Looking beyond façades to build a better future
Alongside organisations like We-Building, you’ll find us working to support and strengthen local communities, share knowledge across the world and build strong partnerships. Architect Laura Gómez Agudelo set up the non-profit organisation We-Building to change lives, positively and sustainably. In this interview we learn why sustainability is more than simply ecology and, discover more about Laura’s motivation to help people, help themselves.
Laura, what is We-Building?
We-Building is a non-profit organisation that uses sustainable architecture to help communities around the world build a better and brighter future.
Most of us at We-Building were lucky to have had access to a good education and we feel it is our duty to pay it forward. That’s why many of the projects we do are actually schools; we support local initiatives that are fighting for a higher quality of education.
Supporting development projects in the global south (Africa and Latin America), we apply a sustainable approach to construction and project planning. Together with local NGOs, we try to impact positively the quality of life in these under resourced communities. And show that a more environmentally friendly architecture approach can have a far reaching and positive effect.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and why you set up We-Building?
Originally from Colombia, I moved to Madrid with my family, completed school and then studied to be an architect. As part of Erasmus, I studied in Finland and during this time I also had the opportunity to take a one-month trip to Cambodia and do a course called Cities in Crisis. I realised quickly that I wanted to enable people to be educated as I had been, hence the idea for We-Building.
My (now) husband, Ivan and I, set up We-Building in 2015 in the centre of Berlin. Over the years, more volunteer architects have joined us and at the present time there is a committed and highly qualified international team of 15. We have an office in the centre of Berlin, with two interns working part and full time.
Personally, do you work full-time for We-Building?
No. I would love to but we have our own bills to pay. So, I work two days a week on We-Building and three days a week in my paid job as an interior designer/ architect.
How many schools have you completed so far?
To date, We-Building has completed four schools (two in Ghana, one in Peru and one in Columbia). The first project in Ghana, I actually visited, living there for six months overseeing and working with local organisations on site to realise a children’s youth centre.
How does We-Building work?
We act as a bridge between local NGOs, funding organisations and architects. We place emphasis on systematic planning, cost efficiency, use of locally available resources and empowerment of local innovators and entrepreneurs.
We are using sustainable architecture to help communities around the world build a better and brighter future.
How will We-Building identify its next project?
Local organisations approach We-Building with a requirement. We have an evaluation process where we source references, undertake a feasibility study and then, a decision is made. Sometimes we visit the site too before, if possible.
The reality is, that our organisation and its processes are changing and improving all the time.
What role does sustainability play in each We-Building project?
For us, sustainable architecture means green, contextual and adaptive design involving three key elements.
Of course there’s the ecological aspect that people associate with being sustainable, using building materials and techniques that minimally impact the environment. For our projects, it’s more about availability of resources locally in terms of materials as well as tools and specialist labour. This can affect what is achievable.
But social impact too. Involving local architects, building trades and community, we work with young entrepreneurs, helping them develop their businesses to provide longer-term benefits.
There is also the big economic consideration. We-Building depends on donations and this funding has to be used effectively. Our priority is to deliver functional, good quality facilities.
What is your biggest challenge at We-Building?
Our biggest challenge is the practical side of running an organisation as well as the marketing, PR and fundraising. It’s also tough from a language perspective and, of course, working across different time zones.
What is your vision for the future of We-Building?
For more people to be working full time in the organisation so we can make more projects happen.
Money will always be a problem. As well as working with organisations like WICONA we also apply to private foundations for funding. But we have to fund everything ourselves, even the basics down things like office essentials! It’s all worth it though – especially when a project is completed.