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Chris Hildrey demonstrates how architects have the rare ability to help drive change

Emily Booth
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Architects’ creative and strategic approach can make them ideally suited to help solve society’s problems, says Emily Booth

What does it mean to be an architect? That’s a question that many in the profession, and especially the new generation of architects, often ask themselves. 

Sometimes, that question might arise from feelings of anxiety or insecurity. More often, it comes from a place of strength and self-knowledge. To question what, exactly, it is you are doing – and perhaps more importantly, why you are doing it – can lead to new ways of thinking and better approaches and outcomes.

Take Chris Hildrey, an architect who is breaking boundaries and thinking beyond buildings to help the homeless. In Ella Jessel’s insightful interview with him, which forms part of our New Ways series exploring fresh approaches in architecture, Hildrey explains that he was given some tough advice: ‘just don’t design a better tent’. The result? Proxy Address – a database that matches up homeless people with a ‘virtual copy’ of an address, taken from one of the UK’s 500,000 empty properties.

Proxy Address helps provide those essentials that a home can give and which so many of us take for granted 

Proxy Address allows homeless people to be linked with a vital bit of code so the computer isn’t always saying ‘no’. It’s a digital key to staying in the system – allowing access to essentials that can get someone off the street. Benefits, a bank account, seeing a GP, getting a driving licence: you need an address for all of these. Without an address, you’re locked out of so much that can help you back on your feet.

Let’s be clear: Proxy Address doesn’t give anybody an actual place to stay. But it helps provide those other essentials that a home can give and which so many of us take for granted: individual legitimacy in wider society; access to services; a sense of security from which to rebuild a sense of self.

Architects often have great ambition to help solve society’s problems. They also have a rare ability to work across disciplines, to connect disparate groups, to help drive change. This engaged, creative and strategic approach can help the profession itself, as well as the wider communities it serves. As Hildrey says, ‘it’s at the blurry fringes’ where most of the interesting stuff happens. 

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