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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, interior design 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 perform a similar connecting function.

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 for this commitment, Public Architecture aspires to not only provide needy social projects with design services and 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; often a design for a new project is the necessary starting point for a non-profit’s fundraising campaign. The relationship between client and architect 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 below.

10 | Emily Pilloton and John Peterson Argue for Design as the Great Equalizer, Part 1
11 | Emily Pilloton and John Peterson Argue for Design as the Great Equalizer, Part 2


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Birimbau" by Dom Um Romao from his album "Bossa Jazz: The Birth of Hard Bossa Samba Jazz & the Evolution of Brazilian Fusion 1962-73."