MEET Chandra Farley: architectural maven and AFHA organizer.
Chandra heads the Atlanta chapter of Architecture for Humanity, an all volunteer group aiming to join architects and those interested in architecture with meaningful projects for those in need. She sat down with the FEED for an in-depth look at her organization and its impact. From creating the awesome and useful to theorizing about the endless possible, AFHA aims to take architecture to the next level of good, impacting Atlanta and beyond.
Tell us about Architecture for Humanity:
Architecture for Humanity provides pro-bono services for those who otherwise would not be able to afford it. It was founded in 1999 in New York by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr and started as a disaster reconstruction organization. So Architecture for Humanity helped find transitional housing for displaced persons in the Kosovo war and it is the organization that’s going to be there to rebuild, 5 years down the road versus just the first 60 days. Over time, the local chapters grew out of people calling in to see how they can help with a lot of these disasters. Local chapters maintain the initial core mission, but on a local level.
What kinds of projects does the Atlanta chapter focus on, locally?
We focus on disaster in a broader scope. Socioeconomic disaster, poverty, and disparity. Here in Atlanta, one of our founding projects is the Oasis project, an annual design project where new designs are proposed for MARTA’s bus shelter. It was born out of one of our members going to a bus stop in the pouring rain, and wondering why there was no shelter. The chapter investigated and discovered that MARTA doesn’t pay for shelters. A private company comes in and gives MARTA the shelter for free in exchange for ad revenue. So while there may be a stop with high ridership, there may not be a shelter because the ad revenue is not as desirable or as high in say 10th street.
What do you think of the attitude toward collaboration among organizations in Atlanta? Are they willing and ready to come together?
I don’t think mergers should happen to the point where different groups lose their own identity. Because I think for whatever reason there are certain triggers for different people. So there are some engineers who run some really wealthy engineering projects and really like Engineers Without Borders. And then there are architects who love design and have always loved Architecture for Humanity. So I don’t think we need to homogenize. But I think when we maintain our identities and work together we have a larger base to work from. Because people like to be told what to do. especially people with money. As a small nonprofit we can’t put on events like wine auctions at the High. But we can give reason for them to want to engage with us. So I think just expanding partnerships and finding the common denominator works.
What are some other issues that you see in Atlanta?
Trendiness. Atlanta is still very new south and it’s still very old south. So there are traditions and ways of doing things that people control because they have money. Money is important obviously. But I wish people would engage more in an issue that spoke to them honestly instead of going to a trendy wine auction at the High. The High is awesome. I love wine. I’d love to be able to go to the High wine auction. But you can give AFHA $1000 and we can build 3 bus shelters in Atlanta.
I think people need to feel comfortable with the fact that they can affect change. Because a lot of things that we are facing now, can’t solely be fixed by throwing money at it.
What are your favorite projects in the city?
Southface. People think Southface isn’t community oriented anymore and if you talk to executive director Dennis Creech, he’s very conflicted about that. He remembers when there was no such thing as green. There was the Georgia Solar Coalition going to Alabama, trying to teach people about energy efficiency. Southface does really great work. I think the disconnect is growing pains. You’re so used to operating the way you were, and you’re growing at an exponential rate. But you’re so used to digging in and doing the work, that sometimes your message really isn’t clear. When you’re constantly surrounded by a group of people who share your vision and you don’t understand how to effectively communicate to people outside of the organization. I think that’s how you know people are doing good work but you have to be ready to grab on and not be afraid they’re going to dilute their message.
Where can interested readers find you?
Twitter @AFHAtlanta, our Blog or Facebook.
What FEED’s your soul?
I feed my soul with volunteer work.