The Tenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2008
Berkeley Prize 2008

Nicole Graycar Proposal

Architectural Altruism 

In the United States, many of us easily take for granted the privilege of assured shelter and working utilities. Ordinarily, only in times of crisis, such as the devastation stemming from natural disasters, do individuals in the developed world feel the pain of unmet basic needs. After evacuating for Hurricane Katrina, my first time returning to New Orleans was awe-inspiring as the amenities that I took for granted were no more and the prior urban civilization that I loved was reduced to seeming wasteland. I was aghast as my grocery store and favorite coffee shop stood in ruins, and inconvenienced by the lack of natural gas in my apartment.

As the scope of the disaster became evident, I was ashamed that my relative comfort following the storm paled in comparison to the hardships my friends and neighbors were experiencing. In the days and weeks following the disaster, the American government was slow to act as thousands lacked basic shelter and working utilities. Unfortunately, these extraordinary conditions in the Western world are excepted realities by far too many in the developing world.

For my Berkeley Prize essay, I argued for a competition that would provide temporary housing in the wake of natural disasters, designing prototypes that could be expanded to serve the general homeless population and refugees fleeing various types of persecution. I still believe that this is an absolutely necessary pursuit fulfilling a great need for temporary housing, as we are in the throws of global warming and the devastation it inspires. However, if providing housing to those who have lost it is necessary, building homes for those that never had housing in the first place is absolutely mandatory. So many in this world do not have access to basic shelter and the security it affords. Children lack school buildings. Doctors are without hospital and clinic spaces.

Aside from public and civic construction, a more intimate tragedy lies in the fact that some have never had a home to call their own, a place to provide protection for their families and refuge from the desolation existing outside of their walls. Natural disasters in this country and around the world have taken that privilege from those already aware of the honor.

The question of the lack of appropriate housing also encompasses those that have never known the pleasures of a personal retreat. “Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Village trips gives participants a unique opportunity to become active partners with people of another culture. Team members work alongside members of the host community, raising awareness of the burden of poverty housing and building decent, affordable housing worldwide. As partners, team members help build a true global village of love, homes, communities, and hope!”

My proposal for the 2008 Travel Fellowship is to participate in the Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program in Lesotho from August 9th to 23rd. Habitat for Humanity, as an organization, “seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action”.

This specific program is an Enhanced Build Adventure, meaning that the organization asks the volunteers to ‘rough it’, living with the community being served in the conditions that the residents live in on an everyday basis. Accommodations will likely include guesthouses or community centers that do not have electricity or running water. The program is co-sponsored by the Anir Foundation, started by the Team Leader of this excursion, who believed that Americans should experience international volunteerism within a cultural framework.

All of Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Programs take Americans of all ages, races, and creeds to various areas around the world in an effort to fight homelessness and global poverty. Lesotho is, even by Habitat standards, very under-developed as most places are extremely rural with no electricity or individual sewage disposal systems. This specific trip is accentuated by a possible cultural and historical examination of South Africa in a Pre-Build exercise. This is not required to be a part of the construction team, but would provide a greater understanding of architecture as a social art within a social framework.

The Lesotho trip would aid a Habitat community outside of the capital city of Maseru. Building commenced in the area in 2002 after local officials donated over two-hundred housing plots, affirming the local community’s desire and determination to provide appropriate shelter for their friends and neighbors. Habitat for Humanity volunteers would help to build homes “constructed of cement block and brick that include a ventilated pit latrine but no electricity.” This is indeed an improvement over current conditions as many housing areas in Lesotho have “as many as fifteen families sharing one latrine and children playing near open sewage”. Habitat also states that, “the Ministry of Local Government reports that more than 45,000 units of decent, affordable housing are needed to resolve the current crisis in the capital district alone.” For a country scoured by aids with consequent large numbers of AIDS orphans, decent housing is of the utmost importance for the under-privileged population.


August 9 - Depart from home August 10 – Everyone arrives in Lesotho August 11-15 – Build August 16-17 – Cultural R&R August 18-22 – Build August 22 – Evening dedication ceremony August 23 – Depart for home or post-build activities

Due to this trip being an Enhanced Adventure Build, the possible itinerary also includes pre-build and post-build sessions. The pre-build activities take place in Cape Town, with activities concerning South African geography, culture, wildlife, and vernacular architecture. The HIV/AIDS crisis is addressed by meeting with community organizations that battle the epidemic and taking a tour of an AIDS orphanage. Walking tours focus on the local vernacular. Museums concerning cultural aspects of the area and the Apartheid are visited. The group also visits the prison where Mandela was held, with a tour led by former inmates of the Apartheid government.

I earned an International Baccalaureate at the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales and Mandela is the Honorary President of our council. Being that Mandela is my personal hero, I would expect that to be very inspirational.

Experiencing and learning about South African culture and history would enable me to be prepared to enter the intended community with an understanding of the social framework. This would definitely turn a building venture into an exercise of architecture as a social art, serving a society with specific histories and influences.

As a note, I do realize that last year’s winner traveled to South Africa. The Pre-Build activities are in South Africa, but the building project is in the very deserving and under-developed country of Lesotho.

Estimated Cost

• $1,770 - $1,900 for Build portion • Includes: lodging, food, ground transportation, tour to the Cape of Good Hope, traveler’s medical insurance, orientation materials, donation to Habitat South Africa • Not Included: air transportation to Cape Town (Probably will exceed $1000 stipend)

I believe that joining the Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program team in Lesotho to build homes for those that need them most can educate me on another aspect of the housing crisis. I have seen the agony of those that have had adequate homes and lost them through the devastation stemming from natural disasters. I would now like to experience the blight of a community that was never granted that honor. Shelter is a basic human need that has been neglected and unattainable in many parts of our world. I would be honored to have the opportunity to turn one community’s impossible dream into a life-changing reality.

Sources: (program website) (affiliate website)

Team Leader: Adrienne Biesemeyer, Anir Foundation executive director, (

Additional Help and Information

Are you in need of assistance? Please email
Nicole Graycar, Carnegie Mellon University, USA; Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program, Lesotho
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