In 2007, as eager young architecture students in Trondheim, Norway, Andreas Gjertsen and Yashar Hanstad won a competition to renovate a house for under $200,000. Seasoned travelers who had witnessed firsthand "a way of building that made important architecture for a fraction of the price," as Hanstad puts it, they became disillusioned with their supposedly "tight" budget and with the conventional Western approach to residential architecture. "We wanted to use what we know to make things that have meaning," says Gjertsen.
Driven by restlessness and a desire to live differently, they purchased an old boat named the TYIN and lived on it together for a year as they sussed out how to use their architectural talents for good. Soon they realized that what they wanted to do was create "architecture of necessity and to work in a direct and pragmatic way" with communities in need abroad.
While docked in central Trondheim they started their firm, TYIN Tegnestue (tegnestue means "drawing studio" in Danish). To raise money, they sold T-shirts and arranged concerts, and then, in a novel move, they started calling all the architecture firms in Norway, explaining their approach and asking for donations. People were receptive. "It was surprising how easy it was to get architects to pay for other architects’ work," says Gjertsen. After raising nearly $100,000, they moved to western Thailand and spent a year designing and building a series of houses, a library, and a bathhouse for orphans along the Thailand-Burma border.
That same year, they, with a crew of local architects and student volunteers, overhauled a hundred-year-old market building in a Bangkok slum and transformed it into a public library and community gathering space. In doing so, they not only helped advance a new, more positive model of public space in "a city that typically sees such spaces as dangerous and scary," says Gjertsen, but also introduced new construction methods—like creating structurally sound two-story buildings—that locals have begun adopting for their own houses. "Showing the local community the potential in local resources is a big part of the long-term benefits of projects like this," says Hanstad.
In the near future, TYIN Tegnestue will work on a cinnamon factory in Sumatra, and they hope to eventually help build a school in Haiti. Asked what inspires them, they quote the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa: "Architecture is about the understanding of the world and turning it into a more meaningful and humane place."
Watch a time-lapse video of TYIN Tegnestue building libraries in Bangkok and on the Thailand-Burma border here.
When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.