A Sketchbook Manifesto


Derek Russell during field research at Ingapirca Incan archeological site Cañar, EcuadorDerek Russell during field research at Ingapirca Incan archeological site Cañar, Ecuador


The Climigrant’s Sketchbook Initiative is a design research collaborative that connects Climate Migrants from across ecosystems through stories, tools, and artwork with the aim of empowering those displaced by climate change. Our mission is to provide an all-access and free space for individuals around the world facing displacement. The CSI is dedicated to cultural exchange, incorporating climate-specific architectural adaptations from vernacular construction and indigenous wisdom. This platform equips refugees, dispossessed, or displaced peoples with valuable knowledge, strategies, and tools to adapt to the rapidly changing climatic conditions and build sustainable futures, provoking resilience at the scale of the human hand. The CSI prioritizes the role of social services, many Climigrants experiencing scarcity of: food, water, shelter, healthcare access, and employment. As part of the research process, the CSI conducts field studies and in-person workshops. Drawing upon intersectional methods of community engagement, researchers with the CSI emphasize the role of environmental justice in actively combatting inequity felt by the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. By connecting between design, research, and community engagement, CSI attempts to break down the common pathways of exclusion. By creating an intimate space that fosters the sharing of experiences, solutions, and storytelling, Climigrant’s Sketchbook cultivates a global community focused on resilience, knowledge exchange, and collective action.

Pottery from the  Museo de las Culturas Aborígenes in Cuenca, Ecuador


Vernacular architecture as a thesis for habitation asserts more than an aestheticized view of nature, instead it is an exercise in symbiosis. The implementation of ancestral knowledge is a modern practice that translates weaving and ceramic creation into some of the planet’s most resilient
buildings, built with the same hands. Without electricity and heavy machinery, they use knowledge of the earth to withstand constant flooding and extreme temperatures. While vernacular architecture is not synonymous with sustainable architecture, the two share many commonalities, including their ability to minimize the impacts of climate change through organic carbon storage and the ability to reduce transportation by sourcing materials on-site that are already adapted to climatic variability. Vernacular architecture is an architecture of heritage, passed down through hands and words between generations. It adapts to new challenges, mending them with a knowledge refined over time of both place and ecosystem.

“During an interview, local resident Alejandro Hormazabal explained, ‘The land in general was not affected. If it had just been the movement of the earth, my parents’ house would have been fine. The damage in Constitucion came from the light materials of the houses, vehicles, and other objects that crashed against the buildings with the tremendous force of the water.’ In other words, it was not the earthquake preparedness that had failed – the architecture was built to withstand earthquakes; it was the lack of preparation for the tsunami that was devastating.’” (Elkin 93)

Temple of the Sun at Ingapirca in Cañar, Ecuador


Design Anthropology is an emerging discourse. Here, the goal of this research is to interrogate and formulate these processes into something digestible and deployable for designers working for vulnerable or disenfranchised communities within the humanitarian realm of “design for development.” Current design anthropology - seeks to unpack the existing processes by which designers work, how decisions are made.

“The potential is more socially informed, engaged and sensitive architecture which responds more directly to people’s needs.” In a changing world, Design Anthropology tasks architects to divorce themselves from modernist technocratic models that automate the design and construction processes, adopting alternative models that bypass a reliance on economic or commercial practices. We must push beyond the limitations in order to redefine how anthropology and architectural research are conducted - focusing on creative practice like drawing, dancing, weaving, or crafting pottery.

Understanding how humans can live in symbiosis with nature, especially in one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, is pivotal. An architecture of adaptation requires a deep understanding of sociocultural systems in order to assure indigenous tribes not only survive beyond a just transition but thrive. By connecting across disciplines, through the lens of Design Anthropology, might we imagine how understanding vernacular can combat an inevitable climate future. What is often understood as primitive or less than modern, can be recontextualized as innovative and necessary for global progress.

Mexico’s largest body of fresh water, Lake Chapala, facing ecosystem damage from pollution


For many across the globe, conventions of home and property are a luxury they cannot afford. Whether as a result of disaster or despotic political turbulence, many lives are upended in the wake of relocation. What constitutes a nationalized body or an internationalized body is unclear, and in the wake of divisive rhetorical wars it is often the people who need the most support that do not receive it. This dilemma can be considered a problem of accountability.  Currently, the United Nation’s only system for the protection of refugees forced from their homelands is known as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As it exists today, it mainly focuses its efforts on political refugees who are protected under the Geneva Convention and the Protocol of 1967.

The term “climate refugees,” a term that refers to migrants forced from their homes as a result of sudden or gradual changes in environmental conditions such as water scarcity, sea level rise, or extreme weather events, has only been recognized by the UNHCR since 2018. “Migration is nearly always multicausal” (Gray 1239), referencing the difficulty international bodies face when identifying and assisting climate migrants.  Multiplicity is often difficult to diagnose, which has been a significant hurdle for climate activists when trying to define the subtle nature of ecological destruction. This leads us to understand that individuals impacted by shifting climates are not simply refugees, a refugee being someone evicted from their resident country to escape war, persecution, or disaster. “Climigration” or “Climate migration” instead, is a term that was introduced by Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, to replace the common misnomer “climate refugee,” depicting those displaced by climate-related shifts as migrants.


The Climigrant’s Sketchbook Initiative is a resource network designed to empower migrants with the knowledge and skills necessary to adapt to their changing environments. In today's digital society, many knowledges behind craft making and self-sufficiency have been rendered inaccessible as the generational handicraft disappears. By collecting existing resources and original research, the platform offers a diverse range of articles, original diagrams, and interactive tools that cover various topics crucial to adaptation. These resources include but are not limited to:

  1. Building Techniques: Detailed guides of vernacular architectural typographic research and practical insights into constructing resilient, climate-adaptive structures that take into account local materials, climate variability, and available resources including the implementation of native species in the design solutions. We strongly emphasize the application of physical practices, where collaborators can learn by doing.
  2. Climate Literacy: Comprehensive information and visualizations that help migrants understand shifting climatic conditions, such as temperature changes, rainfall patterns, and the impact on ecosystems. This knowledge allows them to anticipate and prepare for future challenges.
  3. Storytelling through Art: A dedicated section for migrants to share their personal experiences, challenges faced, and successful adaptation strategies. This fosters a sense of community and encourages the exchange of valuable knowledge and best practices. As the reach of the CSI grows, so does the network of contributors and available resources.
  4. Research Database: A curated collection of both original research and external research, such as academic papers, case studies, and practical tools that provide a comprehensive repository for further exploration and learning. 

Street flooding in the Quechua community of Cuyabeno in the Ecuadorian Amazon


Anthropogenic climate change is remapping our planet. Critical masses, as time passes so do the climates on Earth that are able to comfortably support life - shifting latitudes already excluding upwards of 600 million people from once hospitable landscapes. Experts predict that his number could increase to 6 billion by 2100 (Timothy M. Lenton et al.). Migration induced by anthropocentric climate change implicates more than simply temperature extreme weather events - its impacts are uneven, humanity experiencing food and water scarcity, healthcare inequities, increased mortality rates, lawlessness, and dispossession. On the eve of the sixth-mass extinction, climate induced dispossession is becoming one of the leading causes of houselessness.

According to the estimates of researchers Vermeer and Rahmstorf, by the year 2100 sea levels could rise between 75 and 190 cm. Despite our best climate models, the numbers will not be quantified until they are actually observed. As we glimpse the devastations to come through LCDs, many in the tangible world are already experiencing migration - those with the lowest emissions will be the first to feel the consequences of anthropogenic climate warming. The mass polar migration is underway.

Understanding migration is a multifaceted issue. Displacement not only divorces migrants from physical property, but also from cultures, tradition, and community. Unfamiliar worlds. In 2007, for the first time in recorded human history, more humans lived in urban settlements than in rural ones. Since then, this number has only been on the rise. According to the UN, the number could rise to upwards of 68% by 2050, mostly due to relocation in Asia and Africa. Cities, once modest, will soon become mega metropolises as the global masses turn away from remote farms and flock into the streets. The issue of migration is not restricted to the Global South. By 2050, the countries of Egypt and China will see an estimated 12 million and 73 million from climate refugees alone, respectively. These alarming numbers are only a small fraction of what could be the world’s global total.

To imagine an equitable future for all who are displaced at this critical junction, it is crucial to acknowledge the significance of climate change as a driving force behind this impending crisis. Climigrant’s Sketchbook recognizes the imperative need to provide support and resources to those affected, enabling them to adapt effectively and create sustainable livelihoods.

Community led entrepreneurial workshop for the Seikopai women of Kenao Women’s Cooperative


The Climigrant’s Sketchbook Initiative leverages the power of design thinking to create innovative and impactful solutions. By embracing this human-centered approach, the platform ensures that the needs, perspectives, and experiences of refugees are at the forefront, making visible the testimony of the dispossessed that are often overlooked. The resources provided on Climigrant’s Sketchbook are user-friendly, accessible, and tailored to address the unique challenges faced by climate migrants. Regular user feedback and engagement contribute to continuous improvement and adaptation of the platform.

Architects are liaisons. In our practice, we are often tasked with bringing people together, whether it be contractors, builders, workers, suppliers, politicians, and community leaders. We create a space for conversation in order to ensure that our projects advance smoothly and equitably for all parties involved. In the same way that we engage others from within the architectural sphere, these practices of engagement can be applied to disciplines outside of design such as - policy makers, tribal leaders, anthropologists, lawyers, scientists, healthcare workers and other professionals. This is known as “Systems Design,” a collaborative form of making that relies heavily on the relationship between multiple disciplines to create a multifaceted understanding of space.

Participatory Design, otherwise known as co-design, is a design process in which the designer engages and incorporates the community members into the designing and decision making process to develop a final design outcome. It is a proactive, not reactionary, process that seeks friction in order to address potential shortfalls of design implementation. Participatory designers seek to understand the history of a place, not ignoring contradictions or embracing convenience. The participatory design process seeks to understand the relationships between actors to deduce key questions. This is a process intended to be guided by community members, and also serves as a reminder that the role of the architect is decentralized. It is in this interdisciplinarity, not within the individual but within the collective, that we begin to see equitable change emerge.

A traditional house built by the Seikoya community in Guahoya, Peru


When describing her understanding of Tlingit spatial perception, anthropologist Julie Cruikshank makes distinction between place, space and time. Kitty Smith, one of her collaborators, was quoted saying, “My roots grow in jackpine roots! I’m born here. I branch here,” when asserting her connections to a place. During site visits, another indigenous woman, Annie Ned, would often comment, “You don’t know this place, so I’m going to sing it for you.” According to Cruikshank, “all these women took for granted that it is largely impossible to speak about past social relationships among people without reference to place, or to speak of place without explaining how people who lived there were connected. As they reached their mid-eighties, each expressed concerns about difficulty remembering the names of once familiar places and the need to revisit them in order to recall names and associated stories and songs.”

In an open letter by Eve Tuck, a Native Alaskan, titled Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities, the author implores readers to situate themselves within our current educational infrastructure to better acknowledge the way that research can disadvantage already marginalized communities.  There is a tendency, she argues, to document pain as a way of leveraging reparation.  She states simply, “We can insist that research in our communities, whether participatory or not, does not fetishize damage but, rather, celebrates our survivance” (422).  Ultimately, Tuck asks us to decentralize academics from “damage-centered research,” focusing instead on desire.  This could in turn allow for communities to write their own narratives, rather than dwell on the negativity of former oppression.  Future is not defined by scarification, instead built successfully upon healing.  She further emphasizes the role of the individual in combating narratives of homogenization and collectively assumed knowledge.  Narrative often strives for simplicity, but instead as researchers and designers we must embrace multiplicity.

Indigenous cultures have long-standing relationships with the land and possess knowledge that can inform sustainable design practices. To foster sustained climate adaptation, it is crucial to acknowledge the role of land-based and vernacular architectural practices and their intersection with the validation of indigenous knowledge. Wisdom from local craftspeople possesses a wealth of building techniques that have evolved over generations to adapt to local climates, resources, and cultural values. By incorporating traditional practices into the contemporary architectural discourse, we can find valuable insights into sustainable and regenerative approaches to design and construction. In general, working within communities where the researcher or artist is an outsider, cultural sensitivity and empathy are paramount; Mutual understanding, shared interest. This is not an extractive process, instead it centers listening to and validating formerly overlooked ideologies that we now recognize as modern and innovative. Architects have the ability and responsibility to develop design approaches that are more attuned to local ecosystems and respect cultural diversity. Dismantling systems of oppression with deep empathy and active listening, we can collectively achieve a just transition in the climate crisis that simultaneously promotes indigenous sovereignty and decolonization.

The Climigrant’s Sketchbook Initiative has worked directly on projects with the aim of preserving cultural heritage and engaging with local communities to ensure the longevity and relevance of these design practices. This approach not only ensures ecological sustainability but also respects and honors indigenous cultures and their ways of knowing. By examining and learning from these vernacular practices, designers can create more contextually appropriate and environmentally responsible solutions.