In a room overlooking the Great Hall in the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, a group of dedicated individuals from Cannon Design met for the annual Open Hand Studio Forum. The Open Hand Studio represents Cannon Design’s firm-wide commitment to socially-responsible design. With an emphasis on improving the built environment, Open Hand Studio promotes the power of design thinking as a way to greater serve and connect to our communities.The forum attendees represented a varied cross-section of Cannon Design, with architects, engineers and marketing coordinators of all ages and expertise from 9 different offices who gathered for an all-day meeting to discuss important aspects of public interest design.
The morning commenced with some opening remarks from Cannon Design’s Senior Principal, John Syvertsen. After a warm welcome, he got down to business, discussing the goals set at last year’s forum with the guidance of the Taproot Foundation. The goals included creating a database resource for clients, establishing a community space for public interest design discussion, developing the public understanding of the power of design, and advancing the model of pro bono project feedback.The general sentiment toward most of these goals was that the Open Hand Studio has made incredible progress, but there is more work to be done.
The State of the Local
After John’s introduction, the discussion shifted to “The State of the Local” (a fitting title for the Washington DC setting) where the Cannon Design participants shared individual office updates on their Open Hand Studio projects, events and pursuits. Our hosts from the DC office described an interesting effort to look for ways to use Cannon Design’s SIFMO methodology in their pro bono project pursuits– connecting colleagues and sharing ideas across multiple offices. Some shared event successes like the Saint Louis office’s Exhibit A and the Chicago office’s Meet and Match. Other offices discussed “refining the message” of Open Hand Studio and “getting the word out” more effectively.
A Global Context: Peers, Partners and Perspectives
This year’s speakers provided an entirely new depth of expertise and perspective to the forum.
John Cary, founder of PublicInterestDesign.org, discussed best practices to “tell the story” of pro bono design efforts in the architectural profession.
Erinn McGurn, founder of SCALEAfrica shared incredible personal stories of her studio’s commitment to the design and construction of vital school infrastructure projects in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Erinn remained immersed in further forum discussion after her presentation, which was a true testament for her passion to the subject of social sustainability.
Kim Dowell of the SEED Network provided excellent insight to a formalized process of how to measure the impact and effectiveness of Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED). She has personally pledged to assist Open Hand Studio projects achieve SEED certification.
Elizabeth Blazevich who is the Director of the Sustainable Cities Design Academy of the American Architectural Foundation, shared her knowledge about providing leadership development and technical assistance to local community leaders who are involved with sustainable building projects.
During lunch, members presented a new document, titled Our Stories. Intended initially as an annual report, it evolved into a launchpad document for elevating awareness about Open Hand Studio firm-wide and within the network of community partners.The document clearly and concisely lays out the goals and objectives of Open Hand Studio, while artfully displaying past project successes.
The Dicey Stuff
After showing off the impressive Annual Report, the Cannon Design participants hunkered-down and discussed the nitty-gritty issues that coincide with pro bono project work. Topics included how to make Open Hand Studio efforts a more integral part of the practice, how to handle liability issues when working on pro bono projects and how to gain further support from firm leadership. The group nailed down two to four applicable solutions to the issues which they could bring back to their respective offices.
The Year Ahead
The final item on the agenda was a call to action. Filled with a revived sense of energy and a streamlined message, the Cannon Design team pledged an individual commitment to Open Hand Studio for the year ahead. While wrapping up, Chase Rynd, Executive Director of the National Building Museum paid a visit, gave a brief history of the museum, and remained for the remainder of the discussion.
Overall, the forum was an incredible success and the attendees left with a renewed responsibility to become advocates for the Open Hand Studio message in Cannon Design’s 15 offices around the world. Although the forum eventually left the walls of the National Building Museum, there is no doubt the conversation and ideas continue to thrive throughout Cannon Design.
Susan Welker, AIA - 18 May 2013
Exactly! I did research during my Masters in Architecture about how more w...
Yen Cao - 15 May 2013
Way to go Brian! Congrats.
Air Monitoring - 15 May 2013
Really, its nice information, I read this whole and carefully. This covers ...
Don Wesley - 14 May 2013
Sara: What an honor, and so well deserved! You have always been a very sp...
Bob Farwell - 13 May 2013
Sara: Congratulations! I have always been impressed by your talents,work e...