The Humanitarian Side of Architecture

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 30, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

One or two fifty-minute class periods


In this activity students explore the role that architects play in rebuilding communities after natural disasters. They will learn about the aftermath of the 1906 California earthquake and fires, and current day efforts to rebuild communities after natural disasters. After conducting research, students will create a multimedia presentation highlighting what they have learned.

National Standards

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.


Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:


Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.


Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes1:


Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:


Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.


Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

National Visual Arts Standards 

Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning. Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work. Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context. Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. Anchor Standard #11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.


Students will do the following:
  • conduct Internet research
  • analyze and evaluate information from multiple sources
  • summarize and synthesize information from multiple sources
  • create a multimedia presentation
  • evaluate group work



  • computer with Internet access


Building Background Activity One: Green Dreamers

The purpose of this activity is to introduce the concept of humanitarian design. 1. Choose two students to read aloud the following interview from the Sustainability Center, which features architect Cameron Sinclair: Ask the students to discuss their reactions to Sinclair's thoughts on humanitarian design and designing for global change.

Steps for Learning Historical & Current Day Elements of Humanitarian Design

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with background information on the history of humanitarian design and architects' roles in rebuilding after natural disasters. 1. As a class, read the following excerpt that describes what the 1906 San Francisco earthquake taught us about humanitarian design 2. Divide your class into small groups and ask them to conduct research on the role that architects are playing in rebuilding communities after natural disasters. Students can learn about projects in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Grenada, Iran, and New Orleans. Have the students use the following websites as resources: 3. Ask each group to create a slideshow presentation using photographs, sketches, images and text showcasing what it has learned about the role architects play in rebuilding communities after natural disasters. 4. Compile the students' work into a class slideshow. Invite others in the school and community to view the presentation.



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them assess the quality of their slideshow presentations. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you needed to create your presentation. -Rate the overall effectiveness of your slideshow presentation. -Rate how clearly you communicated the key concepts you wanted to address. -Rate your creativity.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Extending Your Thoughts
Ask your students to respond in writing journals to the following prompts:
  • What role should design play in providing basic shelter?
  • Is design a luxury or a necessity?

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.