Starchitects, Toilets, and Empowerment

Do you have a job?  Are you educated?  Are you able to use bathroom facilities without the fear of the spread of communicable disease?

Not everyone is so fortunate.  Luckily, we all know this, and luckily, the building industry is catching on to the value of social equity and empowerment.

We see certain companies such as TOMS (started by Blake Mycoskie) with sustainable business models.  More about that can be found in SUCCESS magazine.

And now, while globalization, TED talks, activitsts, humanitarians, and the news show us all of the tragedy and poverty that our country works so hard to avoid ourselves, a few companies within the building industry are seeking this fresh approach of giving back to those in need internationally.


Arzu Studio Hope is a for-profit American-based company that specializes in artisan rugs. They even have a collection by today’s leading architects, including Hadid, Gehry, Graves, and others.  And what makes them different?

Instead of the rugs being made, well, wherever high-quality rugs are made these days, looms and materials are supplied to motivated women in two provinces of Afghanistan, where they weave these rugs to provide an income for their family.  An income, empowerment, hope of a better future, community, productivity.

Not only are these 51 women and their families improved by the social entrepreneurship initiative, but it has gained momentum to start multiple women’s centers which aim to develop rug-making technologies, a new park, and a preschool.  The Social Contract signed by Arzu and the women provides for their health care and a commitment to become literate.

As Mucosckie said about TOMS, it may be applied to the rugs as well: we like stories to accompany our products.  So while a modern piece of art will not tell of ages past, kings and queens, grandmas and grandpas, it can indeed tell the tale of a living woman, her husband, her children who now can read, eat and live better, and be empowered to dream bigger and more assuredly for their future.

American Standard

Along the same lines, we have American Standard.  They have created a super-efficient ‘Western style’ toilet (as called by those in the East), called the Champion Toilet.  This is a good response to our green initiative in the building industry.  Indeed, technology can solve problems for us, and there is ample value in research and development.  When I hear product reps come in and talk about these new things, though, I can’t help but wonder, what about the marginalized, those without the resources, how does this positively impact their reality?

American Standard has found a humble way to strategically help those lacking sanitary infrastructure.  The solution, they recognize, is not to drop in a few Western toilets and proclaim “Tada!  Problem solved.”  If this were the case, the problem would NOT be solved.  Not everyone defecates the same, after all.  As an American bathroom and kitchen fixture company, they realized the need to get ‘down and dirty,’ get to know the locals in areas lacking adequate sanitation, and find out how to help.  Therefore, the solution – and social responsibility initiative – is that they donate one sanitary latrine for every Champion toilet sold.

There is a nice, informative site about this here,

Please be encouraged and feel free to share any other companies, architecture-related or otherwise, that are making a positive impact while remaining for-profit.

from my trip to India in summer 2013.
from my trip to India in summer 2013.  more on this can be found at