Giving Back Through Building and Design

Lakeside nonprofit architecture studio provides affordable and innovative design services to charitable organizations around the world

By Molly Priddy
Members of the 100 Fold Studio summer session stand with construction crews in front of the new information kiosks they designed and built in Lakeside. Courtesy photo.

When Seattle native Jamie Elderkin started on her five-year education path toward becoming an architect, she knew she wanted her work to make a difference in the world.

By the time she was doing her thesis on humanitarian architectural projects, Elderkin knew there were people out there using their building and designing credentials for work in nonprofit sectors, benefiting people who might not otherwise have access to the buildings or programs running within them.

“I had worked with an organization for my thesis project, so I knew it was out there,” Elderkin said.

But those organizations tend to trend toward students and helping them fulfill their requirements. Rarely does one find an entire firm with that mission, Elderkin said, but she found it at 100 Fold Studio in Lakeside.

“I hadn’t seen it in a fully functioning firm,” she said. “I really didn’t know it was possible.”

Based in the Flathead Valley, 100 Fold Studio is a nonprofit architecture firm that provides affordable and innovative design services to charitable organizations around the world. This includes a years-long project in Cambodia, and others in Thailand, Bangladesh, Palestine, Mexico, and Kenya.

Founder and architect John Hudson said the genesis of the idea for the studio came to him and his wife, Samantha, while they were on a Christian mission trip to Nepal in 1999. They had some issues with their visas, and the locals there told them they could return with an architectural license to make a bigger impact.

“A few Nepalis said if we had an architect’s license, ‘You could come back with a skill and build safe communities and better communities,’” Hudson said in an interview last week.

The couple came home, and Hudson immediately pursued a three-year track to earning his license. He went to school at the University of Virginia, and then went back there to get his master’s degree.

Hudson looked for programs in which he could use his degree and license that were also within the nonprofit Christian sector, but he couldn’t find any that fulfilled all his criteria. To be able to earn a license, he said a budding architect must work a certain number of hours with a licensed architect and the office must fulfill certain requirements. Many of the nonprofit design and building options mean well, he said, but don’t often provide all the requirements.

He spent a couple years bouncing around between mission work and market opportunities, but then he and Samantha visited Montana, specifically the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) group in Lakeside.

Impressed with the organization, the couple relocated to Lakeside and opened 100 Fold Studio. Five summers ago, due to popular demand, they began summer studio sessions for people across a wide breadth of the building industry.

The 2016 summer studio was particularly special, Hudson said, because it was all women, including Elderkin of Seattle, with students coming from as far as Zambia to participate.

“We started this summer program because we were getting maybe 40 requests a year, almost one every week, about joining the studio,” Hudson said. “(The summer interns) have a passion for Jesus and a passion for architecture and a passion for serving others.”

Part of its local work included designing and building new information kiosks in the parking lot of Blacktail Grocery, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 93, Blacktail Road, and Stoner Loop.

Hudson said local projects such as this one give the studio a foothold in Montana while it expands its work globally. Its project in Cambodia includes 12 ministries throughout the city, teaching English, caring for orphans with HIV, women at risk, children at risk, and a coffee shop reaching out to tourists while training local staff.

They’re currently designing a 1,000-student-a-day English center, and just finished a 150-student dorm and 500-person cafeteria.

The mission is Christian-based, Hudson said, but people of all creeds and religions work with the design crews and use the facilities.

“They share their faith and what inspires them, but it’s given to the people of Cambodia,” Hudson said. “We work with Christian organizations, but our work is very parallel to that.”

The broader message, Hudson said, is sharing gifts and talents. His crew does it through architecture and design, but others have used their skills to help as well. This includes local attorneys or artists getting involved with the studio to see how they can help, he said.

In time, 100 Fold would like to expand to possibly include medical care, since Hudson’s wife Samantha is a nurse. But the work will continue to include local projects, he said.

For Elderkin, the summer at 100 Fold Studio was a game changer. In school, the student population is split pretty evenly between men and women, she said, but the real world of architecture is male dominated. Working with all women was a great experience, and she also learned there is a place for her in architecture.

“I want to be an architect,” Elderkin said. “Within it, I definitely want to be working on community-centered buildings. Having worked with 100 Fold and seeing work that they do in communities all over the world has really reinforced that in me.”

For more information on 100 Fold Studio, visit www.100foldstudio.org.

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