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93 | Developing New Forms of Community Design

Orkidstudio is a social enterprise based in Nairobi, Kenya, which focuses not only on the design of great buildings, but on the design of design & construction processes in ways that promote equity, inclusion, and social development.

93 | Developing New Forms of Community Design

Orkidstudio began as an aspiration of like-minded students at the Welsh School of Architecture and eventually reformed as a traditional non-profit.  The team behind Orkidstudio built an incredible portfolio during these years, but also took this period to observe & reflect on the challenges and limitations of traditional aid models.

More recently, Orkidstudio has reorganized as a social enterprise, working for fees in a way more typically found in the for-profit world.

Their evolution as an organization teaches many lessons about how to do good with design.  Acting as a social enterprise, Orkidstudio is able to experiment fully with different forms of project design and construction.  They operate as their own full-service designer & builder.  They also develop different forms of financing, depending on the needs of the community they are serving.

Amid this field of experimentation, a particular focus of Orkid is to disrupt the male-dominated construction sector. They have trained and employed over 1500 women, who now comprise 52% of their work force. The goal is to help women close a serious, systemic income gap, and to take on leadership roles across Orkid’s worksites; developing skills and abilities that are transferable to a broad range of careers.

These tactics are catalyzed under an innovative program called BuildHer, a program which teaches construction trades exclusively to women.  Beyond mere technical training, the program seeks to create community among groups of women, as well as to foster the self-confidence necessary to flourish in an historically male-dominated industry.

We had an opportunity to speak with James Mitchel and Tatu Gatere of Orkidstudio on Social Design Insights, where we spoke to them about the BuildHer program and how they’ve designed their practice.  Have a listen below.


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2018 is "Alright With Me" by Reggie Young from his album "Young Street." The break music for this episode is "Orgullecida" by the Buena Vista Social Club from their self-titled album.