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New Program Encourages Pro Bono Work in Architecture

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 can’t 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 consulting.


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 Architecture’s 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. “It’s 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 workers.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts has helped Public Architecture launch a website for the 1% solution,, 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. He’s a realist, though, noting that most architecture firms don’t have the money to pledge as many resources to pro bono work as more lucrative professions like law and architecture.

“That’s why we have a 1% solution and law has a %2.5 solution,” he says.

Sam Lubell