Seattle Architects Design Award-Winning Community Tech Center


Seattle's The Global Studio took top honors this month in 2007 AMD Open Architecture Challenge. The four internationally experienced architectural designers behind the studio (which works exclusively with NGOs and charitable causes) are Stephanie Ingram, Geoff Piper, Matthew Sullivan and Ashley Waldron. Their winning entry, featured in the photo above, will be built in Kenya with funds supplied by AMD.

In September 2007, AMD and Architecture for Humanity (Worldchanging Team member Cameron Sinclair leads AFH) originally posed the challenge to designers around the globe: Envision a facility that will empower a needy community in the developing world with access to information technology.

The Global Studio created the Slums Information Development and Resource Centre (SIDAREC) Technology Hub, a technology-focused community resource center designed for an informal settlement of more than 250,000 people on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. SIDAREC, an NGO operating in Kenya's impoverished rural communities, maintains the philosophy that "community problems need community solutions." The winning design integrates that meme into its process: The community center will not be ready for construction until the designers have solicited community feedback, revisited their model with those ideas, and created something that uniquely answers the needs and desires of the people who will use it.

"We look at this competition and others like it as an opportunity to test the ideas behind our studio's community design process," says Piper. "We focus on not doing a design and then forcing it on a community; instead, we run design exercises within the community, so they're involved in the design process. When it's ready to go, they own it and they have a stake in seeing it done."

Existing SIDAREC facility (Credit: The Global Studio)

Proposed SIDAREC facility (Credit: The Global Studio)

Designers Sullivan and Piper had previously conducted graduate research in Kenya, and the facility's design reflects their cultural conscientiousness. To draw in passersby, street-side public facilities include a radio station, pay phones, an Internet café and a screen for projecting educational films and messages. Intermediary gathering spaces fluidly access such larger outdoor meeting spaces as the amphitheater, addressing a social preference to use outdoor, shaded space for large group gatherings.

Existing community soccer field (Credit: The Global Studio)

Proposed community soccer field (Credit: The Global Studio)

Facility entryway (Credit: The Global Studio)

The layout also creates a needed beacon for the community benefits it offers. "One of the things SIDAREC really liked about the design was the tower element at the front," says Piper. "They saw that as an icon of SIDAREC itself, and of the community it serves. That tower could be identified with the radio station, which they say is listened to by 600,000 people."

The 2007 AMD Open Architecture Challenge was sponsored through 50x15, a global initiative founded by AMD with the goal of enabling Internet access and computing capability for 50 percent of the world's population by the year 2015. A total of 566 entrants from 57 countries participated in the challenge, and regional awards were also given for designs created for South America and Asia. See images of these and other top-placing entries here. Or click to learn about AMD's 2009 challenge: Re-imagine the Portable Classroom.

We at Worldchanging offer our congratulations to The Global Studio, and our gratitude to institutions like AMD and Architecture for Humanity that motivate such outpourings of humanitarian problem-solving. On a personal level, it's hard for me not to think of competitions like these as much-needed training for the immense mobilization we will need to face the challenges ahead. When I see the caliber of original thought and technical skill that's out there, though, I can't help but feel immensely hopeful that we really will rise to the occasion.