Author Archives: architect unseen / citizen architect

About architect unseen / citizen architect

A licensed architect living in Madison, WI, I believe that thoughtful planning and design can create stronger, more resilient communities.

AIA WI SAP – 2018 Dane County Flood Response

On Friday, August 24, following unprecedented flooding in Dane County, state and local emergency management officials contacted the AIA Wisconsin Disaster Assistance Committee coordinators for help with post-flood building safety assessments.


My colleague Stacey Keller and I put out the call to activate over 20 volunteers with CalOES Safety Assessment Program (SAP) Evaluator training.  We assembled SAP teams of AIA architects and local representatives in Mazomanie, Black Earth, and Cross Plains.   Volunteers worked tirelessly over 8 long days to complete Building Safety Assessments on 547 flood damaged buildings.

Thanks to the generous and tireless efforts of many volunteers, we were able to provide essential and timely information to residents and public officials that will aid in the recovery of these communities.  As the rain, severe weather and flooding continued, the Governor declared a State of Emergency for the entire state and later the President announced the Federal Declaration, allowing more funding to be available for these local residents and businesses.




Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing

A friend recently asked what my thoughts were on affordable housing.  My first response, “That’s a loaded question.” 

My greatest fear is that I may never learn how to solve this problem in my own part of the world because visiting homes in remote post disaster struck regions of Haiti, El Salvador, and Nepal has forever shifted my perspective.  The American culture has a skewed idea of what is affordable and the cost of housing is escalating out of control.  This is not a problem unique to the United States and thus the solution varies greatly by region. 

house-damageThe families we met in Mahadevtar, a remote village in the mountains of Nepal, were very kind and overly generous hosts. While there, we conducted post disaster assessments; 98% of homes were destroyed and/or completely unsafe. 

Simple farming families, the only thing affordable to them at that moment was the corrugated metal shack they were sleeping in.  Namaste Nepal raised and distributed money to help these families rebuild, closing the gap between what is “affordable” and what is not in this region of Nepal. 


house paintThe families we worked side by side with in El Salvador were both gracious hosts and hard workers.  Habitat for Humanity does an excellent job of helping entire communities and regions develop affordable housing, one house at a time.  Many homes in Ahuachapan had been destroyed by floods years earlier, but when we were there in 2013, several had been rebuilt and many more were in progress. 

We helped one family build a new flood/earthquake resistant home and it was amazing to participate in the project. 

neighbors-childrenMy heart still aches for the people of Haiti.  Six years after the horrible 2010 earthquake, many are still without an affordable safe home. 

The recovery in Nepal and El Salvador is credited to the great network of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs or non-profits) and the partnerships with local government. 


A strong infrastructure is absolutely critical to solving housing problems. 

Haiti is lacking in organization and thus suffers the fate of great poverty and minimal housing.  Why then can’t a country like the United States, one supposedly well supported with great infrastructure, solve critical housing issues like the lack of affordable housing?”   I’m not sure which frustrates me more, the helplessness of Haiti or the complete arrogance of our American culture. 

 The City of Golden, CO is currently facing a dangerous lack of affordable housing. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Golden has drawn many new outdoor enthusiasts, but has yet to meet the new housing demand.    I credit the City for hiring a staff member dedicated solely to affordable housing, but there is much yet to be done.   

NRP-logoNeighborhood Rehab Project (NRP), a local non-profit, has now formed a team dedicated to helping to develop affordable housing in Golden.  

A local architect and new member of this affordable housing team, I look forward to working with NRP and disproving my fear of not finding way to solve this problem locally.

That’s my 2 cents on the topic.  Thanks for reading. 

ONE DAY – A chance to help many

Only 3 weeks till our first BRS/Be A Tool Build day in Golden, CO and we have almost 40 volunteers on board!

NRP-logoThank you Neighborhood Rehab Project for organizing the event! Thank you volunteers for your interest and generous support!

Last week we had a chance to meet with the 5 home owners and learn more about their repair needs.   The projects range from painting and yard work to a full deck replacement and a new roof.   In only ONE DAY, we can help many live in a warmer, safer, dryer home.

This week we are very excited to reveal our official Build Day T-shirt design. Many thanks for those who participated in the t-shirt design competition – we had some creative ideas and it was tough to choose.  Congratulations to Mackenzie Manson for the extremely creative and literal “Be A Tool” image.  BRS-BeATool-TShirt-W2 Next update will share more about the official build day work plan.

Thanks for following.

BRS “Be A Tool” Volunteer Build Day!

brs-logo NRP-logoSaturday May 14th, 2016, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture will host their first volunteer build day with Neighborhood Rehab Project’sBe A Tool” program. 

Based in Golden, CO, Neighborhood Rehab Project partners with local organizations to host a volunteer build days called “Be A Tool”.   This build day focuses on helping homeowners within communities address their warm, safe, dry household needs, through empowering volunteers and purchasing materials to meet those needs.  


 Neighborhood Rehab Project cultivates partnerships that unify and support sustainable change within community.

This happens through facilitation from their parent organization Community Faith in Action and a partnership with the city of Golden. It is their vision to empower volunteers and homeowners to work together for the betterment of our community. This happens through service, skill development, and a strong focus on relational development. 

 Here’s a link to their website

untitled6We are excited to have 30 volunteers on board and look forward to working with Neighborhood Rehab Project to support our local families in Golden, Colorado.

There is much planning yet to be done, stay tuned as we learn more about the families and scope of work. 

5 Day Mason Tranings in MELA school, Mahadevtar

NN 5 day trng 1

Dear Friends & Family, here’s a short video on the successful implementation of Namaste Nepal’s rebuilding program following the 2015 earthquakes that devastated regions around Kathmandu.

Namaste Nepal believes that the most effective way how to help Nepal after the big earthquake is the education and the knowledge how to build earthquake resistant constructions.

So far we managed to organize 4 Masons Trainings, which consists of two parts, theoretical and practical. It is led by trained Nepalese

 It’s very exciting to know that not only will these newly trained Mason’s be able to build back safer homes for their family, it opens up opportunities for them to get jobs.

 Thank you all for your continued support of Namaste Nepal’s efforts and project ArchitectUnseen

A Theory of Relativity

We rarely seem to have ALL needed relative information in the very moment we need to make an important life altering decision. Yet, in the end, we often land exactly where we are supposed to be.  


A leap of faith. Selling my house & things and joining a rebuilding project with Namaste Nepal were indeed a life altering decisions. Though this path took unintended turns, there are no regrets.

DSC02018As you consider your yearend contributions, please keep in mind families in Nepal. 100% of your contributions will help Namaste Nepal to continue their technical training program.

NN_logoDonation link is on the left side of the home page:


Due to poor construction techniques, 90% of Mahadevtar and Anaikot homes were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.


Namaste Nepal has developed a government approved week long technical training program that invites all village members, men and women, to attend and learn safer building techniques.






Namaste Nepal provides funding for the instructors, training materials, meals, certificate, and registration with the local building department.

subash-pujanI could not be more proud.

As of today, Subash and Pujan have provided technical training sessions for over 60 Nepali residents in both Mahadevtar and Anaikot.

anaikot-graduationMore communities are requesting this training program.   It is predicted that the team will be expanding the program and empowering more than 100 Nepali families.

untitledGreat credit goes to the amazing Namaste Nepal field team, Yarda, Eva, Subash, and Pujan and the office team, Sonja, Martina, and Hela for their tenacity and perseverance.

The rebuilding plan is evolving and will help many communities build back safer.   I remain forever grateful for this opportunity.

Wishing all of you great warmth, happiness, and success in the New Year!



j9-aoeP.S.   My Mother is home and doing well.

Now settled into my new home at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, I’ve landed right where I’m supposed to be.


mayaTulimaya, a proud grandmother to two beautiful grandbabies and mother to five hard working children, taught me an important life lesson.

Seven years my junior, Tulimaya – Maya for short, is much wiser and understands the great value of family

In Nepal, the family is considered the most important social unit and a high value is placed on family ties.

Many families, particularly in rural areas are larger than in the West and are also extended. There is a very clear hierarchy and the patriarch is usually the father or older brother; however, Maya in her gruff and loud voice, appeared to be the one in charge. I grew to like her quite a bit.

Maya_family6In Nepal older people are given a lot of respect and are expected to be cared for by the younger generation.  Multigenerational families often live under one roof, and when a son marries his wife is brought to the family home to live. Having children is considered very important in Nepalese culture. Most importantly, when someone is sick , the family rallies around.

Maya_family2While overlooking Maya’s mountain on a clear day, I could see the snowy peaks of Everest in the distance. I was also painfully aware how far away my family was

Shortly after returning back to Kathmandu, I’d received word that my mother had gotten quite sick and was admitted to the hospital. A few days later, we were readying to leave for Anaikot and I’d learned her condition worsened. Dedicated to the Namaste Nepal mission, my heart was torn….. However, recalling Maya’s lesson… was time to return home.

NN_logoNow back in Wisconsin and close to family, part of my heart remains in Nepal. Over 90% of families have lost their homes and are in need of great help.

Please stay tuned for more updates on the Namaste Nepal project and opportunities for you to help these families rebuild.

Thank you for visiting ArchitectUnseen.


Successes and Setbacks

And so it goes, we’ve all experienced successes in projects- yay! …and yes, we’ve also experienced setbacks-boo.

anaikot-damageWithin the last week, we’ve watched a successful project launch in Mahadevtar and accomplished a significant first step in the Anaikot project.

Yet – we’ve also run into a bit of a bureaucratic roadblock before we can begin trainings or rebuilding in Aniakot.

y working

On Monday, September 27, 2015, Yarda (Namaste Nepal Programme Manger) completed a major accomplishment by getting the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Anaikot, Panchkhal Municipality Chairman (i.e. Mayor.) Getting the local Municipality in support of the project is a critical first step.

Yarda is always working…….

NN_logoThe MoU is an agreement that outlines terms of cooperation between Namaste Nepal and the Municipality of Panchkhal following the earthquake that struck Nepal on the 25th April, 2015 and the major aftershock on 12th May 2015. The 10 page MoU in essence includes who, what, when, where, why, and how much $?

team_translation2aThree days prior, the field team attended a DUDBC (local building department) meeting to learn more about what the local government will allow for trainings and reconstruction. The meeting was in Nepal, thus our very capable Nepali engineers, Subash and Pujan, had to translate the results.


The good news is that some training programs have been approved; however, we still must submit an official “proposal” before we can start our trainings – this could take months.

In addition, the DUDBC has not yet approved any housing designs (prototypes) for reconstruction, thus there is still a ban on rebuilding – another project delay that will likely set us back two months.

Time to reevaluate and update the game plan.



The ever, over packed and underprepared American – I was grateful to get some help with my pack on the uphill climb to the Punchkhal school, where the field office will be.



After setting in and setting up the office, we asked Subash and Pujan to search for some water …..and they came back with this. You guys are great!

Thus we decided ….rather than focus on the setbacks, we would celebrate the project’s successes.



Yarda and Subash – always working, even when they are celebrating.

I have been fortunate to collaborate with these very hardworking and passionate team mates.

Images from Kathmandu

IMG_3684Around every corner there are reminders of the earthquake from four months earlier.


Some Nepali building owners have begun deconstruction and others have added bracing with hopes of one day soon salvaging and repairing.

I can’t help but wonder what this City was like before the devastation.



vibrant life_turnThough our project focus is outlying villages, we will typically spend a few days a week in Kathmandu to attend meetings and take care of administration items not accessible in the field.

Though there has been much destruction, the resilient people of Kathmandu Nepal continue a vibrant busy life and still find time for celebration.


street art

The signing of the constitution this week brought many out into the streets – near Durbar Square, we saw many street paintings such as this.                                                                              _____________________________________


Many sacred temples and significant historic landmarks that have been destroyed.

There are often several structures within one temple plaza – some remain standing, such as the Hararti Devi main dome, while others directly adjacent lie in ruins.


herari temple 

My hope for them is to find the resources needed to restore these sacred places to their original form.

Namaste my Napali friends.

Mahadevtar: Winterization & Rebuilding

plaqueEarly April 2015 (3 weeks before the earthquakes), Namaste Nepal had just completed construction of a new school for the village of Mahadevtar, ward 15 (formerly part of the Anaikot region.)

Beautifully designed and constructed with local materials (stone, bamboo, wood, and cement), this school was intended to be a place for education and a meeting place for the village.



The late April and early May 2015 earthquakes destroyed 90% of the homes in the Village of Mahadevtar.   The Nepal government provided each family with 15,000 rupees (just under $150 US dollars) to buy materials to build a temporary shelter.

Families had purchased corrugated metal panels and combined them with bamboo, wood, and tarps to house their families and animals. With winter fast approaching, the focus is on providing additional supplies so that they can stay warm in these minimal shelters.

assessments-shelterThe first goal was to survey all 49 homes, documenting GPS coordinates, owners certificate, and existing condition photos.  Yarda and Subash tirelessly led and completed these efforts in less than a 24 hour period.   Note that this include continuous trekking and climbing some very steep paths over a great distance. Kudos guys!

distribution2The second task was to review each family situation, including number of people living in household, health situation, income, and monies received to date. Yarda reviewed the budget and aligned distribution of funds as needed for each family.


After the assessments were complete, a village meeting was called at the school where the programme was introduced and funds were given to each family. Yarda and Subash did an amazing job of keeping things moving along smoothly as I photographed and assisted with a few small tasks.


Subash and I will return to this village in a few weeks to conduct trainings to help the villagers learn how to build back safer by introducing earthquake resistant technologies for construction of their new home. Hopefully I will be better prepared next time for the 5 hour mountain climbing journey- or as Yarda says, it’s just a little uphill walk.


Many thanks to our hostess, Timilamaya (Maya)  and her family for taking such good care of us during our visit.

My awkward American habits and tent placed in the middle of their outdoor living room gave them much to laugh and gossip about. Maya and her family of 8 live in what is left of their 2 story home – we hope that they have enough to stay warm this winter, and possibly begin to rebuild before monsoon season sets in next spring.

It is good to be back in Kathmandu for a short stay, just long enough to meet with other NGOs working on the education and rebuilding efforts and then head back out in the field. Our next village trip to Punchkhal/Anaikot is scheduled for Thursday. Stay tuned for that programme outline and next steps.