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14 December 2017

HOK’s Philadelphia Office Hosts Metropolis Think Tank Event: Architecture as a Social Tool

Metropolis Magazine visited HOK’s Philadelphia office for a panel discussion about how architects can explore strategies for engagement between designers and local communities.

Participants included (left to right below): Stephen Beacham, principal, director of design, interiors at HOK; Karin Copeland, executive director at Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia; Beth Miller, executive director at Community Design Collaborative; Susan S. Szenasy, director of design innovation at Metropolis (moderator) and Jane Golden, founder and executive director and Mural Arts Philadelphia

Excerpted from Metropolis:

Susan S. Szenasy: I think the fact that you ask people who live in these neighborhoods important questions is really key for all of us now because of the equity issue. In cities everywhere, there are new $10 million buildings, yet we can’t build affordable housing that works.

Stephen Beacham: We’ve been using murals within several of our projects to help clients express what they want in the space, but what’s key is going back to what Beth was saying about designing with the community, not for them. When we look at a project and its urban context, we’re not commissioning a piece by an established artist that has no connection to the area when we could be tapping into the creativity of a local artist who is probably less-known and will create something that’s much more bespoke for the client.

SS: This kind of social involvement of architecture is a really key national conversation, and I just want to ask what are you hoping for in terms of maintaining this engagement?

SB: One of my passions is making sure that the next generation of architects and designers are as passionate about their field as I have been. One of the ways we do that is by providing resources to our architects such as the time and impetus to explore and expand beyond their field—to bring in groups from either within or outside the architectural industry.

As a firm, we’re also invested in future architects through our HOK Futures Design Challenge for architecture and interior design students, and we also participate in the ACE Mentor Program with high school students who may not even decide to pursue architecture. The program is valuable because it allows them to understand what architecture is as an industry and how we work collaboratively and creatively within groups. Our goal is to do more outreach, whether it’s within our profession or outside of it. We love what we do, but we don’t do it in a vacuum.