Architecture: Designing a strategy for making a difference

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Architecture: Designing a strategy for making a difference
John Peterson, founder and president of Public Architecture Photo © Paul Chinn

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Architecture: Designing a strategy for making a difference
John Peterson, founder and president of Public Architecture
Photo © Paul Chinn

For the past decade, San Francisco’s Public Architecture firm has worked to nudge the architectural profession toward a larger role in the quest for a nation where smart humane design is not only for the financially well-endowed.

The quantitative results are impressive, with more than 1,300 firms having pledged to devote at least 1 percent of their billable hours to projects in “under-served environments.” Here’s what might be most striking of all: The small nonprofit is still going strong. It didn’t collapse when the novelty wore off.

“If you have a good idea and some momentum, people respond in the beginning,” said John Peterson, 52, who launched the nonprofit as an offshoot of his now-defunct design firm back in 2002. “It’s your ability to stay the course that makes the difference between being a fad and playing a long-term role.”

Peterson is taking stock of Public Architecture’s rise and survival right now for a reason — earlier this month he was appointed to be the next leader of the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. But his move east doesn’t signal the end of his creation, which also provides design consulting work for such initiatives as the addition of health clinics to fire stations in Alameda County. There will be a search for a new executive director, but Peterson will remain on the board after moving to Massachusetts later this year. []

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