As part of the Architecture and the City Festival, Resilient SF explored resiliency strategies meant to aid San Francisco’s ability to withstand future environmental and social challenges. Public Architecture and Shelter Media Project, with support from the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction, invited CMG Landscape Architecture, David Baker Architects, and Perkins + Will San Francisco to propose innovative solutions that focused on systemic and social opportunities rather than large infrastructural endeavors. At the September 18th event, the three firms presented their proposals. A stimulating panel discussion moderated by Public Architecture Founder and President, John Peterson, followed the conclusion of the presentations. Panelists included Degenkolb Engineers Chairman, Chris Poland, strategist, designer and current Gensler Fellow, Laura Weiss, and City of San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim.
David Baker Architects explored harnessing the citywide water cistern system to play an expanded role as sites of community engagement and gathering during times of non-disaster as well as a locus for action in emergency situations. Though it continues to remain largely outside of public awareness, the cistern system is an historic infrastructure network that contains water for emergency use. David Baker Architects proposed transforming cistern spaces by adding bold graphics to convey pertinent general and location-specific emergency information. These cistern spaces would be turned into plazas with the goal of sparking curiosity, constantly disseminating information, and creating a well-distributed series of hubs for action in emergency situations. Through this proposal, David Baker Architects sought to build upon, strengthen, and make visible existing physical and civic infrastructure to bolster San Francisco’s robust social capacity both in ordinary times and during disasters.
Perkins + Will drew inspiration from hardened community health facilities such as hospitals and fire stations. In this case, the term “hardened” refers to a facility’s ability to withstand a severe event. Perkins + Will noted that disaster-induced interruptions to non-hardened community health organizations constituted a significant public health challenge. Consequently, they proposed that the City of San Francisco identify the highest priority, non-acute ambulatory care services and mandate that organizations providing these services occupy structures with sufficient seismic reinforcement to return to operation within 30 days of a severe event. Wanting to bridge that 30-day gap, Perkins + Will devised a prototype rapidly deployable health clinic (or “RDoC,” as they termed it). The RDoC would be used as a replacement venue for critical ambulatory health services to San Francisco’s neediest in the aftermath of a seismic or severe weather event. In the event of a disaster-induced interruption, community organizations would be able to relocate to RDoCs until their home facilities could reopen. Perkins + Will asserted that the RDoC would enhance community self-reliance and resiliency by providing community clinics a mechanism to continue to serve their patients in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
CMG Landscape Architecture developed a proposal that sought to fortify Golden Gate Park by retrofitting the Polo Fields with sustainable infrastructural systems. These systems would not only improve the Park’s many events and festivals, but would also allow it to host disaster victims. CMG noted the tremendous overlap between logistical preparations for park festivals and effective responses to major disasters; the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management recommends citizens prepare for 72 hours without key infrastructural lifelines such as food, water, waste management, energy, and shelter – the same resources required for 3-day park festivals. The proposal focused on building upon Golden Gate Park’s Polo Fields with four key layers of infrastructure: water, waste management, energy and communication, and shelter and aid. As part of the proposal, the Polo Fields would be fitted with built-up edges housing public toilets. The waste by-products from the toilets could be treated and then used to fertilize the 200 acres of park turf. Through their proposed changes to Golden Gate Park, CMG hoped to reinforce the role of urban parks as both purposeful and beautiful. CMG also devised an annual preparedness event entitled Camp the Park during which city parks would open for an overnight resiliency festival. Camp the Park would commemorate the 1906 Earthquake and Fire while testing the city’s ability to mobilize and prepare for disaster response in a festive atmosphere.
After the presentations, the panelists sat down to discuss resiliency solutions and the power of incorporating behavioral change. Solutions, the panelists noted, must be habit-forming for the community and integrated into daily activities. By the time a disaster happens, the community would already be familiar with how to engage with the available resources. As Laura Weiss voiced, “people are the engine of resiliency.” Thus, by utilizing products or services to induce behavioral change, communities themselves could help ensure their own resiliency. “San Francisco is evolving into a sharing economy; these solutions could be an outgrowth of that evolution,” remarked John Rahaim. Indeed each of the proposals embraced the functional versatility inspired by that economic evolution. As mentioned during the conversation, discussions around recovery and preparedness are often challenging and fraught with bureaucracy. That the proposals were created with what Chris Poland described as “delight” added to their strength, allowing them to make difficult conversations more palatable. The panelists agreed that the schemes presented throughout the evening were all complementary; they could all move forward and work effectively together.
This design challenge, though the first of its kind, need not be the last of its kind. It can happen in any city as a way to engage the architecture community to be leaders in resiliency design thinking.
This year Public Architecture turned ten years old. As we continue to quietly work through this milestone, I thought I would share with you why each day I am both gratified by what we have achieved and humbled by what remains to be done.
I founded Public Architecture in response to the desire of myself and others in my private practice to do, simply, meaningful work at work. We had a vision: empowering designers to not only conceive of solutions on behalf of clients but to identify and address challenges on behalf of larger communities. Yet we soon realized that, unlike the legal and medical professions, the design community then had yet to establish industry-wide practices like pro bono to serve and impact those most in need. In what sometimes seems like a moment of naïve enthusiasm, we created Public Architecture and programs like The 1% in an attempt to address this unmet opportunity, and here we are today.
Of course, to summarize the previous decade in a few sentences would be to understate the efforts of the many staff, volunteers, and Board members whose talents and hard work have been critical to our success. Through their efforts and the commitment of likeminded designers, it is difficult to deny that our original vision—a world where designers could serve the public good through sustainable, scalable practices—is well underway.
Today, The 1% includes more than 1100 firms who have committed at least 1% of their billable hours to pro bono design services; more than 15,000 designers now provide a combined $42 million dollars’ worth of design services each year. Both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) are partnering with The 1% to encourage their members to be a part of this transformation.
I sometimes describe Public Architecture as a hundred year organization; in reality, longevity only hints at the scope of what we seek to achieve. We know that the questions we need to answer will change and evolve over time as this practice continues to take hold. Already, we have begun to move from “How can we get firms and designers to make pro bono a part of their practice?” to “How can we help firms and designers be more effective change agents in underserved communities?” Yet the basic principles of our work remain the same. Quality, scale, accessibility, sustainability—these values are core to what we do and to our vision for all communities across the nation.
If you have helped Public Architecture to be a better organization in the past ten years, thank you. If you are helping us to be a better organization now or in the future, thank you.
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Public Architecture has learned to do a lot with a little, but imagine what we could do with even a small increase in funding. For every $1 donated, Public Architecture can leverage $60 of pro bono design services in communities across the country. Click here to make a donation.
By Brad Leibin
Throughout history, one can find evidence that environment has a major role to play in improving public health outcomes. In the 19th Century, infectious diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis claimed millions of lives around the world before it was understood that environmental design measures such as aqueduct systems to supply cities clean drinking water, urban parks, revisions to building codes and zoning ordinances, and improved sewer systems (not medicine) were the most effective means to eliminate disease (i). Despite examples such as this, the importance of environment still too often goes overlooked by the healthcare industry as well as designers. Research done by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown that many of the most pressing global public health issues of the 21st century are tied to environment. It is estimated that, currently, 24% of the global disease burden and 23% of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors (ii). In its 2006 paper, “Preventing Disease Through Health Environments,” the WHO paints a picture of the negative impact that inadequate built environments, pollution, and climate are having on disease rates, particularly in the world’s poorest regions.
One might think healthcare facilities would be leaders in adopting sustainable building practices. But it appears, too often, that this is not the case. In United States the healthcare industry is the number one generator of waste (producing 3.4 million pounds, annually), the number two largest consumer of energy (spending $8.5 billion on energy, annually), and consistently ranked among the top 10 users of energy in any given community (ii, iii,iv). Not only does this wastefulness make healthcare more expensive and less accessible than it needs to be, it is makes healthcare a prime contributor to the environmental degradation that the WHO cites as a major causes of worldwide disease. In other words, the healthcare industry may actually be contributing to the spread of the illnesses it is trying to treat (iii). Read more