- Article by Elisa Scarton
Hundreds of architecture studios across Australia have offered their services free of charge to communities affected by the recent bushfires.
At the time of writing, close to 300 architecture and building design practices from across the country have signed up to Architects Assist, an initiative started by Atelier Jiri Lev principal Jiri Lev, who was born in the Czech Republic.
Lev tells ADR he was inspired to launch Architects Assist after speaking to some of the people who had lost everything in the fires.
“It became apparent that a much better coordinated, centralised and united effort was required,” he says.
“Being someone with some understanding in both architecture and computing, Architects Assist was a natural step.”
Lev created a website for the initiative little more than a week ago. Registered architects or qualified building design professionals keen to do their bit can simply sign up using an online form.
They’ll then be connected with groups or individuals who have lost their homes and don’t have sufficient means to start rebuilding their lives. Small businesses or communities that have lost shops, halls, churches and theatres can also apply for assistance.
“It starts with being easily approachable and listening when someone asks for help,” Lev says.
“Architects can then do as little as give qualified advice or as much as provide comprehensive design and planning services free ofcharge to those who need it most.”
The initiative encourages any designs for replacement structures to be “architecturally considered, owner-builder friendly, resilient in natural disasters, built with sustainable materials, compact and spatially efficient and extremely affordable”.
More than 600 students and graduates have also signed up to help if any opportunity becomes available.
A building and urban designer, Lev has experience working in sustainable public, residential and disaster-relief architecture.
His own style of design leans heavily on sustainable, natural or near-raw construction materials and construction methods.
He’s also the founder of ArchiCamp, an annual grassroots gathering of Australian and international architects and architecture students, which introduced the concept of guerilla-style architecture gatherings.
Architects Assists’ services are voluntary and pro-bono, and it does not receive any funding. Nor is it currently accepting financial support or donations.
“At this point, Architects Assist acts as a triage, coordination and referral service,” Lev says.
“We aim to establish a permanent, easily accessible platform where architects may easily connect with those who need them the most, but can least afford their services. Our secondary aim is to support the profession and its agency to contribute and advance society.”
Lev hopes the initiative will operate indefinitely and extend beyond our borders to assist with natural disasters in other parts of the world.
“We want to enable those affected by present and future disasters to rebuild their lives, either by themselves or with help from the community, at once or in stages, with the minimum amount of money.”
He says bushfire-affected communities have already begun reaching out through the online platform.
“It’s still too soon for most of our potential clients to even begin to think about recovery. Many communities are still fighting for mere survival. However we’ve begun to receive enquiries and these are currently being assessed and referred to suitable professionals. Patience is key in all our efforts.”
To further this cause, the initiative has also put together a bushfire-zone design knowledge base, which it says is an instrument for sharing knowledge and expertise.
Architects Assist isn’t the only initiative set up in response to the recent bushfires.
Tradies For Affected Communities was started along a similar vein, offering pro-bono services from registered tradespeople.
Brickworks has also offered to replace all bricks and roof tiles, free of charge, for bushfire victims who built their home with Austral Bricks or Bristile Roof Tiles
For homes constructed from other building materials, Brickworks will offer 50 percent off all materials in its building products portfolio.
Airbnb has also stepped up to provide free temporary housing for those affected by the fires in New South Wales and Victoria through its Open Homes platform.
This isn’t the first time Australia’s architects have united to help bushfire victims. Following the 2009 fires, the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority published the plans of 19 architect-designed homes help to rebuild the 2000 homes lost.