AEC Cares – projectChicago

June 5, 2014 — 3 Comments

One of the cool benefits of writing a blog like Life of an Architect, is that I have been able to meet so many people within the AEC (architectural, Engineering and Construction) industry who donate their knowledge, resources, and abilities in order to help others – a character trait that is important to me in the people I consider my friends. I have been asked to help spread the message of a program called “AEC Cares“ as they tackle this year’s project – a non-profit children’s day care .To help articulate the purpose, Jennifer Hicks, the owner for WordsWork, prepared this article. You can also visit the AEC Cares website and make a donation – they are still looking for a carpet manufacturer willing to donate 3,000 square feet of carpet tiles, but anybody can support this project financially, no amount is too small.

Support AEC Care’s 2014 Project and Give Children a Solid Foundation

“All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.”

Philip Cortelyou Johnson – American architect

And yes, you can help build that space that contains, exalts, cuddles and stimulates young children.

This is the fourth year that AEC Cares is taking on a charitable project that will take place the day before the American Institute of Architects opens its Annual Convention.


AEC Cares project Chicago

Reed Construction Data reached out to officials in Chicago to find an appropriate project. The winner for this year’s project is an early childhood education center in Englewood, a community on the city’s South Side run by Metropolitan Family Services. The structure, a 30-year-old, two-story annex of the Arthur A. Libby Elementary& MiddleSchool on South Loomis, has been vacant for a few years and looks quite shabby.

Reed then called on the architecture, engineering and construction community in the Chicago area, including the AIA, and the project’s pro-bono design team was created. They, in turn, reached out to their contacts to begin building interest and support for the project.

Through the work of all involved, including Hanley Wood who does all of the logistics for the Blitz Build lunch, projectChicago was born.

More than 150 volunteers will spend a day rejuvenating the annex, turning it from industrial drab to welcoming joyful and bright. All the participants believe the children and families in the area need a fun, colorful, and safe place to encourage learning — and they’re applying their skills, energy and passion to achieve that goal.

The design team
These terrific projects couldn’t be done without the companies that sponsor the work and donate material, nor the talented professionals that give freely of their time.

Brandy Koch is an architect in Chicago who’s worked on several of AEC Cares projects. She’s volunteering her time and expertise again this year, and will be the design team’s lead architect and project manager.  Koch says these one-day projects are “the best part” of the AIA Convention. The projects get her “excited about the profession and what we can do,” she says.  Architects don’t just do “fancy and glitzy,” she adds, we can “put our work where it makes a difference.” And that’s the goal of this space re-awakening venture.[i]

Other team members who want to make a difference and give back to the community include:

  • Rik Master with USG Corporation – Architect
  • Katherine Darnstadt with Latent Design – Architect
  • Marta Gazda Auskalnis & Chey Hsiao with SMNG – Owner’s Representation & Architect
  • Jennifer McKenzie with Gensler  – Interior Designer
  • Kaitlin Streyle and Mindy Viamontes with Muller+Muller, – Architects
  • David Rizzio with FH Paschen – General Contractor

Corporate sponsors
USG Corporation is a major contributor to this year’s project: it is donating building material products and the company’s foundation is also helping to finance the project.USGlooks at innovation and preservation as part of its core business practices, and that certainly matches part of what projectChicago will accomplish. Rik Master, the senior manager of sustainability at USG, says the school is in an historic neighborhood with some beautiful old buildings.  What better way to preserve that than revitalize an old building to turn it into a quality early childhood education center? This is sustainability at its best, he says, adding that it takes innovative thinking to design the project and then rethink it to make the best use of the materials at hand. [ii]

Other magnanimous contributors to the project include:

Some of these sponsors are also donating products. In addition, many donate volunteers. Koch says that at last year’s projectDenver, “only seven were AIA members; the other 143 volunteers were all people who were there because their company was a sponsor,” adding, “they were not forced to be there, they chose to go and represent their company and make a difference in the community … That speaks volumes about the company.” [iii]

The industrial-looking annex with its tiled floors and masonry walls isn’t very welcoming, says Koch, who has toured the facility. She said the team’s goal is to “make it more fun and playful so it creates a friendly environment.”[iv]

Master says the building is sound, but adds that the elements have taken control during its period of vacancy.  He’s pleased the existing structure will find a new life while helping to stimulate each child’s learning experiences.

What the center does

“Child development is a foundation for community development and economic development, as capable children become the foundation of a prosperous and sustainable society.”

The National Scientific Council on Child Development

The center offers full-day care and learning programs for children aged six weeks to 5 years.  Degreed early-childhood educators are on staff to work with the children in the Head Start program, and to build their confidence, their interest in school and their opportunities to achieve.[v] The center also runs a wellness program for families and helps them with job readiness training, parent education, cooking and classes, family counseling, a lending library and more.[vi] There are also trained parent coaches that make home visits to some families to give them the confidence and tools they need to be the parents they want their children to have.[vii]

All this leads to a quality early childhood education experience – and that is crucial.

Last year, the Foundation for Child Development published “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education.” A group of academics surveyed the research on early childhood education and summarized their findings.

  • High-quality “preschool positively contributes to the language, literacy, and mathematics skills growth of both low- and middle-income children, but has the greatest impact on children living in or near poverty.”
  • Most “children who have attended preschool go on to show positive effects on important adolescent and young adult outcomes, such as high school graduation, reduced teen pregnancy, years of education completed, earnings, and reduced crime.”

But, there’s more.

Economist and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman spent time analyzing long-term studies about the economic benefits of early childhood education, particularly a Michigan study that began in the 1960s. The original researchers followed the pre-school students through much of their adulthood. Heckman determined that each dollar spent on a 4-year-old’s early childhood experience was worth between $60 and $300 by age 65 when figuring what “the program had saved the state and federal government in social welfare, what it had paid out in increased tax revenue from higher wages, and, most significantly, what it had saved in police, court, and prison costs.”[viii]

What projectChicago needs
The design team has grand plans to beautify the annex. It will paint the walls, and add textures and graphics to make them come alive. It hopes to carpet the worn tiled floor, making softer areas for quiet time or falling down.  Window seats will offer welcoming space for a child wanting to see what’s outside or for a few who want to share giggles. The team will keep a large, cheerful room for class work and play, but will design it with adaptable spaces to harmonize a variety of activities and needs. There will be areas sectioned off for family time – for a mom to curl up in an easy chair and read to her son or for a dad to climb onto a couch with his daughter and share a coloring book.

To make those spaces cozy and welcoming, AEC Cares is looking comfortable chairs and couches for the adults and child-size tables and chairs for shared activities. Cabinets for storage are also needed.

How you can help
Both Brandy and Rik look at the project as a way of giving back – and as a way to open children’s eyes to what architects and engineers do, how their ability to change a space can influence learning and activity — something that will perhaps encourage some children to eventually go into the field.  Master hopes the caringly rejuvenated space “will let kids see how much architecture affects them.” [ix]

If you’re a company, you can become a sponsor by contacting John Royster. Or you can donate funds to help us with the renovation by clicking the donate button at AEC Cares. Or, you can donate materials by contacting Tara Godfrey.  Or, you can help us get the word out.

If you’re an individual, you can invest a few dollars – or more.  Just hit that donate button at AEC Cares.

No matter how you help, your generosity can enliven and enhance a dull space and you’ll know that you’re contributing to the creation of a space that will contain, exalt, cuddle and exalt these children — and those to come — while they laugh, live and learn.

[i] Interview with Koch via phone
[ii] Interview with Master via phone

[iii] email w/Koch May 22
[iv] interview w/ Koch via phone

[ix] interview w/ Master via phone

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