By Amy Ress
Pro active design typically starts with architects and designers who identify a spatial or environmental challenge in their community that has both the potential to be solved by design expertise and the likelihood to lead to community benefit. Through The 1% Firm Survey, we know that only about 40 percent of The 1% firm participants intend to utilize The 1% matching service to find their next pro bono project. So how are designers finding pro bono clients?
Public Architecture increasingly sees firms in The 1% network who take a pro active approach to social impact work. I’d like to share one such example, a pro active pro bono design initiative of Perkins + Will (P+W) that serves to benefit the Tenderloin Neighborhood in San Francisco. I was privileged to have volunteered and contributed to P+W’s effort during an inspiring and fun day of community engagement on July 21st.
The Jones Neighborhood Nexus is a long term concept for an architectural/urban design vision at the intersection of Jones & Market Street for the benefit of the residents and community, and is an initiative of P+W’s pro-bono architecture design program called the Social Responsibility Initiative. The study aims to create a dialogue about transforming a high-traffic and socially and economically challenged street corner in the Tenderloin, and it explores ways to highlight the neighborhood history and identity. P+W’s vision is to activate the space with a program of public art, community engagement activities, pop-up retail, green space and interactive kiosks.
To kick start the study, P+W hosted a community art event at the site and worked with local children from Youth Spirit Artworks and the Boys & Girls Club in creating a temporary street mural. By morning on the day of the event, P+W taped off the sidewalk into sections and supplied non-toxic tempera paints for a group of volunteers to brush in a multi-color block pattern. By noon, youth groups were painting in the details of a colorful quilt and dedicating the sidewalk mural to the Tenderloin arts community. Through the process, the youth literally claimed their urban neighborhood with depictions of trees and flowers, mountains and the sky, and abstract and geometric patterns. A live band contributed to the spirited scene and the activities drew a steady stream of community onlookers, from the local arts community to the homeless, hipsters, seniors and tourists. Nearly everyone was interested and asked questions about the project, and many encouraged the youth in their efforts.
Preparing for the event was no easy accomplishment. To temporarily close intersection and re-route the bus line, P+W worked over several months and up until the day of the event with numerous city agencies including the Mayor’s Office, Arts Commission, and MUNI. P+W’s team arrived in the early morning hours to install the barricades and to set up. Two P+W staff volunteers leading the SRI effort confided they were so anxious the day would go well that they couldn’t sleep the night before. Thanks to P+W’s SRI Group: Seth Meisler, Rosannah Sandoval, Jeremy Bamberger, David Bradshaw, Jason Wilkinson, and Andrew Wolfram—for their efforts that paid off.
While the mural was temporary and removed after one week, the project exceeded P+W’s goal to spark a dialogue. The mural gave the neighborhood youth a voice in their district’s long term vision. Moreover, the project was a point of community pride and got people to see the potential of the Jones & Market Street intersection to be transformed to better represent and serve the community.