Community Architects Network

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. [The challenge is] to make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time, with spontaneous cooperation and without ecological damage or disadvantage of anyone.” –R. Buckminster Fuller

The Community Architects Network (CAN) operates by their motto: “Let the people be the solution,” seeking to empower people throughout Asia to become the designers of their own development. Founded in 2010, CAN is a network of architects, planners, builders, engineers, lecturers, and volunteers collectively building community-driven processes of participatory design, planning, and development in 19 countries, so far. CAN sustains and amplifies a paradigm shift toward participatory design and planning by bridging the divide between “experts” and local people. Over the years, CAN has systemically disseminated useful techniques for participatory design including surveying, mapping, financial planning, and construction management. CAN has evolved the capacity to legitimize local knowledge and drive community-led solutions in the face of heavily restrictive policy regulations, institutionalizing grassroots planning and achieving comprehensive change for communities at various scales.

The cumulative architect is the one who sees people, who works with people, who sees their wisdom, who sees their solutions, and who builds his [or her] solutions on the people’s solutions.” Kirtee Shah, Senior Advisor of the Community Architects Network

Neoliberal financing, the excessive commodification of resources and services, and environmental over-exploitation are causing increasing vulnerability and inequality globally, particularly within booming urban populations. To address the issue at scale, informal settlements must be regarded not as causes, but as symptoms of deeper systemic imbalances, and the urban poor themselves can be the biggest resource for comprehensive social, economic, and environmental upgrading. By unlocking and channeling people’s knowledge, creativity, and energy into a form of bottom-up politics based on partnerships and trust, both urban and rural redevelopment can become a collective and inclusive process. Grounded in the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights’ work in community-driven settlement upgrading, the Community Architects Network (CAN) pools the resources of technical assistance teams, coordinated savings groups, local authorities, and diverse stakeholders. By facilitating comprehensive analysis of community needs, CAN leads the design of solutions to improve quality of life at multiple scales. CAN’s beneficiaries are primarily communities, but CAN also sustains a network of continuous support for over 150 community architects engaged in the field and 450 students training with community architecture curricula. CAN aims to help community groups achieve self-management, so they can “sell” their own unique expertise to governments, NGOs, and international agencies working on sustainable development. With over 30 status legalizations achieved as a result of participatory mapping, planning, and design, over 500 volunteers to date, 7 handbooks produced, and 386 distinct communities impacted, CAN has made an impressive impact after only 5 years of operation. Their vision of unlocking and channeling people’s knowledge, creativity, and energy at the grassroots to move toward a more inclusive, sustainable and livable society has the potential to become a model for disenfranchised urban populations everywhere.

For more information, please visit the Community Architects Network website: