Some longtime readers may know I’m enormously frustrated at the corporatization of engineering, and think that if engineers say they solve problems then there are some enormous problems of housing, lack of clean water, and energy use in impoverished communities across the globe that need solving and we engineers as a profession should get cracking on them. Here are two couple of examples of people who are doing just that:

  • Architecture for Humanity is an organization that started after the South Asian tsunami to design buildings to help rebuild not only the structure but also the spirit and soul of the communities devastated by the water. Read more about them here.
  • Rose Companies, a development company in New York, designs living spaces to “repair the fabric of communities” in holistic and sustainable ways. See a podcast about their Affordable Housing designs on E2 (there’s some negotiation of the website to do). The rest of the stories profiled by E2 are also exceptional.

Do you out there in the Internetz have other ideas? Oh, I so hope so, ’cause we need new models for how to engage in meaningful, humanitarian, and sustainable engineering practice.


  1. #1 Don Moyer
    June 27, 2008

    I once taught a course on engineering and social responsibility at Northwestern and found Ed Layton’s book especially useful. Here’s a link to info about it:

  2. #2 speedwell
    June 27, 2008

    I was just reading about the Aprovecho Research Center and their Rocket Stoves at BoingBoing. Here’s the link to the BoingBoing article:

  3. #3 Philip H.
    June 27, 2008

    I’ve been a big fan of the Auburn University Rural Studio since the 1990’s. My brother, who now works in NYC, was trained there, and served on the faculty for several years. These folks are doing heroic sustainable architecture in a really unlikely place.

  4. #4 becca
    June 27, 2008

    I don’t know too much about this (not being an engineer) but there are a couple of socially-responsible innovations I’ve heard of recently (though you can argue neither is very engineering-y).

    The first is Kamen’s water purifier
    The second is the work of Bart Knols- who I met at a malaria conference. So I’d imagine that malaria isn’t a problem that most engineers think of tackling, but it wasn’t so long ago we had it in the US, and I think it was mostly simple engineering eliminating standing water that helped solve that problem.
    Anyway, Knols’s a biologist, but with a very interesting low-tech yet engineering-like problem solving attitude. He has found a fungus that can be used to treat standing water which interferes with the mosquito that spreads malaria. Apparently he’s also won an Ignobel for finding out that that mosquito is equally attracted to the odors of human feet and limburger cheese!
    Here’s a story on the fungus stuff:

    Nothing wrong with high-tech (I know some interesting things about drug-eluting stents too!) but I feel that if the aim is social responsibility, these sorts of things have an important role.

  5. #5 Kim
    June 27, 2008

    My college’s physics & engineering department (we’re a public liberal arts college; no undergrad engineering departments) has a chapter of Engineers Without Borders. They’ve worked on clean water in mountain villages in Thailand, and are working on another water project in Ecuador this summer.

  6. #6 Alice
    July 1, 2008

    Thanks y’all, these are good ideas. Any others out there? Lurkers, this is an invite to delurk… 🙂

  7. #7 niepolski
    July 4, 2008

    There’s a minor in Humanitarian Engineering at Colorado School of Mines.

    YouTube video about it:
    Humanitarian Eng. Video

    Homepage at CSM, think the blog’s more accurate but it’s linked from there.

    I was on the Honduras project shown on youtube, but I’m not one of the people who talks. I’d have a minor in it if I had managed to take 2 more required classes for it, but I didn’t pull it off. (I graduated in May with my bachelors!)
    Still a great program, with a couple long-term projects, and some that seem to be turning into long-term projects.

    Sorry if the links don’t work, I don’t comment much and wasn’t sure how to make them.

  8. #8 Gabriel
    July 24, 2008

    Just found out that EWB, mentioned by Kim, has some projects running in my country. Gotta spread the news, so maybe my mother’s town can apply for one.

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