People Power (part 2)

Rescue Mission
Featured: Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity

Nine years ago Cameron Sinclair quit a promising job with a major New York City architecture firm to take up the torch of humanitarian architect pioneers like Samuel Mockbee & R. Buckminster Fuller. "When I was in architecture school, I didn't give a crap about Frank Gehry," says the lumberjack-size 33-yr-old Brit. "I looked to people like Fred Cuny, a Texas engineer who had a Cessna & basically would fly into disasters & take over - he was very renegade." So Sinclair & his wife, Kate Stohr, founded Architecture for Humanity, & last year the Sausalito, California-based nonprofit organization, which matches money & designers with real people facing disaster, barnstormed three continents to produce 25 architectural-relief projects, including post-Katrina housing in Biloxi, Mississippi, & girls' soccer fields that double as AIDS clinics in South Africa.

The projects are designed by architects he discovers through rigorous competitions, as well as a few on staff, but Sinclair himself doesn't even have his own license - "It's technically illegal for me to call myself an architect," he teases in a washed-out English accent - so he's more catalyst than creator. His 2006 book, Design Like You Give a Damn, is now the encyclopedia of humanitarian architecture & a manual for the grassroots movement Sinclair has ignited. From Iran to Tokyo, nearly 5000 people operate under the AFH umbrella, taking on issues no one wants to face, like helping New York City plan for refugee camps in case Manhattan were ever evacuated.

Now Sinclair's work has catapulted him into the company of Bono & Bill Clinton. Last year he was awarded the TED prize (Technology, Entertainment, Design), which sets winners up to produce their dream projects. His choice was to create a Flickr-style online network housing a library of blueprints anyone can access for free. By this fall, Sinclair's Open Architecture Network, a million-dollar project, will debut as the go-to place for architects, engineers, NGOs, & even frugal civilians looking to build.

Though Sinclair has become the charismatic leader of what has long been an under-the-radar movement, his days are mostly spent in the non-profit trenches, wrangling philanthropist cash. Still, while he was in India last year, working on a school that would help get women out of brothels, he received a death threat & had to leave the country. "When I was a kid, before I knew I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to either be a war photographer or a politician," says Sinclair, who still considers breaking into politics. "I just always liked the idea of exposing truths."

Rescue Mission
Featured: Cameron Sinclair
by Danielle Sacks
Men's Vogue
May 07