Architecture for Humanity / Noah Jeppson

March 10, 2016; Fast Company, “Co.Design”

In the most recent print edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly, we published a case study on the demise of Architecture for Humanity and its reincarnation as an (at that time) nameless network run by committed volunteers. Already anchored in an international network, that was the element of organizational design that remained even as the central organization went bankrupt last year.

Now, they have a new name. Garrett Jacobs, the new nonprofit’s executive director, says that at first they went a fairly traditional route, working with nonprofit branding specialists, surveys, and market research to produce two options for names.

“As soon as we put those names out, it became very clear than neither was going to work,” Jacobs said, laughing. “There was an email chain that was about 100 emails long, from all the chapters around the world, and the dialogue got really heated.”

So they stepped way back to really embrace the new ethos of the organization, asking each location to suggest a name and vote on the results. The 150 involved came to a consensus: More than half chose the name “Open Architecture Collaborative,” a name that will be modified for use in each location, as in “Open Architecture Chicago” and “Open Architecture Tokyo.” Only together are they the “collaborative.”

Fast Company writes that some would say such openness is the path to madness and chaos, but Jacobs says that it enlivened local chapters. “You have to create ownership. And participation leads to ownership,” he says. “There are hundreds of people who are already printing banners and T-shirts and are stoked about this whole organization because they participated in it.”

“As designers, we have the ability to listen and empathize. And sometimes we really just need to show up and shut up. That’s one of the strongest messages that we can send with the way the world is evolving right now.”—Ruth McCambridge