What Pro Bono Work Has Taught Us

by Audrey Alverson

Pro bono architecture: Why do we do it?

Hacker has long been a signatory of the 1+ Program, which challenges designers to dedicate 1% or more of their time to pro bono service – but through trial and error over the years, we often found it challenging to bring this work to fruition. After a few fits and starts, and some mostly small-scale projects and studies, last year we decided to put some teeth to our commitment to pro bono service. Through this process, we’ve learned that the problem was never a lack of desire or good intentions, but more so a lack of planning.

Now we’ve come to realize that landing and executing pro bono projects takes (and deserves) the same level of planning and commitment we give to our paid projects. This means actively looking for project opportunities, making connections with potential non-profit clients, keeping potential pro bono projects in the consciousness of our staffing discussions… i.e. generally just making it a priority.

With this renewed determination to land a pro bono project, we were thrilled to connect with an amazing client in the Warm Springs Community Action Team (WSCAT). WSCAT is a non-profit community development organization based on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon whose mission is to empower tribal members to become self-reliant; and to affect positive change for themselves, their families, and their community. WSCAT’s work within the community is influenced by its eight core values: empowerment, action, personal development, community building, respect, change, accountability, and innovation.

The Project

WSCAT came to us seeking design services for a “small business incubator” – envisioned to be a place for entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground and for artisans to make and sell their work. With much talent existing on the reservation, but no home base to operate from, filling this gap could have great impact. The hope and intent is that this project will be a catalyst for future improvements, helping to inspire investment and action toward creating a more resilient and self-reliant Warm Springs community.

The Warm Springs Reservation is home to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS), which is comprised of three tribes – the Wasco, Warm Springs, and Northern Paiute Tribes. Roughly 4,000 of the CTWS’ approximately 5,500 members live on the reservation – and their social and economic conditions, according to WSCAT, are bleak. With unemployment rates on the reservation more than double the state average and per capita income less than half the state average, generating and/or facilitating income opportunities for tribal members is a key component of creating community resiliency on the reservation. In addition to the issues of unemployment and low income, CTWS tribal members face a number of other challenges: their average lifespan is only 50 years; and many social and health maladies far exceed state norms. Access to basic necessities like fresh food is lacking – due at least in part to the reservation’s isolated location. Income generating ventures for the tribes and jobs for tribal members are few and far between on the reservation: there is one casino; and the mill, which had employed dozens of people, shut down last year. The list of challenges is unfortunately long.

As architects, we know we can’t address or help all of the issues this community faces; but the idea of being able to create a healthy, vibrant, and warm space to support their business activities – that we can do.

Fortunately, WSCAT had access to a great asset for this project: the reservation’s historic Commissary Building, built in the 1890s and the oldest building on the reservation. The building has “good bones” you could say, but its rough condition reflects its neglect during the decades it was owned and controlled by the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). WSCAT contacted us when the BIA was in the process of transferring ownership back to the tribes, and the message from the community was that this building was important to them – they wanted to keep and renovate it.

Together with partners Walker Macy and DCW Cost Management (also donating their time), our team created a few design options for the small business incubator, complete with cost estimates for construction as well as moving the building to alternate sites on the reservation.

After a community open house session where we gathered ideas directly from tribal members – about where they wanted the building sited, what they wanted in it, how they wanted it to feel – we created a conceptual design that, we hope, honors this community voice. Some key themes include: creating a communal gathering place; designing for both environmental and cultural sustainability; and honoring the historical value of the Commissary Building.

As far as programs within the building, the purpose of the “small business incubator” is to provide rent-free and staffed space for entrepreneurs to work on their business activities – to remove at least one of the barriers that often prevent the people of Warm Springs from starting or expanding a business. The building is designed essentially as a “co-working” space with shared open office space; a meeting room; a maker space for artisans; a vendor space for artisans to sell their goods; and private offices for a bookkeeper and program manager, whose services would be provided free of charge to those in the incubator program. The building is also designed to house community amenities including a café, food cart pod with outdoor seating/gathering space, a barber shop, and a cyber bar – all spaces that are currently lacking on the reservation, and for which tribal members expressed a strong desire.

The decision to move forward with one of the design options will require approval by the Tribal Council, and the project still needs funding to pay for its construction –  but the design documents, images, and cost information that WSCAT now has in hand will hopefully help them secure that approval and funding, potentially through grants and other donations.

(See the full design package here.)

The Intangible Benefits

In talking with the team who worked on this project, it’s clear that the benefit for their personal and professional development goes well beyond adding another project to their portfolios. They enjoyed the opportunity to dive head first into a project that has such potential benefit to a struggling community; to engage personally with that community; and to abandon their preconceptions about what this building should be. Also notable in this case is that the scale of this project allowed us to give more responsibility to junior staff – giving them valuable experience in project management, engaging directly with the client and the partner landscape architect, and also leading design. In that way, these smaller scale pro bono projects can really provide a way for younger staff to advance their skills while getting a more “whole project” experience.

All in all, we are grateful to have been able to work with this client, to meet and talk with the tribal members who are living on the reservation, and most of all to provide our expertise to those who wouldn’t typically have access to it. It might just be that the intangible benefits of doing pro bono work far exceed those we can name.

Project Team: Vijayeta Davda, Caitlin Ranson, Kristin Ericson, Charles Dorn, Walker Macy Landscape Architects, DCW Cost Management

1 Comment »

  1. Chris Watson says:

    Great article, Audrey!

    We at the Warm Springs Community Action Team (WSCAT) are very grateful for the effort and creativity that the Hacker team (and the good folks at Walker Macy and DCW Cost Management) have put into the Old Commissary project. We thank you for coming to Warm Springs, learning about the reservation community, and taking the time to hear the ideas of so many community members during the planning process.

    With the plan you have provided us, we believe that we will be able to secure significant funding from federal, state, and private sources to make this project happen. Within a year or two, we believe, the newly-renovated Old Commissary Building will provide Warm Springs tribal and community members with a beautiful new gathering space and a place in which to conduct commerce. We think the project will invigorate downtown Warm Springs, serve a great number of community members, and draw traffic off of Highway 26, which will provide jobs for community members and help lift our local economy.

    We are moving full-steam ahead to secure a land use permit from the CTWSO (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs of Oregon)Land Use Committee and hope to secure approval from the CTWSO Tribal Council soon thereafter. Thank you for all you have done for us, and we look forward to a continued partnership with Hacker!


    Chris Watson
    Executive Director, WSCAT

RSS feed for comments on this post. / TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply


Farewell, Balfour-Guthrie Building

by Jonah Cohen

After 16 years, Hacker has vacated the Balfour-Guthrie Building and moved to its next iteration, which in many ways is a perfect symbol for our successful leadership transition that has taken place over the last five years. This is an emotional milestone for a few of us, especially me.

Read more


Cultivating a New Generation of Leaders

by Stefee Knudsen

How do we cultivate our future leaders? It’s a core question for educators and one that ultimately influences the design of schools. Two projects in Portland, the Oregon Episcopal School’s Lower School and the French American International School’s new Gilkey International Middle School, illustrate how new environments can help to advance institutional missions.

Read more


Hackers = Makers

by Scott Barton-Smith

If you’ve been to Hacker’s office in the past year and a half, you probably noticed art on the walls of our building’s vestibule and reception area. This rotating Makers exhibit showcases the off-hours work of our multi-talented team. By day we are architects, interior designers, and talented support personnel; by night we are artists. What began as a desire to exhibit some of our creative endeavors outside of work has turned into an amazing get-to-know-you. Every couple of months, a new batch of artistic expression graces our walls and gives us insight into our colleagues’ broad talents, inspiration, and personalities. Twelve Hackers have already displayed their art since October 2015 and there is no sign of it stopping! Scroll through for a sampling…

Read more


Hacker Builds!

by Garrett Martin

Our website typically shows you beautiful photos of our completed projects, or equally beautiful renderings of our projects “on the boards.” Have you ever wondered what happens in-between, or when those renderings will finally take actual form? Despite how it may appear sometimes, it all doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye or under cover of darkness.

Read more


What Pro Bono Work Has Taught Us

by Audrey Alverson

Pro bono architecture: Why do we do it?

Hacker has long been a signatory of the 1+ Program, which challenges designers to dedicate 1% or more of their time to pro bono service – but through trial and error over the years, we often found it challenging to bring this work to fruition. After a few fits and starts, and some mostly small-scale projects and studies, last year we decided to put some teeth to our commitment to pro bono service. Through this process, we’ve learned that the problem was never a lack of desire or good intentions, but more so a lack of planning.

Read more


Nurturing Growth in Lents Town Center

by Garrett Martin

On Sunday October 23rd of last year, we joined Bremik Construction and the Portland Development Commission to strike golden shovels into the ground and begin construction on the 9101 SE Foster project, a mixed-use multi-family building in the heart of Lents Town Center.

Read more


Why Hacker Started Paying for Parental Leave

by Sarah Bell

This year, Hacker implemented a new paid parental leave policy, covering six weeks at full salary for birth mothers and about four and ½ weeks full salary for a spouse of the parent who gives birth (adoptive parents get the same). This is in addition to the flexible paid time off granted to every Hacker employee.

Read more


A Saturday with Lou

by Scott Barton-Smith

Nearly half of the Hacker team caravanned north to attend the final day of the Bellevue Arts Museum’s retrospective Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture on April 30th. Although the exhibit includes video interviews of notable architects enthusing Kahn’s work, we had a more interactive guide. Our firm founder Thom Hacker gave us a personalized tour of the exhibit, which includes several projects on which Thom collaborated with his mentor “Lou.” The exhibit features many models and drawings prepared by Kahn’s office spanning projects from the Esherick House to more well know works like The Salk Institute, The Kimbell Art Museum, and the National Assembly Building in Dhaka. The exhibit even includes a full scale reproduction of the famous window seat designed for the Fisher house. Much of this material has not seen the light of day since Kahn’s death and it is remarkable that the large yet delicate cardboard, clay, and wood models survived.

Read more


University of Wyoming Visual Arts Facility Wins COTE Award

by Nic Smith

Hacker is a proud recipient of a 2016 AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects award for University of Wyoming’s Visual Arts Facility (VAF), a pioneering LEED Platinum facility that has shaped a new approach to health, safety, and sustainability in arts education. The 80,000-SF building consolidates the University’s fine arts program from its scattered locations, establishing a central component of the campus’s new arts district. It also marks a turning point in the campus’s thinking about environmental responsibility. Read more


From the Vaults: High Desert Museum

by Sarah Bell

When the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon’s New Home had its dedication last year, I drove to Bend for the day with my two youngest boys, who were both under 5 years old. I arrived several hours before the dedication with both boys needing to expend energy built up over the 3-hour car ride. Not having planned on it, I took them to the High Desert Museum – not because I wanted to show them a Hacker building, but because I knew it would wear them out.

Read more