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One more good turn by US architects

Despite the recession, US architects are increasingly putting their skills to work for the public good, according to a recent survey of nearly 600 firms by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Architecture in collaboration with researchers from Harvard Business School.

For the third annual study, Public Architecture queried architecture and design firms that have pledged a minimum of one percent of their billable hours through the organization’s “The 1%” pro bono design program. Public Architecture’s goal is to direct at least 1percent of every design firm’s time to pro bono service.

The firms surveyed ranged from solo practitioners to some of the largest firms in the country, such as HKS, HOK, and Perkins+Will. By the time the survey was administered, 560 firms had joined The 1%, of which 36 percent responded. To date, Public Architecture has recruited nearly 750 firms to The 1% program.

The key findings included that 74 percent of the firms reported meeting or exceeding the goal of 1 percent and more than two-thirds of respondents devoted 2 percent or more of their time to pro bono service over the past year; 6 percent of firm respondents committed more than 20 percent of their time to pro bono activities.

For firms participating in pro bono design, the most important criteria in selecting those projects were social relevance, design opportunity, and project type, according to the survey.

Financial constraints and available staff time remain the greatest obstacles to engaging in more pro bono work, while selection process and buy-in by firm decision-makers became much more substantial limitations to firms’ pro bono work, according to the survey.

“This survey demonstrates that design firms are beginning to understand that pro bono service can, and should, be a routine part of their business,” said John Peterson, AIA, founder and president of Public Architecture. “It can be a powerful tool for improving firm culture, networking, and innovation, while in service of the public good.”

Among the types of projects reported by more than 100 respondents were feasibility studies, preliminary design, facilities renovations and new construction. San Francisco-based Fougeron Architecture renovated Creative Growth, an art center for developmentally disabled adults in Oakland, Calif. The Chicago office of OWP/P | Cannon Design, is partnering with Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center to plan a flexible new home for the urban dance school for youth, providing fundraising materials and cost estimating for design and build-out of the new space. Perkins+Will published a first-of-its-kind Social Responsibility Initiative (SRI) Annual Report in 2009, a publication that is common practice in the legal profession.

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