May we have a moment of your time?
1% of your time to be exact.
Do you remember why you decided to become a designer?
Doctors save lives.
Designers _________ .
*Collective murmur from audience*
Earlier this month, I attended a panel discussion to celebrate the launch of Public Architecture‘s new book, The Power of Pro Bono. Held at the Graham Foundation headquarters, a Prairie-style mansion in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, the event turnout was indeed enough to fill the enormous space. Once inside, I wandered through beautiful, historic rooms filled with a hip-looking design crowd that was buzzing in conversation. While I felt surrounded by kindred spirits, I was not expecting to have my usual conversations about pro bono. For me, the night was all about a new perspective on a familiar subject–a view of pro bono through a different side of the prism.
Activating field leaders in pro bono service
John Peterson, Founder & President of Public Architecture, served as the moderator for the panel discussion and used the statements above to introduce the organization’s The 1% Program, which challenges architecture and design firms nationwide to pledge a minimum of 1% of their time to pro bono service. The program’s Web site is a Match.com of sorts, allowing nonprofits to post their design needs and connect with hundreds of leading architecture firms across the country that are looking for pro bono projects to engage.
As described in a previous post, The Power of Pro Bono is a book that captures 40 of these matches–stories of pro bono design from the perspectives of both clients and designers. Two of the panelists at the event presented the story of the Kam Liu Building, the stunning home of the Chinese American Service League (CASL).
Introducing the Kam Liu Building
Bernarda Wong, president of CASL and Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang described their work together on this tremendous project to construct a building that could house the organization’s many social service programs and 300 staff members. CASL serves more than 17,000 people annually, many of whom are newly-arrived Chinese immigrants that speak little English. Because the Kam Liu Building serves as a welcoming point to Chicago for this community, both Wong and Gang felt it was important for the building to be an inviting yet modern space.
This meant no pagoda roofs or red and green brickwork. Instead, it was conceived as, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, an “elegant silver box.” One audience member told me he can even see the building shimmering from the L-train on his daily commute. The titanium exterior is indeed one of the building’s most striking features; the shingles evoke dragon scales. Inside, there is a two-story community room designed to maximize inter-generational contact among clients. A steel sunscreen shades the room, reminiscent of lattice windows found in traditional Chinese architecture.
The Chinese American Service League is also a two-time Taproot Foundation grantee. A team of pro bono consultants completed its Key Messages and Brand Strategy Service Grant last March, and another team is currently redesigning the organization’s website.
Pro bono community
I couldn’t help but marvel at the overlapping pro bono effort in the room. CASL is effectively and strategically leveraging the talent of professionals from many different backgrounds to further its own mission. The pro bono consultants and designers involved on these three projects have collectively made a huge impact on a high-performing nonprofit, all without ever knowing each other–the pro bono marketplace in action!
As another panelist from Detroit remarked, “pro bono is a great model. It can be replicated in cities across the U.S. and should be considered a major resource in tackling society’s challenges.” I couldn’t agree more. From titanium-cladding to key messaging, the more professionals across fields that use “moments of their time” to give pro bono, the more this marketplace will expand to better meet nonprofits’ needs.
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Miriam Young is a Program Associate in Chicago at the Taproot Foundation.
Kam Liu Building, Chicago, photos courtesy of Studio Gang