Inscape Studio, a small Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm that focuses on a mix of residential and light commercial work, has always incorporated pro bono and reduced-fee design into its project lineup. Firm founder Gregory A. Kearley, AIA, LEED AP, has been devoting his time and architecture skills to community service organizations since he ventured out on his own nearly 14 years ago. A series of women’s development centers in Afghanistan and a state-of-the-art center for teaching performing arts to at-risk youth in D.C. are among the completed works Kearley and the team at Inscape designed. But they turned away many more public projects than they accepted. “Financially, we could only do a limited amount of pro bono or reduced-fee work,” Kearley explains. “By creating Inscape Publico we can take on as many projects as are feasible.”
Establishing Inscape Publico as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization allows Kearley and Stefan Schwarzkopf, who helped lead the Publico effort and serves as its design director, to devote more resources to community projects. They can initiate their own fundraising efforts to finance operations or they can participate in fundraising efforts to help get one of their designs built. The 501(c)(3) status also allows Publico to apply for grant money. Although completely separate on paper, the two firms share the same staff and offices. Inscape Studio pays the salaries and charges Publico for staff time spent on projects. Kearley eventually hopes to have a full-time development director on the Publico payroll, but the design staff enjoys the variety of working for both firms.
Kearley and Schwarzkopf didn’t just come up with a name and apply for nonprofit status. They have a specific business plan for Inscape Publico that offers service organizations a chance to afford thoughtful, contemporary, sustainable buildings. “Even nonprofits with healthy endowments have highly prescribed budgets,” Schwarzkopf explains. Most of the money is allocated to programming, he continues, so something like a building fund has to be raised specifically for that purpose. The Inscape team members will design a building or buildings based on their clients’ needs and provide them with a complete set of schematic drawings and renderings for 25 percent to 33 percent of their regular fees. Then they will either collaborate with the client to help raise the remainder of the money or the client can use the schematic drawings to solicit donations or financing on their own. “For very little money, we give them all of the plans, elevations, site zoning, and cost estimates,” Kearley says. “We retain all of the rights to the designs, but they keep the plans and work with us through construction, or they can use the drawings to raise money and not begin construction for years. Whenever they are ready to build, they can even take our schematics and use another firm to squire them through construction as long as they build the original design and use it for the original intent.”
Publico designed a house currently being built by students participating in the Academy of Construction and Design program at Cardozo Senior High School in D.C. The firm also partnered with Mi Casa to renovate 60 apartments, also in D.C., to provide safe, attractive, affordable, and healthy housing for low- to moderate-income people. Kearley and Schwarzkopf also designed and oversaw construction of a prototype house for Relief International (the same organization that hired them to do the Afghan women’s centers) as part of the efforts to rebuild Haiti. The two architects traveled to Haiti four times in 2011 to ensure their model could be built using local materials and labor. They designed it using structural concrete insulated panels—produced in the neighboring Dominican Republic—that can be assembled quickly into durable, sturdy houses. More than 60,000 people in Haiti are still living in tents nearly two years after the 2010 earthquake, so Inscape Publico is using its nonprofit status to partner directly with Relief International to find a way to develop multiples of their prototype. “Part of the mission for Publico is giving good design to a wider range of people,” Kearley says. “We believe well-designed spaces can benefit people even beyond providing physical shelter and that’s why we’re doing this.”