About “Architecture for Development”

by David Week on 27 April 2010


Why this blog

Below, I’ve pasted my professional “about” blurb from my CV, written in some version of bureaucratese. It serves as a potted history of my professional life, and provides some insight, I guess, into my professional persona.

But I’m not blogging to further my professional career, which is doing just fine. Here are the reasons behind this blog:

  • Over the years, you accumulate a body of knowledge. I like sharing knowledge. This is my way of doing it.
  • Projects provide amazing opportunities to encounter hard but worthwhile problems, and to work them through with talented with talented people from completely different professions, worldviews and cultures (and I include local villagers in that description.) But all this happens inside the box called “development”. Development also raises questions, and this blog is my chance to talk about the questions that arise outside the box.
  • I keep on telling myself that I want to write a book. One of my favourite quotes about writing is this one, from one George Fowler:

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

  • My experience parallels George’s. On the other hand, I probably write three novels worth of text per year to friends and listservs, because I enjoy written dialogue much more than that blood-sweat-inducing monologue. So this blog is also a way of ramping up to a book, by writing in at least imagined dialogue with an audience (or perhaps dialogue with an imagined audience.) If it turns into real dialogue, with a real audience: I’ll be rapt.
  • I often talk to architects who want to become involved in international development. That’s great. This blog is a way of avoiding repetition.
  • I think writing is important. Projects are, basically, one-to-one work. They have limited reach. Writing is one to many, and I think every professional career needs both.

From my CV

David Week has thirty years experience in overseas development assistance in the Asia-Pacific region, and now in Africa. He started with a focus on social infrastructure, has developed cross-sectoral expertise in strategic planning, program and project design and management, and M&E in justice, health, education and community development. His PhD focused on how professionals need to change the way they think and work to succeed interculturally. He has worked for multilaterals, bilaterals, contractors, NGOs and national and subnational governments; has managed an NGO and a consulting company; and has worked both long term, in the field, and short term, as project director, reviewer, evaluator, and adviser.

In the first part of his career, from 1978 to 1985, David co-founded an co-managed a Papua New Guinean NGO: the Community Based Building Program. Operating as a social enterprise, the CBBP assisted communities, NGOs, and provincial and national government to build new facilities in ways that maximised continuity of PNG building knowledge and tradition, and mobilised and strengthened local human and material resource bases.

In the second phase of his career, from 1985 to 2000, David continued to work on projects in PNG, but—now based in Sydney—he extended his work to includethe design and implementation of activities for AusAID and the World Bank, the planning and design of strategies, programs and facilities for Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander communities, the organisation of corporate workplaces based on organisational culture, and assisted resource companies to fulfil their community obligations.

For the last ten years, David has worked at the strategic and systemic level, looking at how to improve institutional and private sector capacity to implement planning and building projects, re-organise for greater effectiveness and efficiency. Because infrastructure touches on all sectors, and because he has worked at the strategic and systemic levels, he has developed a sound working knowledge of issues and strategies in education, health, local governance, justice and rural development. He has contributed to broader social aims of these other sectors through the disciplines drawn from the infrastructure sector, which emphasise measureable results, time, quality, and fitness-for-purpose.

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  • Anonymous

    I currently live and work and NY. I am very interested in working in international developmental assistance. I have started doing research for work opportunities. Can you suggest a place to start looking for these opportunities.

    Thank you very much.

    • It can be difficult to break in, especially for someone from the United States. I suggest:

      (a) International volunteer organisations. Once you have field experience, it becomes easier.

      (b) International NGOs. You’d start in the office, but may get field experience opportunities internally.

      (c) Specialised degrees. You don’t mention what your technical background is, but if you get a degree related to international development, your job prospects improve.

      To get an idea of what kinds of work might be available, have a look at:


      If you tell me a bit about your skill background, I might be able to point you to more targeted places to look.

  • Beatrice

    Hi David
    I am a young French architect and I am currently seeking a job from Paris. It has been three months that I search everyday. I have contacted a lot of NGO, the UN, etc and for the moment it seems that no one is interested because I do not have any experience on field.
    I never worked in France, I studied in France, but also in Italy (one year), in Morocco (one year). I worked in the UK, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Lebanon (three months) and in Australia (six months). I always worked in architectural firms.
    How can I do to find a job in development, more specific in health and in education? This is my aim, this is why it is so hard for me to find a job in this sector as I don’t have experience in construction. I worked on various health projects (hospital, renal dialysis unit, medicine schools).
    Could you give me some advices please? Thank you!!

    • Hi

      I think that there are two keys. (a) think of yourself as an infrastructure specialist, rather than as an architect (limited demand), and (b) get some experience in the field, one way or another.

      I would suggest getting a volunteer position in the field, first. Make sure you are working in a proper development context, i.e. not on some one-off project not connected to a reputable development agency.

      Another way in is to sell yourself not as a architect, but as program manager. There are many program managers in development, and most of them don’t have the skills in time, money and resource management that architects do (or should have.)

      Once you are “in” the system, it’s much easier to move around within the system.

  • Angel Cereceda

    I’m so exited about your blog. Its really interesting to find architecture, project management and development issues/themes in the same blog. Amazing! Congratulations!

  • Seolah Bang

    Hi David.
    I am very glad to meet you and your blog. 
    I’m Korean(of course south korea) and working in KOICA(Korea International Cooperation Agency) as an adviser of the architectural project. 
    Thank you for your good information and examples. I will expect more good data and hope to share my experience. 
    Take care ~

    • Thanks, Seolah. This is the first time I have become aware that there is a KOICA. Where is your architectural project?

      • Bseolah

        Hi David.
        Thank you for your reply. 
        KOICA has working all over the world kind of Asia, Africa and Latin America and there are many sort of building type including hospital, school, vocational training center and IT center. 🙂

  • Osiemix

    Hello David,

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I think you do a fantastic job. I hope you still write though.

    I’m a banker in Nigeria and currently working on developing a banking product that is suited to the needs of NGOs and other social enterprises. I’d appreciate input from you and pointers to available literature to get good background information.

    Many thanks

    • David Week

      Hi. Thanks. I do hope to put up another post in the next few days.

      I’m not sure I know that much about microcredit. If you want some remarks, follow me on twitter on @davidweek, I’ll follow you back, and give you my email address.

    • Thanks for the appreciation. If you follow me on twitter @davidweek I will follow you back, and we can discuss your banking product. 

    • PS: There will more posts to come. In the middle of other things just now. I announce posts on my twitter account.

  • Hi David
    Enjoyed reading your blog and commentary on the $ 300 house competition. Couldn’t agree more. We’re an interdisciplinary team based in Delhi and stumbled upon the incremental self-construction sector a few years ago and sensed we hit a gold mine of opportunity. Now looking at ways to enable quality and bring safety standards in construction processes. Would love to be in touch if you won’t mind sharing your email ID. I’d love to send across a note on incubating Technical Assistance Kiosks (teAK) in urban low income neighbourhoods. It’d be great to hear from you!

  • Ed Austin

    Hi there,

    Please excuse me barging in on your blog. I am trawling for kindred spirits with a similar objective to mine, which is to provide handcarts to those who most need them.

    Many people in many lands, live in drudgery and poverty, spending many hours each day walking long distances, searching for essential things like water, firewood and food, to carry home using their heads, hands and backs, because they have no wheeled transport for carrying their loads.

    I am sure the lives of these people would be greatly improved if they had handcarts.
    Handcarts increase mobility, and save precious time and energy. Their benefits include –
    Better able to carry heavy loads, further and faster, with less effort.
    Improved health, with less mental stress and physical strain.
    Better attendance of schools and medical clinics.
    Spending less time away from home.
    Greater security for children, livestock and property.
    Earning money hiring out carts, and taking produce to market.
    Setting up mobile stalls for selling food and garden produce.
    Social and welfare improvements.
    More buildings and shelters.
    As time goes by, the benefits of using handcarts expand exponentially, turning basic subsistence into dynamic development for individuals, families, communities and nations alike.

    I realise that designing, making and distributing good quality handcarts to those who need them most, will be a prolonged, difficult and costly task, but I believe it can be done on a global basis, if dedicated caring individuals and relief organisations join forces to develop and action viable, agreeable and sustainable solutions to a problem that has compounded the effects of drudgery and poverty for far too long.

    What you think?
    I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter, and any handcart associated intelligence .
    Do you think that the concept is valid?
    Would you support or participate in it?
    Do you know of any individual or organisation currently involved with providing handcarts?
    Would you like further details of the concept?
    Do you have any questions, that I haven’t thought of?

    Please show or forward this message to anyone you think may be interested in the concept of providing handcarts on a humanitarian basis.

    Many thanks

    Ed Austin

  • TIM

    David – Came across your article on the Cambodian school that was impractical in its construction. It brought back memories.

    I just got back from spending some time in Ibadan, a place I haven’t been in a a couple of decades after having spent a few years there as an MK. Your article made me laugh. It’s so sad, you have to laugh to keep from crying. There’s some kind of crazy pride going on that makes foreigners think they know so much better than locals. ..yet when you watch the locals, you have to scratch your head and wonder how it is that they managed to survive these past few thousand years. No easy answers here, but your articles show that you’ve experienced many of the same frustrations I’ve observed..

    I work with a school that has received ~40 acres of land just outside of Ibadan. I would love to pick your brain for ways to vet the (locally-drawn) site plan, as well as get your thoughts on other particulars regarding construction. If you could shoot me an email, I would be eternally grateful. tim@ aledobb . com.


  • Andrew

    David, I’m an MArch student taking planning classes as my electives. I’ve been asked to interview a professional in the developing world and I’d love to know more about how architecture meshes with development. Would you be open for me to interview you for an hour within the next three weeks?

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