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Blueprint for Building a Better World

The New York firm I-Beam conceived a house of recycled wooden pallets, which are widely used in transporting food aid. To test the materials, the architects erected a trial house in the South Bronx. The structure held up fine overnight. The next day, squatters moved in. Shortly thereafter, authorities dismantled it, but the designers were confident.

Only Japanese architect Shigeru Ban's design -- a house of sturdy paper tubes -- was put to use, but not in Kosovo. After an earthquake in Turkey that year, Ban constructed his paper shelters there.

Sinclair is still struggling to get designs built from his second contest, for a mobile AIDS clinic. The idea emerged in 2002 on his honeymoon in South Africa.

Back in New York, he launched a call for designs. Three truckloads of entries -- 531 from 51 countries -- arrived at his Chelsea studio on the same day. Sinclair called the Van Alen Institute again and got help organizing a jury. Issues of mobility -- truck, donkey or motorcycle -- were deliberated along with power sources and cultural appropriateness. If a design looked like a hut, instead of a modern clinic, why would a mother take her child there?

Last summer, four finalists went to South Africa to work with the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies on a final design. Constructing a basic clinic that could reach 10,000 patients would cost $16,000 to $20,000, Sinclair says. A fully equipped model might cost $200,000 to build and operate for a year, serving many more. It irks Sinclair that some mobile pet clinics in this country have bigger budgets.

The third contest is titled "Siyathemba" -- Zulu for "hope." This project envisions a sports facility that would double as a health education center. The request came from young girls who wanted to form a soccer league in their community in KwaZulu-Natal, which Sinclair first encountered while studying the problems of designing the mobile AIDS clinic.

An architecture school graduate in Pittsburgh, Swee Hong Ng, produced the winning design. V-shaped earth terraces with adobe brick and concrete seating would function as an amphitheater as well as a stadium. A canopy of timber and textiles would provide shade and allow communities to customize the structure with their own fabrics, should the design be replicated.

A former Nike executive, Kevin Carroll, who now runs the Katalyst sports consultancy in Portland, Ore., was on the jury and later donated $3,500. He does not expect his name to appear on a plaque.

"For me, it's enough to be able to tell the story of Cameron's work," he says.

Sinclair has raised $50,000, and has set a deadline of Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, to gather the rest of the projected $250,000 cost.

In the meantime, he is organizing the building of a school in Sri Lanka. Funds are being raised for a school for the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. Sinclair spent the train ride from New York to Washington on the phone, hunting down trucks to move 70 emergency shelters from Georgia to Miami for shipment to hurricane-ravaged Grenada.

He brings up the Geldof comparison, first made by a British journalist, and frowns.


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