When Architects Give Back, Part 1

How Architecture Firms Support Volunteerism

By Maya Henry, COLUMNS editor Posted on August 22, 2019

Volunteers from Hayes Design Group’s Adopt-a-Landmark program at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in May

Volunteerism is an integral part of the architecture profession whether it is through individual architect’s efforts to give back in their own communities, or ingrained in firm culture. In this article (the first in a series) we take a closer look at different ways two firms make community support integral to their bottom line.

Hayes Design Group Architects: Adopting a Landmark
On Friday, May 17th, the Hayes Design Group Architects (HDG), headquartered in Robinson Township, held its fourth annual company-wide Adopt-a-Landmark program at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, a National Historic Landmark located on the North Side. Throughout the day, sixteen of the firm’s employees assisted with work inside and outside of the church, including a variety of landscaping and cleaning tasks.

HDG’s volunteer work was complementary to a restoration project at the church. “It was perfect timing to coincide with our on-going Emmanuel Restoration Project. With the enormity of need our building has, we need all the help and support we can get,” said Jessie C. Hipolit, Chair, Emmanuel Restoration Project and the church’s volunteer coordinator for the day.

The firm’s Adopt-a-Landmark program is focused on the important role that the architectural profession can play in honoring local historic landmarks to ensure their upkeep and maintenance so everyone can continue to enjoy the rich local history and culture they provide.

Two HDG volunteers helping with landscaping.  From left: Jennifer Beck, AIA Project Architect and Jennifer Carnprobst, Associate at HDG

It is no accident that HDG’s volunteer effort takes place in May, as it coincides with Preservation Month, a celebration of historic places for the purpose of instilling national and community pride in our built environment and the benefits of historic preservation.

Maintaining historical landmarks can come with considerable costs, as by definition, many of these buildings are very old. While there are a number of funding programs that focus on helping historical buildings, they are limited, so support from other organizations and local community members is becoming more and more necessary. “A number of our local historic landmarks are in critical need of volunteers,” says HDG Principal and Founder, Kevin Hayes, AIA. “We hope our efforts will encourage more companies to do something similar so we can continue to enjoy these treasured landmarks in the future.”

HDG’s day of service began in 2016, with employees volunteering at one of the most recognized architectural landmarks in the world, Fallingwater, in Mill Run. In 2017, In previous years the firm volunteered at the Woodville Plantation near Bridgeville, and the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, not far from HDG’s office.

Rothschild Doyno Collaborative: A New Day of Service
Staff members of Rothschild Doyno Collaborative (RDC) spent the better part of a year researching and developing their Day of Service model of providing pro-bono architectural services to nonprofits before launching it earlier this year.

Although the firm has a history of supporting community efforts such as Canstruction and charitable giving, the idea of doing something with a specific deliverable that could have a positive impact on the Pittsburgh region was sparked when RDC Principal Dan Rothschild, AIA was introduced to New Orleans firm EskewDumezRipple at an AIA Pennsylvania event.

A site visit with RDC and their first Day of Service organization, Hello Neighbor

After honing the Day of Service concept to fit RDC’s design process the firm released a “light” RFP to local nonprofits and received 10 submissions. The selection process was democratic and all firm staff participated, says RDC Associate Robert Tuñón, AIA. “The process revealed that the gap between these ideas that will help transform our region and access to funding is so great. It was very hard to pick just one; all of the submissions deserved support.”

RDC ultimately selected Hello Neighbor, a Pittsburgh nonprofit committed to supporting recently resettled refugee families. Sloane Davidson, Founder and CEO of Hello Neighbor, heard about the opportunity through her participation in an AIA Foundation Leadership Institute panel.

Robert Tuñón, AIA and Benita Nartey at the first RDC Day of Service

After the selection, RDC worked closely with Davidson and her team to design a day-long workshop that would effectively utilize RDC’s talent to provide design services for an innovative “clubhouse” space for the organization.

The designs, which will be unveiled by Hello Neighbor in the future, are a reflection of the wide array of stakeholders that were brought to the table to give input during the day-long design workshop. Staff members, friends of the organization, local Pittsburghers who serve as mentors to immigrant families, and of course the newly settled immigrants themselves all gave input over the course of the day, which also included a youth engagement session.

Sloane Davidson, Founder and CEO of Hello Neighbor, heard about the opportunity through her participation in an AIA Foundation Leadership Institute panel.

The resulting designs from the workshop will further the organization’s mission and help Pittsburghers become stronger immigrant allies.  RDC hopes that by sharing their process other firms may be interested in replicating and adapting it to their own unique architectural process.

“Having a program with a specified date and scope that aligned with our firm’s iterative process was a very positive experience for the RDC staff,” says Tuñón. “The benefits of designing your own volunteer effort are that there are really clear expectations for all partners and that’s why others should consider pursuing a unique firm-based program.”

How does your firm inspire volunteerism? We’d love to hear about it for a future article. Email mhenry@aiapgh.org and share your firm’s story.

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