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

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Historical Commission Meeting Draws Praise And Protest

Historical Commission Meeting Draws Praise And Protest

October 17, 2017  |  News

Applause and anger filled the room at the monthly Historical Commission meeting on Friday. GroJLart has the details > more

The True Center Of The City Revealed

The True Center Of The City Revealed

October 13, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

City Hall may be the "heart" of Philadelphia, but an unassuming corner in North Philly is the true center of the city. Harry K. explores the evolution of Penn's greene country towne and how Philadelphia has a history of being the center of attention > more

LIGHTS! MUSIC! ACTION! Historic Lansdowne Theater Poised For A Comeback

LIGHTS! MUSIC! ACTION! Historic Lansdowne Theater Poised For A Comeback

October 11, 2017  |  Vantage

After 30 years' slumber, Lansdowne's sumptuous Art Deco movie palace is ready to wake up, and rouse Main Street too, with music and community spirit. Ben Leech has the story > more

Wish You Were Here: Postcards From The Past Recall

Wish You Were Here: Postcards From The Past Recall “Real Philadelphia”

October 10, 2017  |  Vantage

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia's new exhibition, "Real Philadelphia: Selections from the Robert M. Skaler Postcard Collection," puts elusive images of working class city life in the limelight. Contributor Karen Chernick has the review > more

Designing The Future Of Healthcare With Stephen Klasko

Designing The Future Of Healthcare With Stephen Klasko

October 4, 2017  |  Vantage

Dr. Stephen Klasko wants to disrupt traditional hospital care and integrate medicine into our everyday life. Through service and information delivery systems similar to Netflix, Apple stores, and virtual reality, the president and CEO of Jefferson Healthcare System believes the future of our well being lies in smart design. Contributor Hilary Jay, founder of DesignPhiladelphia, sits down with Dr. Klasko to discuss breaking the status quo of the medical industry with user-minded health care > more

Mid Mod Prison-Motel On The Schuylkill River Paroled

Mid Mod Prison-Motel On The Schuylkill River Paroled

October 3, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

It's a Mid-century Modern motor lodge. With prison cells. It's one of Philly's most perplexing landmarks on the Schuylkill River. The Shadow has the lowdown > more