The Icon 20/20 Architects: Melissa Kinnear 01.05.09

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Building Communities Workshop at the Eden Project, 2005

Everyone has heard of Médecins Sans Frontières - the superhero doctors who rush to the rescue "across borders" against all odds. But what does Architecture Sans Frontières do? And what does it mean? Melissa Kinnear, Oxford-based general manager of the UK charity, can tell you.

What it doesn't mean is architects rushing off to sites of disaster and poverty to show locals how it's done. "Doctors have skills that can save lives in really practical ways. For architects, the challenge is different. 
If they parachute into a desperate situation and impose their designs in a place they don't understand, they'll do more harm than good." Kinnear is scathing about the profession's failure to be relevant to the world's poor, but she blames architectural knowledge rather than architects, many of whom "are actually very nice".

For Kinnear, architecture needs to be reinvented. She wants us to imagine a "new professionalism, which puts participation, sustainability, and ethics" in the foreground. It starts with education. With a programme of workshops, talks, and the ever-popular ASF Summer School at the Eden Project, she is well on the way to building a better world.




Adam Laycock



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