In his keynote presentation May 15 at the AIA 2008 National Convention in Boston, Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, spoke of the nexus of that idea. (Many think that Jimmy Carter founded Habitat, he said. In actuality, it was Fuller who recruited the former president in 1984 to join the effort.)
He also shared a challenge particularly for AIA members.
Under the initial rubrik of Partnership Housing, Fuller built his first low-cost home for Bo and Emma Johnson and their five children near Americus, Ga., starting in 1969. One of the daughters, Cookie, is now a lawyer who herself is now writing mortgages for affordable homes, he said. When good deeds take root, we all share the fruit.
Fuller cited another young recipient of the opportunity to live in a modest but light-filled, comfortable home with space for studying in the form of a current student of medicine at Harvard. Years after building the house into which the then-young-child had moved, Fuller found himself onstage at the University of Portland where the young man was graduating at the top of his class in biology. He walked across the stage to where Fuller was seated, shook his hand and said: "Thanks for the house." After serving as a missionary in Asia and Africa, he now tells Fuller that he will take his newly acquired medical skills to impoverished communities to pass along the gift.
In yet another story, Fuller talked of a family who had lived in a dark, dank, uninsulated shack in which you could see the ground through the cracks in the floors. Fuller visited after the family had moved into their modest Habitat house, just to see if everything was in order. "I feel as if we've been dead, buried, and dug up," the woman said of her new house. Fuller explained that he'd contemplated those profound words and many other people have felt dead and buried but, through their built environment, have felt reborn ... dug up.
Habitat had built more than 200,000 homes worldwide by the time Fuller left as CEO in 2005, providing housing for a million people. He started the Fuller Center for Housing to expand the scope of his work to include renovation of homes so people, including the elderly, can continue living in place.
He left the 4,000 AIA members in attendance at the session with a challenge. "Architects have a hard time designing for the poor," he said, suggesting that AIA members should work to belie that statement and make a commitment to designing strong, attractive, and affordable housing, including life-cycle affordability through resource efficiency.
Fuller set the tone for this meeting, AIA President Marshall Purnell said following a rousing standing ovation. Purnell said Fuller had him looking forward to three days more of convention activities. "He made us feel we've been dead, buried, and dug up," the president said.