April 7, 2005
For years the legal and medical professions
have offered pro bono resources to the less fortunate. Law
has taken the lead, with the American Bar Association encouraging
lawyers to each contribute 50 hours a year in free legal counsel
and other support to those who cant afford it. Many
firms even have their own pro bono managers.
But while many architects and their firms
have been involved with similar efforts the architecture profession
as a whole has stood on the sidelines. Until now.
On March 31 Public Architecture, a non-profit
based in San Francisco, launched the 1% solution, which challenges
architecture firms to pledge one percent of their billable
hours to the public through pro bono work. This works out
to about 20 hours a year per employee, and could collectively
add up to more than 5 million hours annually, the group says.
Pro bono help can include just about anything: design of churches,
schools, parks, and even graphic design support or general
The fact that Architecture has no such
organized program at this point was stunning to
John Cary, Executive Director of Public Architecture, whose
work grew out of Public Architectures pro bono work
with host firm San Francisco-based Peterson Architects.
The 1% program, says Cary, focuses on
firms, rather than individuals, recognizing that firm policies
are the key to getting employees involved. Its
not a solo pursuit, he says, adding that the effort
will also help improve firm culture and give younger architects
the chance to hone their skills as project leaders and hands-on
A grant from the National Endowment for
the Arts has helped Public Architecture launch a website for
the 1% solution,
www.theonepercent.org, recognizing firms participation
in the program and providing information and guidance. In
the future, the organization hopes to receive support from
groups like the AIA, and plans to provide case studies of
successful pro bono work.
Since launching, the program has enlisted
25 firms, with about 4,600 hours pledged. The largest firm
to commit so far is 55 people, but some larger firms are close
to committing, says Cary. Hes a realist, though, noting
that most architecture firms dont have the money to
pledge as many resources to pro bono work as more lucrative
professions like law and architecture.
Thats why we have a 1% solution
and law has a %2.5 solution, he says.