Contract - March 2010 - (Page 104)

essay: on the future the social aspect of social responsibility By John Cary John Cary Executive Director, Public Architecture, and editor of The Power of Pro Bono (Fall 2010; Metropolis Books) A s the sun sets and shadows fall over the corner of Grand and Olive Street in downtown St. Louis, a former Woolworth store that stood hopelessly vacant for years emerges as a beacon of light. Buses and cars buzz by noisily, yet, on approach, one’s eyes are drawn solely to the vibrant signage adorning this now-majestic building and the activity inside. Ahead is a magnet for youth and teens. It’s not a Juicy Couture or Abercrombie & Fitch clothier, nor a movie theater, arcade, or any of the other usual suspects. This, instead, is the dazzling new home of a chapter of non-pro t Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a more than 100-year-old youth mentoring organization. Through a mix of color, playfulness, and restraint, this is a space that digni es. Fully integrating the staff and youth spaces, rather than separating them, the design uniquely blurs the line between the server and the served. It is not patronizing for its young and sometimes too-cool visitors. Nor does it understate the commitment that the organization’s staff members make to their chosen cause. None of this happened by accident; it was a deliberate act. To forecast the future of social responsibility in the design elds, we can look to the present efforts of both large, international rms like Perkins+Will as well as smaller regional practices like Trivers Associates. The main gathering space for this cross-section of rms is “The 1%” pro bono program of Public Architecture. If more than 750 design rms and an estimated $25 million in pro bono design services represent the present, or the status quo, we can have high hopes for the future of social responsibility. We can look ahead to the day that the quantities expressed in those aforementioned and growing numbers are outpaced by a focus on quality. Social responsibility is arguably the most feel-good but least sexy of the ve topics discussed in the future essays presented in these pages. It is dif cult to pinpoint a sense of “responsibility” as being a signi cant motivator for this type of work, but not at all dif cult to understand the social aspects that fuel this kind of work. Indeed, in a recent survey of more than 500 design rms by Harvard Business School, an overwhelming majority of respondents cited giving back to one’s community, social relevance, and personal satisfaction as primary motivators of respondents’ social responsibility work. The key, if it is to shape the future of practice, is for social responsibility to draw on the same tried-and-true practices that designers employ to realize their fee-generating projects. It avoids positioning design “for good” outside of or separate from design excellence, as has been the case over time. The late, great architect Samuel Mockbee once said, “If architecture is going to nudge, cajole, and inspire a community to challenge the status quo into making responsible changes, it will take the subversive leadership of academics and practitioners who keep reminding us of the profession’s responsibilities.” Assuming Mockbee’s proclamation extends to all forms of design, we are arguably beyond the need for subversion. A glance at some past Designers of the Year provides some insight. Whether a high design rm like GRAFT rounding up world-renowned designers to work beside them in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, or David Rockwell’s rm designing both the Oscars stage set and libraries for under-resourced public schools throughout New York City, it is no wonder that social responsibility has risen to a status deemed on par with these other four topics identi ed by Contract as shaping the future of practice. Social responsibility must not, however, subsist as little more than a byproduct of our down economy, where doing good and feeling good have become stand-ins for big budgets and other measures of success. Instead, it must be celebrated, critiqued, and the centerpiece of all design practices, now and into the future. Social responsibility must not subsist as a by-product of our down economy, where doing good and feeling good have become stand-ins for big budgets and other measures of success. This project, designed by Trivers Associates, is a prime example of socially responsible design, and not just because it recently clinched one of the top prizes in Contract’s second annual Inspirations Awards; rather, because it literally transformed a blighted corner and a vacant building into state-of-theart headquarters for an organization that changes lives. This project exempli es that good causes deserve good spaces. It is at once an example of socially responsible design and a model for design generally. Increasingly, design rms are making social responsibility an important element of their practice. Notably, in 2008 Perkins+Will launched a rst-of-itskind, rm-wide Social Responsibility Initiative (SRI). The initiative places social responsibility alongside the rm’s stated commitments to design excellence, practice excellence, and excellence in sustainable design, providing a platform for no-fee and reduced-fee services. 104 contract march 2010

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Contract - March 2010

Contract 3/10
Editor’s Note
Essays from the Past:
The Contract Design Dilemma (May 1962)
Space Planning Symposium (July 1963)
Changes in Workplaces Reflect Changes in Task Structure (June 1970)
Women Need Feminine Desks (June 1970)
Name “Interior Designer” Is a Misnomer Because of Broader Duties (August 1970)
Research Reveals Proper Height, Width, Depth of Furniture, from Office Chairs to Library Tables (September 1970)
Astounding Technology Portends Drastic Office Changes in the ’80s (January 1980)
Is the Office Really Necessary? (January 1989)
If You Cut Your Fee, Do You Bleed? (June 1990)
Design: Retrospective
Essays on the Future:
More Happiness, Less Stuff: By Ray C. Anderson
The Social Aspect of Social Responsibility: By John Cary
Leading in the Global Market: By Ross Donaldson
Technology Trends: By Cathryn Barrett
Inadmissible Evidence: By Michael Berens
Designers Rate: Eight Designers Pick Their Favorite Three Commercial Interiors Products of the Last 50 Years
Ad Index

Contract - March 2010