John Cary, president and CEO of Next American City and co-recipient of Contract magazine’s 2009 Designer of the Year Award, is set to launch his new book titled, The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients (Metropolis Books / Distributed Art Publishers). Edited by Cary, with a foreword by MacArthur Fellow Majora Carter and a preface by Public Architecture founder John Peterson, the first-of-its-kind book equally presents the voices of nonprofit clients and design firm leaders, who together have realized an incredible array of pro bono design projects. Contract gained further insight into Cary’s goals and inspiration, as well as his experience as editor of this forthcoming book.
1. Congratulations on the launch your new book, The Power of Pro Bono. Can you tell us a little bit about what readers can expect?
The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients launched October 1 from Metropolis Books / Distributed Art Publishers. The book equally presents the voices of nonprofit clients and design firm leaders who together have realized an incredible array of pro bono design projects. The firms profiled range from award-winning practices like Morphosis, SHoP Architects, and Studio Gang, to young studios including GRAFT, Min | Day, and Patrick Tighe Architecture, to some of the largest firms in the country, such as Gensler, HOK, and Perkins+Will. The works showcased include art galleries, clinics, camps, community centers, housing, libraries, public gardens, and schools.
The book concludes with motivational “how-to” advice, geared toward nonprofit organizations, architecture and design firms, foundations and funders of pro bono projects, as well as manufacturers able to donate products and materials on an in-kind basis.
2. What was your main inspiration for the text?
Throughout my career, I found that most design publications, award submissions and citations, and even some of our efforts during my long tenure as director of Public Architecture paid lip service to “the client” and little more. I wanted to write a book where the voice of those served by pro bono design was loud and clear, where design’s capacity to enliven and dignify people’s lives was visually indisputable, where designers would be inspired to do more for the world, and, in the process, we could experience a renewed sense of purpose.
3. Do you have a favorite project from the book? What is it and why does it resonate with you?
The cover project is naturally one of my favorites, not just because of the striking images, but also because of such a passionate client, whose town on the Gulf Coast was effectively obliterated by Hurricane Katrina. The corresponding architect narrative is equally compelling; here’s a founding principal of one of the most progressive design firms of our time (SHoP Architects), deeply moved by and committed to his firm’s public-interest design work.
4. Where do you hope the pro bono design movement will be 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, I hope pro bono work is as common in the design field as it has been in the legal one. Already, a huge amount of progress has been made in the design profession itself and in populating the idea that good design isn’t just for the rich and famous. One indicator is just the growth of The 1 percent pro bono program of Public Architecture, which now counts over 800 firms as participants. I hope those numbers continue to grow, while greater attention is paid to design quality and social impact, through books like The Power of Pro Bono.
5. Were there any major obstacles or challenges you faced during the production of this book?
Editing this book was the most meaningful and energizing project that I’ve ever worked on. Virtually every person that I interacted with was not just receptive, but genuinely enthusiastic. This book, I believe, is exactly what we’ve needed to formalize the pro bono design movement and to illustrate what’s possible.
Pro bono or not, I would challenge all design publications, including Contract, to more seriously integrate perspectives, testimonials, and even constructive criticism from clients. Our projects, practices, and profession will be stronger for it.
6. Do you have any other projects or books in the works right now?
After six and a half amazing years, I left Public Architecture in April and am now president and CEO of Next American City (www.americancity.org), a national nonprofit organization and quarterly magazine focused on the future of cities. This new post represents a major shift in scale for me. I hope to elevate the organization and magazine’s attention to design quality, but I’m also expanding my understanding of the broader context of design.