Architecture Sans Frontières UK 

Design Assistant, Emma Carpenter, shares an insight into her role and work with Architecture Sans Frontières UK (ASF-UK).  

ASF-UK is a non profit organisation that uses community led design and planning to create fairer cities.

Architecture Sans Frontières UK (ASF-UK) is a non-profit organisation focused on empowering communities to lead meaningful change in their cities and urban environments. Beyond architectural professionals, ASF-UK members are a diverse group of practitioners both within and outside the built environment. Predominantly volunteer based, ASF-UK uses collaboration and design as key tools to exchange knowledge and challenge existing systems that erase the voices of marginalised communities globally. ASF-UK operates within four programmes: 

Change by Design – Utilises participatory design and planning tools to support marginalised communities in shaping their cities.

Resilience by Design – Establishes local partnerships to aid communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate breakdown.

Inclusion by Design – Focuses on equipping built environment professionals to design inclusive, fair, and safe cities.

Challenging Practice – A learning programme on inclusive and sustainable urban development open to anyone.

Since autumn 2023, I have been an Associate at ASF-UK, supporting the organisation’s activities and contributing to ASF-UK’s efforts towards creating fairer cities. Much of the work is on an ad hoc volunteer basis, complementing my MArch degree. In the last nine months, I have participated in multiple initiatives that have widened my perspective on the impact of architecture. 

As a new associate, the 2023 Annual General Meeting was a great opportunity to meet colleagues and future collaborators in person. Discussions centred around regenerative design, a methodology that focuses on the hyperlocal needs of a community and ecology.  

I also attended the Challenging Practice Stage A seminar, a learning programme on inclusive and sustainable urban development. The programme is organised into 3 stages: Framing (a two day seminar), Acting (an immersive project), and Reflecting (critical and theoretical reflection). Guided by members of ASF-UK’s senior team, groups completed scenario based and problem solving work over the two days, focused the experiences of migrants in urban cities.  

The seminar left me reconsidering my past degree and practice work and shifted my perspective in terms of the scale of impact of a built environment professional. Taking this forward in my current thesis work, I believe I will be a better designer due to this emerging ability to deeply consider the needs of the most vulnerable groups within society. In today’s social, environmental, and political climate, I believe it is important for built environment professionals to equip themselves with as many skills as possible, as fundamentally, we are all skilled in using our creativity to solve problems, which should not be reserved for those with capital. 

So far, I have been involved with two projects at ASF-UK, including the overhaul of their social media channels, and the illustration and collation of ‘Our Right to Adequate Housing’, a report stemming from a series of Change by Design projects based on the experiences of inhabitants of informal settlements in Johannesburg. Every project at ASF-UK is varied and an opportunity to learn about a side of architecture I would otherwise not have the exposure to.  

ASF-UK recently published their collective statement for the community led reconstruction of Antakya following the 2023 earthquake. 


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