What we do
Too frequently the people with the greatest needs are left out of conversations about how the places where they live, work, and play will grow and change. buildingcommunityWORKSHOP ([bc]) works to shift this power dynamic in pursuit of design justice, amplifying the voices of those who will experience the direct effects of development initiatives. Instead of imposing priorities upon neighborhoods, our inclusive design and planning process ensures that revitalization efforts responsively address the community’s own desires and that residents have ownership of their own neighborhoods’ development.
[bc] is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. [bc] enriches the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our cities where resources are most scarce. As an organization, [bc] works to improve access, choice, and quality in affordable housing, strengthen identity and build capacity among neighborhoods, and advance the practice of public interest design through a variety of programs and initiatives.
The operating model
[bc] strives to achieve an operating model of a 50% contributed and 50% earned financial model. Much of the fee-for-service work is undertaken to design affordable housing through partnerships with community development corporations (CDCs) and community housing development organizations (CHDOs). [bc] also provides technical assistance and services on a wide range of projects in the public interest. Our work with other non-profit and municipal agencies already working in communities is driven by a desire to actively seek opportunities where our unique viewpoint can support the empowerment of residents and the achievement of their goals.
We do not directly advertise our services; rather, our place-based outreach allows us to form partnerships that foster sustained work in a community and connect us to new projects. Where there are opportunities to do work in the public interest through a traditional fee-based model, we do so. However, as a non-profit community design center [bc] also fundraises for contributed income to support our initiatives to bring design and planning services to the challenges facing some of the most underserved communities.
In 2007, [bc]’s Founding Director Brent Brown’s firm Brown Architects was commissioned to design a Community Center in the Jubilee neighborhood, including a six-month community engagement process completed under the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP name. Brent recognized that the neighborhood faced many more issues than could be solved through the traditional client-based architectural model. Through conversations with organizations and individuals working in the field of community design, he became aware that, as a non-profit, [bc] could fundraise for initiatives beyond the scope of market demand, such as the renovation of extant homes in a low-income neighborhood, to better serve communities.
The communities which have the greatest needs are typically the most lacking in resources, posing financial risks that for-profit entities are unwilling or unable to take. [bc] received 501(c)3 non-profit status in 2008 and has since grown to include four offices; Dallas, Houston, and Brownsville in Texas, and Washington, DC.
[bc] practices architecture and planning in a way that couples design with community engagement in order to confront inequity in our cities. Contrasting typical development practices, [bc]s work begins and ends with conversations with the communities in which it will take place. The impact of the work is multiplied as community members become empowered to take an active role in the shaping of their neighborhoods.
Recent and ongoing projects include: The Cottages at Hickory Crossing, a permanent supportive housing complex for the 50 most chronically homelessness individuals in Dallas; Casitas Los Olmos, an 80-unit multifamily housing project in Raymondville, TX that incorporates Low Impact Development strategies to manage stormwater; sustainABLEhouse, an initiative to design affordable, efficient, contextually-appropriate, and resident-informed single-family housing through an inclusive design process; a state-wide disaster recovery initiative that reimagines an equitable disaster recovery mode; and many neighborhood-scale planning and creative placemaking initiatives. Consequently, the design process is a true collaboration between architect and client that empowers individuals who have never before been asked to participate in design conversations.
Trust, empowerment, and investment
The inherent risk in working in underserved communities is breaching trust. Marginalized communities are often just that—disconnected, disenfranchised, and distrusting due to decades of policies that have left them struggling. In beginning work with these communities, [bc] strives to build bridges of trust early on. [bc] often starts by partnering with organizations or individuals that have been already working in these communities and have established a trusted presence. Once work has begun, outcomes identified in the engagement process must clearly link to project outcomes in order for trust to be maintained and furthered into the future. This can often be difficult given project constraints but is critical to the success of the initiative.
When [bc] works with community members to identify their needs, empowering them with the knowledge and experience to actively participate in civic design and planning, residents become deeply invested in their role as stewards of their neighborhoods. Giving these individuals a voice in the form and function of their community instills a sense of pride and civic duty as community residents. As [bc]’s work attests, residents who are engaged as key stakeholders are inspired to invest time and energy into the betterment of their neighborhoods.
The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. We enrich the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our cities where resources are most scarce. To do so, [bc]recognizes that it must first understand the social, economic, and environmental issues facing a community before beginning work.
[bc] has been fortunate to receive several awards from AIA Dallas & LRGV AIA, the 2010 National AIA/HUD Secretary's Award for Community-Informed Design and a 2011 National SEED Competition award. In 2013, [bc] was awarded the prestigious Rudy Bruner Award Silver Medal for the Congo Street Initiative. We were recently awarded the Texas Society of Architects Design Award for the La Hacienda Casitas. Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres was also awarded the 2014 SXSW Eco Place by Design award.
[bc] was established in Dallas in 2005 and opened offices in Brownsville in 2011, Houston in 2013, and Washington DC in 2016.
(Return to the cover of the 2017 PM Digest: Pro-bono work and public interest architecture)