6 Design Firms Championing Social Impact Through Architecture

These design firms have stepped away from high-end projects, turning their attention to underserved communities across the world.

Nidhi Upadhyaya Nidhi Upadhyaya

Have you designed a project with a considerable social impact? Consider submitting to the Architecture +Affordable Design or Architecture +For Good categories in Architizer’s 10th Annual A+Awards

Organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Public Architecture, Design Corps and Architects Without Frontiers have been facilitating the creation of impactful architectural projects across the world. These institutions are addressing the global disparity in living conditions and providing affordable living, education, healthcare or community infrastructure in different regions while also promoting local skill-building and sustainable construction.

There are now a few architecture firms and architecture NGOs that also stepping into similar roles and turning their focus to social impact projects. The firms listed below have been working in collaboration with other not-for-profit institutions to create sustainable solutions for rural communities in parts of Asia and Africa. Apart from providing infrastructure, they are also focusing on creating local jobs, educating residents and enabling economic change in these regions.

MASS Design Group

Boston, Massachusetts | Founded 2008
Best in Humanitarian Architecture, 2021 A+Firm Awards

Maternity Waiting Village by MASS Design Group, Kasungu, Malawi | Jury Winner, 2017 A+Awards, Architecture +Humanitarianism

Ilima Primary School by MASS Design Group, Ilima, Democratic Republic of the Congo | Jury Winner, 2016 A+Awards, Architecture +Sustainability

Founded by architects Alan Ricks and Michael Murphy, this firm strives to create educational and healthcare infrastructure in developing communities. The firm wants to “shape environments that enhance physical and emotional health and that liberate people from undignified structures”. To further their cause, the not-for-profit firm started their own construction arm MASS. Their projects aim to boost the local economy, education and employment during the construction process.

For these reasons and more, the firm was named winner of the Humanitarian Architecture category in Architizer’s A+Firm Awards in 2021. A number of projects in their portfolio have also received accolades in the A+Awards over the past few years. These include the Ilima Primary School in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Maternity Waiting Village in Malawi, and the Ruhehe Primary School and Butaro Hospital in Rwanda.

Project Little Dream

Hong Kong | Founded 2008

Thon Mun Community Centre by Project Little Dream, Takeo, Cambodia | Popular Winner, 2014 A+Awards, Architecture +Self Initiated Projects

The Hong Kong-based charity constructs and runs schools in the Takeo region in Cambodia. At present, they have about 630 students in the five schools constructed over the past decade. Now run by the local charity New Futures Organization, their A+Award winning Thon Mun Community Centre acts as a gathering space for the residents a place where children can avail free classes. Local bamboo and rubble from destroyed temples in the area were used for its construction. The Thnouh School, another project which offers free education and gathering spaces, takes inspiration from a local village house and was built by volunteers and 30 local craftsmen using locally sourced materials.

Sharon Davis Design

New York, New York | Founded 2007

Women’s Opportunity Center by Sharon Davis Design, Kayonza, Rwanda | Popular Choice and Jury Winner, 2015 A+Awards, Architecture +Community

Partners in Health Housing by Sharon Davis Design, Rwinkwayu, Rwanda | Popular Choice and Jury Winner, 2016 A+Awards, Architecture +Low Cost Housing

Sharon Davis Design has gained popularity over the years for its cost-effective and energy-effective projects for non-profit organizations that are improving the lives of many in communities across the world. Their aim is to champion fundamental human rights and economic empowerment alongside sustainable design. This is reflected in their project Women’s Opportunity Center in Rwanda. Local women who helped construct this project by making the clay bricks required and are now being hired as masons in the neighborhood. The building also functions as a place for them to learn new skills and sell products that they have created.


Tanzania | Founded 2012

Old Habits, New Ideas by C-re-a.i.d., Arusha, Tanzania

Community Hall by C-re-a.i.d., Moshi Urban, Tanzania

Change Research Architecture Innovation Design, a Belgian architectural NGO, has been working on low-cost projects in Northern Tanzania since 2012. They are constantly working on different methodologies of building to work towards a sustainable and affordable housing module, thereby sparking change in poverty-stricken regions in the world. They have been working with communities in Tanzania and using easily available materials and alternatives such as earth bags and plastic bottles filled with sand to build projects and initiatives that address the social infrastructure needs in these regions.

Diana Kellogg Architects

New York, New York | Founded 1992

Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School by Diana Kellogg Architects, Jaisalmer, India | Project of the Year, 2021 A+Awards; Jury Winner, 2021 A+Awards, Primary & High Schools; Jury Winner, 2021 A+Awards, Architecture +For Good

The New York-based architect started her career with high-end projects but has now shifted her focus to non-profit and community projects. Her recent project Rajkumari Ratnavati Girl’s School in Jaisalmer won several accolades. The school, commissioned by CITTA, caters to over 400 girls below the poverty line in the Thar Desert region in India. Also known as the GYAAN Center, the school is part of three buildings in the complex. The other two are a performance center and a cooperative space where local artisans impart their skills to women in the locality. Kellogg also recently worked pro bono on the design for a School in Limi Valley, Nepal which was also commissioned by CITTA.

Inscape Publico

Washington, D.C. | Founded 2010

Inscape Publico is another non-profit architecture firm that collaborates with other organizations across health, arts, education and human services sectors to cater to underserved populations. The firm wants these communities to have access to professional architecture services and help them find smart solutions to improve their daily lives. They have worked on projects like affordable housing, performance centers and health clinics.

Have you designed a project with a considerable social impact? Consider submitting to the Architecture +Affordable Design or Architecture +For Good categories in Architizer’s 10th Annual A+Awards

Nidhi Upadhyaya Author: Nidhi Upadhyaya
Nidhi Upadhyaya is an architect and journalist from Mumbai, India. When not working, she can be found binging on DIY videos, experimenting with art mediums or making a dent in her large to-read list. She has previously worked as Features Writer for Elle Decor India, Assistant Editor for India Inc, Art Director for the print edition of Bombay Binge and is currently the Editorial Assistant at TED-Ed in New York.
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