A Design Corps Could Convince Government That Design Deserves Funding

Event: Not Business as Usual: Advocacy Update
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.11.09
Organizer: AIANY
Sponsors: AMX; Chief Manufacturing; Lutron Electronics; Traxon/e:cue

Many AIANY members believe local chapters need to take a proactive role in government activities and architects should be more involved in their communities to help pull the nation through hard economic times. At the recent Not Business As Usual discussion, Chapter members, professionals in design and related fields, and many individuals seeking employment brainstormed about how to improve advocacy efforts in the city.

One of the most heated discussions centered on the idea that there should be a “Design Corps,” modeled after AmeriCorps and other national design initiatives such as the Work Projects Administration and the Historic American Buildings Survey, which would dedicate government funds to improve city neighborhoods. This group could serve a dual purpose of beautifying communities while educating the general public about the value of architects and architecture. It could also help train emerging designers looking for work with hands-on experience.

There are several roles a Design Corps could play in the city. It could provide professional overview for design legislation and policies already on the table in the local and national government, supporting projects it deems important for successful urban growth. Or, it could disseminate information to the local and national design community from various governmental committees, including community boards, the Department of Buildings, and the Landmark Preservation Commission. A Design Corps could evaluate and report on projects and developments that qualify for density bonuses or other incentives. For public services, such as schools and hospitals, the group could act as a consultant advocating for design excellence. Finally, it could provide design services to communities and neighborhoods that cannot afford architects.

Participants at the table agreed that the Design Corps should be formed in collaboration with AIANY and other local professional organizations. Recruiting could happen at the Center for Architecture as well as throughout the city’s architecture schools. An office should be established where small neighborhood groups can come to request evaluations of new projects and conduct feasibility studies. The office would organize funding opportunities and sponsor grant proposals. To start, efforts should be concentrated on smaller projects that receive less attention from legislators and the general public.

The question of who should make up the Design Corps, and how much of the funding should go to the proposed projects and/or participants, drew the most debate. It was decided that licensed architects need to participate to maintain quality control. But if services are being offered, registered architects should be covered for liability. Since designers’ schedules fluctuate, depending largely on whether or not they are working, temporary, part-time, and full-time commitments should be made available. A living wage potentially could be provided for participants matched with funds from project budgets, and perhaps debt-relief, tuition, and pay for student loans could be provided for recent graduates.

Overall, the development of a Design Corps could help justify to the government how design is sustainable and can improve life for inhabitants; therefore, it is worthy of support and funding.