BY BRIAN LIBBY
This month we've been hearing a lot about 1 percent and 99 percent. The Occupy Wall Street protest in New York and its satellite demonstrations around the country, including one here in Portland, have brought attention to how one percent of the population controls about 20 percent of the wealth, and how financial policy from both sides of the political fence has too often favored the haves over the have-nots.
A different kind of 1 percent, however, will be on exhibit beginning Thursday. “THE 1% : Design for the Public Good” is an exhibition of work by Pacific Northwest architecture firms that reserve one percent of their design time for pro bono work on behalf of nonprofits. Coordinated through The 1%, a nationwide program of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Architecture, the exhibit opens this Thursday (October 20) at the ADX Gallery, at 417 SE 11th Avenue in Portland.
The exhibit will include work from a variety of regional firms including Architecture Building Culture, the Portland firm organizing the event, as well as Seattle area offices CAST Architecture, Grouparchitect, The Miller Hull Partnership, ORB Architects, Perkins + Will, Schemata Workshop, VIA Architecture, Workshop for Architecture|Design, and WPA, and Portland firms SERA Architects, Lorraine Guthrie Architect, Scott Edwards Architecture and Yost Grube Hall Architecture.
"This is a first attempt to get the word out to the design community and nonprofits," says Brian Cavanaugh of Architecture Building Culture. "It shows a wide range of work, from wayfinding to more traditional design work. Projects vary in scale. Some of the work isn’t necessarily glamorous, but it’s about firms committing time to these initiatives."
Cavanaugh says the 1% drive isn't about bringing paid work to the firm but it can be a side effect. "A lot of nonprofits would not even think that they would have the ability to bring an architect on board. The first I did was for an animal sanctuary. They were a client of modest means. One of their volunteers knew about the program. We made a match, and all of a sudden she’s having the services of an architect brought to bear. It can also turn into something bigger. A lot of this is in pre-design and planning, to get over the hump of, say, starting a capital campaign. It can maybe even turn into a fee-based project at some point."
But this begs the question: with architecture firms struggling through the Great Recession, is there time for such pro-bono efforts? Cavanaugh has one suggestion about how to make it so. "For my office, we’ve adopted a policy of stopping doing design competitions," he says. "There’s a tremendous effort we’d normally put into that that we can put to bear on these. It’s a better use of our time. We can make more of an impact. We’ll take on one major pro bono project a year." His firm is currently working with a San Francisco film museum on a study for a project.
"The idea behind the name is that firms can at least pledge one percent of a staff member’s annual time. It amounts to about 20 hours in a year. In a large office, if you can get four or five people pledged, that’s not insignificant. And most offices go beyond that."
The Opening night reception is this Thursday from 6:00-10:00pm. The exhibition runs from Thursday, October 20 through Sunday October 23.