June 25, 2020
by Kavitha Mathew, AIA
Homepage of the Design Advocates,www.design-advocates.org. Image: Design Advocates.
Kopitiam, a restaurant in the LES, is a current Design Advocates‘ client. Photo: Design Advocates.
A remote client meeting with Kopitiam, including a digital design. Photo: Design Advocates.
3D studies of a new dorm bed prototype for a homeless shelter network in NYC. Image: Design Advocates.

With the phased reopening of our city in full swing, we are grateful for the generosity, creativity, and resourcefulness of our members and the architecture community at large. One effort, led by several small firms around the city, has grown into a coordinated collective, dubbed Design Advocates. From pro-bono design work for non-profit organizations to test fits for local businesses trying to reopen safely, they have offered their expertise to guide New Yorkers through this immediate crisis. Beyond this, the group looks to leverage their resources and build long-term relationships with those in their communities who may not typically have access to architects.

“We started thinking seriously about pro-bono work as a way to keep our teams engaged and to give back to our communities, especially since so many of us received some support in the form of PPP, and once we started reaching out to our networks and neighborhoods, so many opportunities to serve local businesses and nonprofits became available…For the most part, we’re serving organizations that don’t usually have access to architects and designers, so this has become a way to not only provide a channel for the offices to work beyond our usual spheres, but to leverage the creativity and energy of the design community in service of the entire city.” Michael Chen, AIA, Michael K. Chen Architecture

“…when the pandemic hit, we were overwhelmed. When Michael Chen posted a call to action on his Instagram Story, we saw it as a much needed opportunity to connect and collaborate with other like-minded design firms.” Abigail Coover, Overlay Office

“As small firm owners, it’s often tough to dedicate time to pro-bono projects but the pandemic has provided us with the opportunity to come together and give back in this extreme time of need. When we (small firms) come together in collaboration, we can accomplish so much more and the resulting products are equally so much richer.” Fauzia Khanani, Assoc. AIA, Studio Fōr

“…by working collectively, we could have a really profound impact. It is work that is good for our city, our neighborhoods, and honestly, for our own sense of community between small architecture firms.” Jane Lea, Lea Architecture

 “We love New York City and are committed to doing everything possible to help businesses and organizations adapt to this reality. Right now that work is focused on doing test fits to help reimagine spaces relative to social distancing but the needs are always evolving.” Max Worrell, AIA, and Jejon Yeung, Worrell Yeung 

“Through advocacy, resource sharing, and building coalitions – we are exploring how professionals in our field can join forces to do good and serve our communities. In my mind, the core of what is important about Design Advocates is building strong community to combat whatever new struggles might come our way.” Michael Yarinsky, Assoc. AIA, Office of Tangible Space

Other participating firms include:
Abruzzo Bodziak Architects
Barker Associates Architecture Office
Bureau V
Future Expansion Architects
Frederick Tang Architecture
Kalos Eidos
Ladies and Gentlemen Studio
New Affiliates
Office of Architecture
Only If
Parc Office
Scalar Architecture PC
Smith & Sauer Architecture
Studio Cadena
Studio Modh Architecture

AIANY will continue to advocate for the passage of the Emergency Responder Act in the New York State Legislature to better protect architects volunteering in crises like the current epidemic. While the Legislature’s session is over for 2020, we will look to pass the bill when it reconvenes in 2021.

Learn more about Good Samaritan State Statute compendium and ways architects can help on AIANY’s COVID-19 resource page.


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