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Spotlight: Empowering Future Architects and Communities: Our Exciting Partnership with AzuKo’s 'Designing with Dignity' Program

An interview with Jo Ashbridge, Founder & CEO of AzuKo

We are delighted to spotlight our partnership with AzuKo, a charity that’s on a transformative mission to end housing poverty through architectural innovation and community-driven solutions. At the heart of our collaboration is AzuKo’s “Designing with Dignity” course—an extraordinary initiative that aims to reshape the field of humanitarian architecture by making it more inclusive, ethical, and effective. We had the privilege to sit down with Jo Ashbridge, Founder & CEO of AzuKo, to delve deeper into what “Designing with Dignity” offers and why it’s a game-changer for aspiring architects and community development.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the course’s objectives, the thought process behind its format, and share inspiring stories of individuals who have been impacted by this initiative. Read on to learn more about how this partnership aims to create better homes, better cities, and ultimately, a better world.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Designing with dignity course, its objectives and the audience it serves?

AzuKo’s Designing with dignity course is a hands-on introduction to humanitarian architecture, which we run in both Bangladesh and the UK. Participants learn how to design more ethically and collaboratively through a series of trainings, and an in-person workshop. Topics include needs assessments, community engagement, co-design, sustainable construction, and programme evaluation.

Our shorter weekend workshop in the UK centres around a design challenge. Our longer two-week workshop in Bangladesh includes design and construction, with a focus on sustainable building materials such as earth and bamboo. Both are embedded in a local community, tackling a real challenge they’re facing.

I have never sensed the lives of people so deeply or been physically involved in a community in this way before.” – Fahmida

Tell us a bit about the decisions you took in relation to format – is it face-to-face or online, and why HPass badges?

Women and minority groups face deep discrimination in access to architectural education, throughout employment, and participating in the design of their communities. At present, the UK’s Architecture profession is 83% white and 78% male dominated. A traditional architecture degree is long (6-7 years) and expensive, further excluding young people from low socioeconomic and minority backgrounds.

If we are to design better homes and better cities then we need diverse heads around the table. We need to offer more, and ‘alternative’, opportunities to support lifelong learning. We need equity in education.

Designing with dignity prioritises disadvantaged students and young people. Participants gain professional and life skills, and are inspired to positively contribute to world issues.

“Since joining Designing with dignity I am tailoring my career towards roles that will allow me to use my skills in service of others.” – Zahin

 The HPass badge is a fantastic way for participants to demonstrate their competencies, skills and experience. Many include it on their CVs or LinkedIn, others have used it to gain credits towards their university degrees.

Do you have an example of someone who completed the course and what they went on to do with their learning?

Aretha Ahunanya  currently studying a Master’s in Engineering and Architectural Design  joined our Designing with dignity course in Bangladesh to learn about humanitarian architecture, and practice co-design.

She helped conduct a needs assessment, map a community and their assets, and held interviews to understand about the challenges people face, their hopes and dreams. She was not afraid to get her hands dirty. Working alongside a family, and supported by our local construction team, she built a new twin-pit, pour-flush toilet. An incredible achievement, that will bring safety and dignity.

“I learned that it is really important not to centre yourself within humanitarian work, especially when building for others or creating things that need to benefit other people. It can be so easy to impose your own way of doing things (even if you have the best of intentions) but this is not how you achieve the best result. I think it really strengthened my ability to listen and help.” – Aretha

Inspired by her time on the course, Aretha is now looking to take a new module ‘Engineering for International Development’ during her final year at university. She has recently been accepted on a summer course to improve water, sanitation and hygiene in schools in Uganda, and will be mentoring 16-18 olds sharing her experience and helping to break down barriers to architecture.

Read more about Aretha’s experience here:

Tell a bit about AzuKo and its remit.

AzuKo is an architecture charity, on a mission to end housing poverty. We co-design housing and infrastructure, deliver construction training and support communities to understand their housing rights. We operate both in Bangladesh and the UK, working side by side with communities to improve living conditions. A large part of our work focuses on supporting women, ensuring they have a voice in the design of their homes and cities.

“Housing is a human right and as more and more people are being pushed into poverty, the work we do together in creating safe, secure and clean living spaces is needed more than ever.” – Reena, Trustee

 We also work hard to break down barriers to architecture, recognising inequality in the sector itself. Designing with dignity is one of the ways we champion ethical development.

What are you most excited about for the next few months?

We’re a small, but mighty, charity and we’ve got big plans this year.

In Dinajpur district we’re designing and building decent toilets, for families without. Almost half the population of Bangladesh don’t have access to a clean, safe toilet of their own. A shocking truth. This means a lack of privacy and dignity, increased risk of harassment and sexual abuse, reduced school attendance, and poorer health. We’re scaling our sanitation programme; we must do more.

“We didn’t have a toilet. We had to go outside, or ask others for permission to use theirs. When it’s dark it wasn’t safe for my children, or when it rained heavily. Now I have my own. This is good for my daughter and sons.” – Sheuli

In London, we’re working with a community group and representing the views of 19,000 residents to create a blueprint for how they want their neighbourhood to develop – also known as a Design Code. It’s one mechanism for communities to have a real say. We’ve been brought on board to ensure marginalised groups are heard, and can actively contribute.

“Thank you for listening to me. Your personality and care for the community shines through. It’s been brilliant.” – resident, South Woodford

… and of course we’ll be running Designing with dignity again!


You can learn more about AzuKo, our work and impact via our website: