Architecture alums provide design help to nonprofits for Day of Service

Architectural plans by the Architect is IN
Plans for participating nonprofits can include everything from space redesigns to larger conceptual projects. (Photo courtesy the Architect is IN)

The Yale School of Architecture has no official alumni network. But an initiative called the Architect is IN, which provides pro bono design services to nonprofits in need as part of Yale Day of Service, has provided a way for architecture alumni to convene and share their experiences. The volunteer event was first launched by Dale Cohen M.Arch ’89 in 2014.

Initially she conceived of this as a way to connect architects with Yale Alumni Nonprofit Association members,” says Bob Tucker M.Arch ’89, chair of this year’s planning committee. “Now we are open to any nonprofit association.”

With sites in New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Singapore, New Haven, and other cities, the program provides a one-day strategy session for nonprofits to present their needs before assembled architects who then brainstorm project solutions. “Some are simple office space use designs, others are more conceptual – master plan level,” Cohen says.

Last year, Dwight Hall at Yale, a center for public service and social justice, sought input from the Architect is IN on how to use their temporary space to deliver programming while their building on Old Campus was undergoing renovations. “As we discussed it, the project evolved into a plan for how to design a multipurpose gathering and co-working space that would give us ideas for how we might use the common room at Dwight Hall when we moved back into the building,” says Peter Crumlish, executive director and general secretary of Dwight Hall. The architects who volunteered, Mai Wu ’91 B.A., M.Arch ’96 and Phillip Bernstein ’79 B.A., ’83 M.Arch, knew Dwight Hall well. “The brilliant idea we came away with was a proposal to use some vacant storefront property near campus and create a space that would attract students and community members to meet, mingle, and collaborate,” Crumlish says.

The Architect is IN provides a one-day strategy session for nonprofits to present their needs.
The Architect is IN provides a one-day strategy session for nonprofits to present their needs before assembled architects who then brainstorm project solutions. (Photo courtesy the Architect is IN)

This year, the New Haven volunteer group has had interest from the New Haven Ballet seeking space guidance, from the Ferguson Library in Stamford wanting to upgrade their branch, and from a homeless shelter in Norwalk that is looking to renovate its housing.

Working with nonprofits was a natural fit for New York City-based Celia Imrey ’93 M.Arch, who specializes in museum and library design. The Architect is IN, says Imrey “is an opportunity for alumni to connect with each other and with organizations in need of services that can’t afford them.” It’s also a way for nonprofits to understand the thought process behind facility issues and space planning, essential components that are often overlooked. “I’m familiar with the challenges nonprofits face,” says Imrey, “and I like giving them confidence in the design process. Hiring an architect can be intimidating. We work with them and help them articulate their needs.”

Because the School of Architecture lacked a defined alumni network, Imrey and other architecture alumni have recently launched the Yale Women in Architecture group, hosting mixers in New York City once a month. “Our mission is to be inclusive,” Imrey says. “A lot of time women are not encouraged to stay in the field  – how do we make space for them?” She is in the process of formalizing the group and expanding its reach.

In the meantime, the Architect is IN has been a way for alumni of the school to share their talents and connect. “This struck a chord because it was a chance to use what we’ve been trained to do to do some good with others who share the Yale experience,” Tucker says.

Media Contact

Brita Belli: brita.belli@yale.edu, 203-804-1911