Designing Together

With the release of their new book, Leverage: Strengthening Communities Through Design, the Community Design Collaborative marks twenty years of connecting Philadelphia neighborhoods and community groups to vital design services. The lavishly illustrated volume offers a compelling picture of the Collaborative’s mission over the past two decades: to harness the power that architecture and design have to improve the city and bring its people together.

Since its founding in 1991, the Collaborative has offered pro bono design services to community groups willing to put in the effort, together with the Collaborative’s many architect volunteers, to improve their neighborhoods. Providing only 10% of the initial design services required for a project, the Collaborative offers just enough for communities to dig in and get started. To date, the organization has engaged Philadelphians in over 500 design projects, ranging from storefront improvements on Lancaster Avenue to new senior housing in East Poplar.

Now with Leverage, what we have is not simply a portfolio of the Collaborative’s work, but a valuable resource of concrete and realistic examples of how communities can begin fixing their neighborhoods today. Along with plans, renderings, and photographs of twenty highlighted projects, Leverage offers short essays by veteran thinkers like Mark Alan Hughes and conversations between newer design leaders, including Leverage editors, Collaborative director Beth Miller and architect Todd Woodward. The overarching focus is how collaboration in design is changing the face of our neighborhoods in an overwhelmingly positive way.

Weaver’s Way

Among the featured projects in Leverage are the reinvention of a storefront for a new branch of Weavers Way co-op in West Oak Lane, a playground retrofit at the Greenfield School in Center City, and the recently completed Sheridan Street Houses in North Philadelphia. In these projects and many others, community design corporations and non-profit developers received crucial early guidance from the Collaborative, later fine-tuning the designs and moving the projects forward on their own. Envisioning design solutions as a community is not just part of the process, it is one of the goals. This level of direct community involvement in the design process, Leverage stresses, has empowered many Philadelphia residents to be more proactive about ensuring a future for their neighborhoods.

Only about 50 of the Collaborative’s 500 total projects have actually been built. That might seem like a small number, but Leverage makes it clear that design is not just about the end product, it’s about working together strengthen social ties within neighborhoods. Implicit in the projects that Leverage illustrates is the belief that small ideas can build confidence in a community and create a new identity and hope for its future.

To Miller, the Collaborative’s projects are like a “series of drips” rather than a major force for change. But there are a lot of drips. Pool them together and what appears is the great promise for the future of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

Leverage: Strengthening Communities Through Design is available online and at the AIA Bookstore and Design Center. Also check out the Leverage exhibition at the Center for Architecture now through October 23.

About the author

Kevin McMahon recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.S. in Historic Preservation and now works as an associate at Powers & Company, historic preservation consultants. He’s interested in architecture, development and the infinite layers, physical and historical, that Philadelphia contains.



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. Community Design Collaborative – Philadelphia… | Revitalizing Places
Recent Posts
Owner Of River City Site To Pursue Rezoning & Sale

Owner Of River City Site To Pursue Rezoning & Sale

March 6, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Firm looking to make $30 from developer(s), Saffron on varied- and re-use in Fishtown, Germantowners fight to retain Wissahickon Playground, a partial building collapse, and trees for Philly > more

At Perry World House, Penn Takes

At Perry World House, Penn Takes “Collage” Approach To Preservation

March 6, 2015  |  Vantage

Not every historic building in the city can be saved, though total demolition doesn't have to be the final answer either. Co-editor Michael Bixler looks at a third way at Perry World House, now under construction, in conversation with University of Pennsylvania campus architect David Hollenberg > more

Coda For Mayor Street’s NTI

Coda For Mayor Street’s NTI

March 5, 2015  |  Morning Blend

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority considers the last budget for the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, Squilla seeks rezoning of mill in Kensington, can Philly become a video game mecca, and entertaining thoughts of a Business Improvement District for the Italian Market > more

Peering Ahead To A New Festival Pier

Peering Ahead To A New Festival Pier

March 4, 2015  |  Morning Blend

What the DRWC’s redevelopment of Festival Pier would entail, Streets Commission considers ways to fund rebuilding of 78 retaining walls, creative infill in Poplar, and PMA to bring art to East Passyunk > more

On Front Street, A Warehouse With A Sacred Past Seeks Salvation

On Front Street, A Warehouse With A Sacred Past Seeks Salvation

March 4, 2015  |  Vantage

Kensington was once home to generations of Presbyterians and their houses of worship peppered the neighborhood. One of the denomination's oldest surviving churches in the area was just put up for sale after being used as a building supply warehouse since the 1950s. Oscar Beisert digs deep into the former lives of Second Associate Presbyterian and unearths a strong case for preservation > more

Claiming Fraud, Owner Of Metropolitan Opera House Seeks To Dissolve Ties To Eric Blumenfeld

Claiming Fraud, Owner Of Metropolitan Opera House Seeks To Dissolve Ties To Eric Blumenfeld

March 3, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Church group says developer misrepresented himself, a transatlantic discussion for the Lehigh Viaduct’s reuse, Maxfield Tower completed in Fairmount, and nearly 4 million PA residents at risk in event of “bomb train” derailment > more