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Young architects change lives

14 October 2010

James Mitchell, Su Mei Tan and Julissa Kiyenje

Most young architects aspire to design world-renowned buildings such as Sydney Opera House or the Chrysler Building, but three students from the University’s Welsh School of Architecture have set their sights on a different dream.

James Mitchell, Su Mei Tan and Julissa Kiyenje who founded Orkidstudio, a non-profit humanitarian design organisation, are aiming to change the lives of children and communities throughout the world by using their architectural skills to build much needed shelter in poverty stricken areas.

Founded by the student trio in 2007, this summer Orkidstudio embarked on a new project in Bolivia in collaboration with The Alalay Foundation. The foundation provides shelter for 400 street children and education, food and support for a further 1,100 in the four major cities of Bolivia.

James, Su and Julissa, as well as seven other volunteers, including four from Cardiff, have spent the summer building workshops and classrooms for two of the orphanages near La Paz, while working closely with the orphans and local community, helping to improve education and creative ability.

"I strongly believe that architecture should not be restricted to high-budget commissions and should be accessible to all and be used to help people affected by poverty or natural disaster", said James.

"This was an outlook I developed during my first year of university and the idea to actually organise and run a project took shape along with two of my close friends, Su and Julissa. The Welsh School of Architecture is certainly giving us all an excellent grounding in architectural design and technology, as well as encouraging us to consider the role architecture can play in humanitarian work - it is also giving us the tools necessary to implement such a venture as Orkidstudio."

One of the first projects to be completed, which was also the launch pad for the organisation, helped orphaned children in Uganda. In 2008 The Mukono Project at New Hope Orphanage saw the team construct a new kitchen while at the same time giving children the chance to participate in art, music, sports and education workshops, leaving them with skills which Orkidstudio hope will help change their future.

When asked what was next for Orkidstudio, they replied that although there are no concrete plans in place yet, the trio is hoping to return to Bolivia next summer to continue working with the Alalay Foundation. Orkidstudio is also planning to start looking into disaster relief architecture through a project called Global Splatter which is likely to commence in 2011.

Follow the activities of their current project on their blog

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