“ What we seek at the deepest level is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty”
–Alain De Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
In general, architecture is normally portrayed as elite, luxurious, artistic, professional, poetic, demanding, etc. Thinking about how the mass media describe architecture, is somehow biased. Architects in movies are often portrayed in black suit, with a roll of drawings stuck underneath their arms, looking polished. Architects are rarely depicted as an essential members involved directly on the construction sites, getting their hands dirty. If I were to ask anyone to describe architecture in one word, none would say HUMAN.
Simply looking at the project by Orkidstudio is overwhelming. It is truly the architecture of humanity and love. Each of the projects are done with others and for others. It’s inspiring to see how the designer and locals work together, partaking in their respective skills and knowledge throughout the process, by not only creating innovative architecture, but by building a necessity for a change.
Established in 2008 by James Mitchell, Julissa Kiyenje and Su Mei Tan, Orkidstudio is a non-profit humanitarian design organization whose focus is to benefit younger generation and societies worldwide through innovative and sustainable architecture, art and design. They strongly believe creativity has the power to inspire and instill pride within people regardless of race, nationality or circumstances. From the project they have done, it can be seen how each project benefits the communities, and the architecture creates a certain kind of relationship with the locals. Bridging the differences and sharing the knowledge and skills with the locals through hands-on project from the design phase until construction have made a significant improvement to the local community. The local youth, man and woman find it fun and heartening. Their main focus is not just on the final product; but also on the experience shared throughout the process involved within the project.
Another unique approach adopted by Orkidstudio is how they committed to exploring new hands-on techniques with simple detailing together with economic and sustainable material. Not only by including locals in the project, but by using local resources that make it suitable for the climate. They believed by investing in good design, they will be able to educate the locals and leave a lasting positive social impact.
Other than sharing knowledge and skills, the Orkidstudio focus is on relieving poverty, transforming lives, promoting sustainable urban, encouraging social development, and to promoting empowerment. They also create an awareness by engaging the architectural community and the public through exhibitions, films, workshop, and lectures. They have received a number of applications for volunteers to get involved with each of the project.
Interestingly, their project is not merely about designing, but they also involve in research and innovations. Their innovations is on the earth-bag construction and modular design for temporary structures for disaster shelter. This further promoting the idea that architecture can be made simple and practical. Their focus on the necessity of resourcing locally evokes creativity around the design team. Both of the projects mentioned respond to the issues, while with a tight budget. In order to work within these design constraints, the Orkidstudio team desperately pours their heart into creating most economical and sustainable approach.
In 2014 Orkidstudio launched a research project at the Mackintosh School of Architecture (MSA), in Glasgow, UK called the 1k House. The aim was to examine the idea and make a prototype house for using earthbags construction at a very low cost. The 1k house was designed for a single mother with 8 children, Hellen Nyambura Kamau. Hellen was living in low quality rental timber structure, she owns no land and makes so little that she can barely provide for her family. The house is now built on a land purchased by Orkidstudio with enough finances for some livestocks.
Other than financial and economical concern, the 1k house is to test the idea behind the earthbags construction. The environmental and sustainability issue were the primary concern behind this thought. Typically the rural dwellings are built using concrete, stone and corrugated metal roof. These modern rural African homes are far from comfortable. They are too hot, badly lit and under ventilated. The thermal mass of earthbag improves the indoor environment of the house, in response to daytime temperature that is hot and night time which is cooler.
As a student in this architecture program, I was fortunate to be exposed to the project via its latest exhibition “EMPOWERMENT – Social change through building” at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, UK. This exhibition tells a story about how the process of building has an impact on the social development in developing countries. It introduces the humanitarian projects by Orkidstudio, which promotes the idea of architecture as a process and not a product to the country with architectural input is vastly absent.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”
To support, donate, volunteer and involve in the project please visit
Photo and Video courtesy of Peter Dindin and Orkidstudio
by Syafa S.M Mustaffa