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To Pro Bono or Not to Pro Bono

By Robert Cozzarelli, AIA

As our profession endures the worst economy since the Great Depression, architects are asked to go the extra mile and provide pro bono services. Immediately any reasonable architect would ask, “How can I do pro bono during these times, especially when I have to consider any project type, accept any commission, and agree to a modest fee just to pay the bills.” The real question is why any architect would consider providing pro bono services, and receive no financial compensation, during these turbulent economical times. The answer is simple; to network and to increase profitability.

How can that make sense when our profession is in survival mode? What I have found from my experiences in providing pro bono services; is that it eventually leads to a project requiring the furnishing of full services.

It is important to clearly identify the pro bono services that you will be providing and the limit to those services. Typically pro bono services are conducted at a very early part of a project, usually during conceptual or pre-design phases. It is here where an architect can show the value of our profession, importance of design, and the roll of the architect benefits by delivering professional services that will translate into a project, one that will be inherently beneficial to the public good. It is important to be forthright and trustworthy, at the inception and throughout the pro bono design process, so that everyone fully understands what the architect will provide and to what extent.

My personal pro bono experiences have benefitted me as a concerned citizen architect committed to contributing to the community, while it has promoted my firm and staff. I rationalized providing pro bono services by comparing it to purchasing an ad. Buying an advertisement is a hit or miss adventure. By providing pro bono services, both in the private and public sector, I will have the opportunity for recognition as an architect, exposure for my efforts, and I can create opportunities to further implement the project. The time and expense is relatively minimal when compared to the potential future developed benefit and community involvement that is being established.

My first venture in providing pro bono services was for the Disabled American Veterans. I designed a small meeting facility and I agreed to assist the Veterans because of the contributions they had made to our country. I believed it was the least I could do in return for the sacrifices they have made over the years, defending and protecting all of us. What I received were countless recognitions of gratitude from not only the Veterans, but from people such as, New Jersey State Senator Rice and Congressman Pascrell (8th Congressional District of New Jersey), along with the Mayor and Council Members and citizens within the community. I was overwhelmed, and I realized how powerful and beneficial pro bono work can be for all involved. This project has led me to many other commissioned projects while advancing my professional status within the community.

Most recently I have provided limited pro bono conceptual design work for a proposed new high school stadium. These services were for a neighboring town that was cognizant of the work I had provided for the veterans. The existing stadium was condemned and is situated on a parcel of city owned property. Funding is limited and the city group charged with developing a new stadium has zero funds for the project and no budget to retain an architect. The stadium group contacted me when they heard how I assisted the veterans. I explained that I would be willing to help by providing a conceptual design, promote the project publically; but that the design would remain my intellectual property. In exchange I asked that my firm be listed in all their publications as the architect for the design. Their gratitude was evident, and once again, by providing minimal hours and architectural guidance, this group quickly understood the benefits of our profession and talents of me as an architect. The town has committed to retaining my firm for this stadium project as funds are obtained in the very near future.

I encourage all AIA architects to embrace the idea of pro bono services. It will make you a better citizen architect while promoting or profession to society.

About the Author: Robert Cozzarelli, AIA has over thirty years experience in architecture. Robert had the honor of serving as 2004 AIA-New Jersey President, received AIA New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal and recently 2010 AIA New Jersey Architect-of-the-Year.


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