Architecture + Humanity vs. Nature

Why Architecture? Why do we choose to work in this particular profession? We can justify our reasoning with elaborate and poetic descriptions; however, it usually all boils down to people and places. It is the people with whom we interact with and the places we have been that build the archives of the memories we cherish.

Our profession has historically been known for its committed community engagement. We are not only responsible for designing beautiful buildings but are also the authors and creators of spaces that provide safe environments. We design structures to resist strong forces; we study codes and apply them; we work with consultants to ensure that these structures will resist hypothetical scenarios. But what happens when these scenarios become a reality? What does our profession offer when the environment is not safe anymore?

In the Path of the Storm

September 2017 and Hurricane Maria marked the island of Puerto Rico with a humanitarian crisis. Horror, heartache and helplessness are a few ways to describe witnessing your home be destroyed by such a powerful force while knowing your loved ones are braving it alone. When the hurricane hit, I was miles away watching scenes of its destruction online and unable to establish contact with my family.

Shortly after María made landfall, and after many failed attempts to connect with my family, I decided to channel all my emotions into a more proactive approach. How could I possibly be sitting at my desk enjoying the simplest things such as electricity, air conditioning, food and water while knowing that my people were suffering and in great need? It didn’t feel right. From a place of safety and relative luxury, I was sure that there was something this small island girl could do. I did some quick research and found that, due to the island being declared as state of emergency, Delta Airlines had waived luggage fees for up to 10 boxes or 1,000 pounds for those flying with relief supplies. I quickly met with our office leaders, Neil and Lisa (to whom I am eternally grateful) and began to pitch my idea with teary eyes and a broken voice. Before I was mid-pitch, they both interrupted me and said “What can we do and how can we help? You have to go.” Those were the words of comfort I didn’t know I needed; words that fueled a crazy yet attainable idea.

Marshalling Forces

In less than a week, after a firmwide email, coworkers I had never met nor spoken to had emailed with words of support, notifying me that they were traveling from Charleston, Charlotte, Columbia, Greenville, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, and Raleigh to bring supplies that our LS3P offices had collected. Not only my Savannah office peers (whom I consider family) had gone above and beyond to collect supplies, but also all other 300+ employees. We did it. We filled out 10 (55 gallon) storage bins with non-perishables, medication, water, flashlights, towels, and baby essentials, just to name a few. In addition to the donations, the firm aided me with flexible time off from work with little to no notice. Others helped with travel accommodations, and coworkers and spouses took me to the airport with all 1,000 pounds of supplies. While on the plane, I managed to establish spotty but somewhat successful contact with my brother on the island. Nobody knew I was coming, but I needed a ride and help once I landed. He along with friends picked me up in a truck and took me home where I surprised my parents.

No questions asked, my parents began unloading the truck, opening the boxes, and creating care packages which would be distributed in affected areas that had yet to receive help. The next day, bright and early, we loaded everything up and drove to critical areas through washed out roads, witnessing how much devastation had occurred. The look we got from offering just a simple water bottle is something I will forever have ingrained in my mind. In one day, we visited several affected towns, a home for the elderly, an adoption center for abused children (ages 0-3), and an animal rescue center. What seemed like a small initiative ended up creating an incredibly large impact. As unfortunate as it is to have events like these happen, this shows what caring does. What humanity can do.

A New State of Emergency; A New Opportunity to Respond

Fast forward to January 2020. The island is yet again braving another crisis. A series of destructive earthquakes have rumbled through the region with maximum magnitudes of 6.4. These events are already dangerous on their own, but what does this mean to a place that is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria? Quickly browse through the internet and you will see videos of collapsed infrastructure, knocked out power island-wide, and threatening landslides.

This time, my family was in no danger and our home has not suffered any damage. Nonetheless, my heart still aches for those that have lost everything. Once again, I found myself at my desk feeling like it is my duty to help. Unfortunately, this time around, since the island has not declared a state of emergency, it has been more difficult to organize help. Airlines are not waving fees and shipping large amounts of supplies is out of the question, but people need quick and effective aid.

How We Can Help

Fortunately, there were areas of the island that were not affected tremendously and are still open for business. The most effective way to deliver supplies is to gather funds to make a large purchase on the least affected part of the island and take items from point A (northeast of the island) to point B (southwest of the island). To that end, we are marshalling forces again and instead of collecting supplies, we are collecting monetary donations that will be used strictly for the purchase of much-needed relief supplies.

In the past 24 hours we have raised over $1,000. An angel on earth donated miles for a ticket to fly me home and I am 72 hours away from departure, with a group gathered onsite and ready to caravan our way south of the island to distribute supplies and aid in any way we can.

Due to the massive destruction, cars, plastic chairs, and cardboard boxes have become temporary beds for hundreds of families who have lost their homes.  Our goal is to raise enough funds to provide not only food, water, and needed medication, but also potentially purchase sleeping bags, mattresses and blankets.

Puerto Rico is just one place out of many that are in current need of support and we cannot wait for those in charge to offer the necessary help. It is our responsibility and duty as humans to help each other in times of need. It is our obligation to be proactive and be willing to get out of our comfort zones, use the resources we have at hand, and share what some may take for granted but others may need desperately… like clean water. I urge you to take a stand with me,  help in any way you, for whomever you can.

If you would like to contribute to our cause, please visit Any funds raised will be strictly used for relief supplies and will be hand-delivered to those in need by my family and me on Saturday, January 18th.

About Natallie

Natallie Santiago, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), joined LS3P in 2016. Originally from Carolina, Puerto Rico, Natallie has developed a diverse portfolio of work including commercial, higher education, and hospitality projects since joining LS3P. She is passionate about designing unique and elevated built experiences that connect users with its immediate context and environment.

Active in her professional community and beyond, she serves as the current LS3P Wellness Coordinator and has served as an event coordinator for YAF Punchlist, Historic Savannah Foundation, and the 83rd Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens. She also currently serves as the Fellowship Director on the AIA Savannah Board and has been integral in organizing hurricane relief efforts, particularly in Puerto Rico and Savanah. While at SCAD, Natallie co-founded Embodied Evolution, a student design competition that investigates the fusion between architecture, fashion and human form using digital fabrication, was a member of Tau Sigma Delta Honor Society, and received the Student Thesis Choice Award.