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Public Architecture

Public Architecture is a San Francisco, California based architectural non-profit whose mission is to formalize and act as a connector for pro bono services within the professions of architecture, interiors and landscape architecture. It was founded by John Peterson, and grew out of his private practice, John Peterson Architects. Peterson began devoting more and more of his firm’s time to pro bono projects and conceived of the possibility of a national or global network of firms which did the same thing.

Public Architecture’s flagship program is called 1+. It began with an audacious but scalable goal: ask architecture firms to formally pledge at least 1% of their billable time to pro bono service. By asking this commitment, Public Architecture aspires to not only provide needy social causes with design services, but to also change the way firms to do the other 99% of their work.

To ensure these firms can find appropriate pro-bono projects to work on, Public Architecture acts as a match-maker – connecting architecture firms that wish to donate their time with non-profits in need of design services. The approach addresses a common problem: many non-profits are not even sure what sort of services they need, or how design can be used to tackle the social problems with which they are engaged.

The services offered by volunteer firms are diverse, including architecture, interior design and landscape architecture. The most common starting point for engagement is visioning. Non-profits work with designers to envision their projects, and often a design for a new project is the necessary starting point for a non-profit’s campaign. The relationship between client and architect, however, is largely self-guided; partnerships often last for years and can include multiple capital projects.

We spoke with John Peterson, along with Emily Pilloton of Project H Design, on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episodes here: