Helena Sandman

Architect / Project researcher / Doctoral candidate


Architecture, Design,
Empathic design,
User engagement,
Participatory design


Developing country settings, resource-constrained environments (Lately Tanzania, India and Tunisia, previously Senegal, Egypt)

Work sectors

Sustainability, Development, Humanitarian, Empathic surroundings, Affordable housing, Maternal health

My research for New Global is on user engagement in the architectural design process striving for locally grounded projects that support well-being and sustainability. Through housing design in rapidly urbanising areas and maternity ward design in low-resource settings I investigate the role of empathy in the design process, how the empathic design process nourishes sustainability on all levels, and how empathic design can support the design of architectural spaces that enable and reinforce empathic actions. You can read about my phd work within this online report (link below).

Architecture can strengthen cultural identity, improve living conditions and emanate calmness and relaxation. My hypothesis is that if people are engaged and enabled to contribute in forming their physical surroundings, they are more motivated to conduct a sustainable life, take care of their environment, and show empathy towards each other.

To be part of New Global has expanded my horizon on multiple levels. I have come to recognise the wide system that we are all part of, that potentially disturbs and ideally enables balance on Earth. During these years as part of the research group, I have learned not to be afraid or feel ashamed if I don’t understand something, going through phases feeling very stupid.

I have also experienced, how the bigger picture is built of small parts — how my research on a narrow field, being combined with other people’s research can build a whole and become significant. It is of utter importance that we continue to work in multi-disciplinary teams to achieve overall sustainability. 


Helena was employed as an Assistant Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong 2005–06 and has been teaching Basics of Architecture and multidisciplinary student teams in project based slum upgrading at Aalto University since 2008. She is also lecturing regularly world-wide. Together with two colleagues, Helena founded Ukumbi NGO in 2007 providing architecture as a means of development. She has her own architecture firm, Helena Sandman Ltd and is a partner in Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects Ltd.

The work of Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects has been honoured with both national and international prestigious awards and have been published and exhibited widely. Their work was exhibited for the third time at the Venice Architecture biennale in May 2016. As a continuation of New Global Helena is a project based team member in Leapfrog projects.