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You Do It Because You Love It

By Hansy Better Barraza, AIA, LEED AP

Our office has engaged in a number of pro bono projects in the past and our experience have been that when we choose to pursue it, we do it out of love. We immediately know that engaging in pro bono work is a huge financial burden for our office. There are ways to recuperate some of the financial losses such as partnering up with other design firms and non-profit institutions. An example of partnering with other firms is when we participated in The Young Architects Parti Wall, Hanging Green collaboration in preparation for the 2008 national AIA convention that took place in Boston. Our client in this case was the general public. A major grant by the LEF Foundation paid for the material cost and construction labor, but the design was done on a pro bono basis. One might ask who benefits from all the pro bono work that was done by the design firms. For one, the design firms benefit from the research that was done and ultimately takes this knowledge and project example to the next future client. Second, the benefit goes to the larger general public where the ‘what is that’ is a slight pause in their daily routine that brings a design awareness closer to their neighborhood.

Liability issues are always a difficult issue when working on a pro bono project and I don’t think one can get around it. We most often rely on our own expertise and consultants to manage problems earlier on to find sensible solutions. Any liability issues are always brought into the beginning design process through a contract. We assume that the responsibilities are the same as with any other projects taken on in the office.

In 2004, we were approached by a non-profit organization Hope for the Children of Haiti (HFC) based in Waltham, MA and Bon Repos, Haiti, to design a Campus of Hope on a 16 acre site that they currently owned. The Campus of Hope was to incorporate housing, an educational facility, medical clinic and trade school for vulnerable children. The goal was to set new standards for sustainable construction in a developing country prone to natural disasters. The challenge of this project was that here we were given a complex project that at first we couldn’t even begin to relate to. The reward for doing this project was that in 2004 I was given the opportunity to travel to Haiti and saw firsthand how one lived and worked in Port-au-Prince. I had access to the 55 vulnerable children under HFC care and was an advocate for the vulnerable children when meeting with governmental organizations, contractors and engineers when discuss building constraints. Given the recent earthquake that has devastated Haiti, I feel more than ever connected with the Haitian community. HFC recently made me aware that the 55 children are safe.

You do pro bono work because you love engaging others that don’t have the means or resources and not for keeping staff busy for the sake of ‘busy-ness’ nor to raise your office profile. Call me naïve, but recognition eventually comes when you do quality work.

About the Author: Hansy Better Barraza, AIA, LEED AP, is Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, Rhode Island School of Design, and Principal, Studio Luz Architects, ltd.


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