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Social Architecture: Fostering Community, Revitalizing Neighborhoods

October 16th, 2014 by

Let’s face it: sitting behind a computer designing the built environment can only go so far. For me and for most architectural professionals, the practice of architecture needs to be tangible. As designers, we long for a direct interaction with the buildings we design and the people who inhabit them.

Throughout my work as an architectural designer, I have found a way not only to accomplish that goal but also to give back to my community. “Social architecture” has always been a passion, and was a major factor in my decision to start a Habitat for Humanity chapter on my college campus in Philadelphia. Years later, when I began working at Marks, Thomas Architects, I wanted to share my passion for Habitat for Humanity with my coworkers, and was very pleased to see that my colleagues shared my passion and responded with enthusiasm.

Habitat for Humanity

Since then, Marks, Thomas Architects has volunteered consistently with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, and it’s one of many ways the firm gives back to our community. We partner regularly with other charitable organizations, and as a firm, collectively devote much of our time and attention to affordable housing and architecture. In fact, we have been designing affordable housing for roughly 20 years now, and feel that providing a home for others is the greatest gift we can give.

Onsite build days with Habitat for Humanity are long but extremely rewarding. As professionals in the building industry, it is important for us to use our skills in a positive and beneficial way within our own community. Working alongside future homeowners and sharing in their personal journey inspire us as designers to continue producing the highest quality of work for those new homeowners.

Throughout our time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, we have been fortunate to work on a project from start to finish in the Washington Village neighborhood, “Pigtown.” When we first started, roughly eight row homes were under construction. Foundations had been poured, exterior walls had been framed, and exterior windows and doors had been hung. Our team of five to eight volunteers was split into smaller groups and assigned a variety of tasks to complete that day. Our responsibilities involved framing out the interior spaces, applying fire retardant, and putting down insulation.

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As the homes neared completion, we assisted with building fences behind the homes between each adjoining parking pad. It made for a long, hot day of cutting lumber and constructing fences. But by working collaboratively, as we do daily in our office, and maintaining a consistent volunteering schedule, we were able to be effective and successful on site and to take part in a variety of building processes. Ultimately, we felt a real sense of pride in completing a project that would have a positive impact on our community.

One main objective of the Chesapeake chapter of Habitat for Humanity — our firm’s main affiliate and one of two active Habitat affiliates in Baltimore City — is to exert a strong force in revitalizing particular lots in the Pigtown neighborhood, which is within walking distance of the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, and M&T Bank Stadium. Recently, 20 row homes were renovated within the vicinity of the site where we volunteered, with support for three of the homes coming from the Baltimore Ravens Foundation.

Habitat for HumanityHabitat for Humanity extends its revitalization efforts one step further with its home improvement discount stores, ReStore. Located in various places across Maryland, ReStore benefits anyone looking for more affordable furniture, appliances, tools, and accessories. The store not only provides Habitat for Humanity with household items but also donates 100 percent of its proceeds to fund future Habitat projects.

Through our ongoing volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, Marks, Thomas Architects hopes to lead by example, and to inspire individuals and organizations to volunteer in their own communities — and  participate in making a meaningful contribution to our neighborhoods and the built environment.

As a wise individual once said,“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Are you looking for an architecture firm with a strong social conscience? Marks, Thomas Architects can help. Reach out to us to start a conversation.