders if they infuse ethics within their aesthetics. I think there’s a new generation of designers where that’s implicit. Architecture for Humanity is a place where architects can put the kind of finance-focused form-making to one side and ask, ‘How do we build communities?’”

The marriage between innovation and design has always been tantamount for the Lincoln Motor Company, but this was a year to reimagine. Lincoln and Architecture for Humanity teamed up with Architectural Digest to reimagine the things that inspired them: design, innovation and building a community. As part of The Lincoln Reimagine Project, they are opening the Burrows Street Park, a rejuvenated city block in San Francisco’s Portola community.

“People end up taking care of spaces that are loved.”

– Cameron Sinclair, Cofounder of @ArchforHumanity

The park itself is in phase two of completion and will debut in 2014. It’s a small space and has been dubbed a “parklet” or “pocket park” by the city. Dozens of parklets are popping up around San Francisco, and each boasts unique identifiers that celebrate the neighborhoods they are in. Burrows Street Park will be no different.

“Great spaces, inspiring spaces, stitch together a community in a way where you’re free to just be who you are,” says Sinclair. “You just feel kind of inspired by being in them.”

Watch the film above for an introduction to the Burrows Street Park project. Read about Phase 2 and the park’s progress here, and check back soon for updates on our journey to reimagine a special place for a community.

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