Few architectural practices enjoy the longevity of Ballinger, based in Philadelphia since 1878. The firm pioneered interdisciplinary practice from its earliest years and today provides architecture, engineering, and interior design for clients nationwide. The 200+ professionals of Ballinger remain true to their roots in the city and the ideas of interdisciplinary design and service.
Ballinger’s B::Engaged program encourages civic engagement by the firm and its employees. Through B::Engaged, Ballinger staff members connect with Philadelphia neighborhoods and institutions through short and long-term philanthropic commitments.
"People need to look at philanthropic energies in two ways. Often they see how they are giving back, but firm leaders in particular need to appreciate that they get something in return," says Ballinger Principal Terry D. Steelman, FAIA, LEED AP. "Their staff gets enlightenment and fulfillment that breeds esprit de corps. Leadership through philanthropic engagement strengthens interpersonal skills, decision-making, and growth. And the community as a whole benefits."
"People need to look at philanthropic energies in two ways. Often they see how they are giving back, but firm leaders in particular need to appreciate that they get something in return. Their staff gets enlightenment and fulfillment that breeds esprit de corps. Leadership through philanthropic engagement strengthens interpersonal skills, decision-making, and growth. And the community as a whole benefits."
- Terry D. Steelman, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal, Ballinger
B::Engaged evolved from years of individual activities and a grassroots movement, especially among younger staff, to share opportunities for community service and design for social equity. Ballinger Project Architect Jake Shoemaker, AIA, who helped initiate the formal B::Engaged program, sees pro bono design as critical to strong communities. “I believe design should address all segments of society, because it affects all aspects of our communities.” Shoemaker attributes B::Engaged’s growth to Ballinger leadership’s support and advocacy of the program.
Recent B::Engaged activities included Ballinger’s sponsorship and participation in the American Heart Association’s Philadelphia Heart Walk, holiday gift wrapping at Turning Point for Children, and events for Philabundance and Cradles to Crayons. Through B::Engaged, Ballinger supports the Community Design Collaborative with volunteer efforts, event sponsorships, and tax credit contributions.
What Goes Around Comes Around
“We feel a community responsibility to Philadelphia,” says Ballinger Principal Terry D. Steelman, FAIA, LEED AP. Steelman has initiated several civic engagement opportunities on behalf of Ballinger. He and Principal Eric Swanson, AIA, oversee the B::Engaged program; however all ten Ballinger principals are actively involved. Steelman suggests that firms examine philanthropy from two perspectives. In addition to offering support to communities, organizations, or those in need, charitable actions provide fulfillment and personal growth for those involved.
“In practice, when designers are driven by deadlines and budgets, it’s quite easy to get lost in the daily process,” Steelman explains. “Working with the Community Design Collaborative gives people an opportunity to take leadership roles and grow – and both the Collaborative and community benefit.”
Ballinger’s community service has been crucial to the Collaborative. At least thirty staff members have volunteered with the Collaborative over the years.
Ballinger Interior Designer Jennifer Cappella, IIDA, LEED AP, agrees. She began volunteering for the Collaborative as an opportunity to do something outside of what she does every day – interior design for healthcare and corporate clients. She participated on the Philadelphia School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) team in 2014, where she developed graphics and signage. The experience was so meaningful that she continued with the Collaborative, and was honored as an Outstanding Volunteer in 2015.
Nine Ballinger staff members including Cappella recently participated on the Making Connections: Conceptual Design for Under the Viaduct project to enhance three intersections beneath the SEPTA regional rail viaduct in Philadelphia’s North Central Choice Neighborhood. Conceptual designs provide improvements to reduce crime, increase safety, and encourage pedestrian access.
“The Collaborative creates a hub for neighborhoods and the design community to work together. It provides a connection to Philadelphia, to see what my community looks like, how people live, and how I participate in that. It’s a great opportunity,” says Ballinger Architectural Designer Bonnie Netel, a fellow volunteer on Making Connections.
Before joining Ballinger, Netel worked for the Hester Street Collaborative in New York, where design, education, and advocacy combine to empower residents and impact communities. Netel’s dual perspectives from the organizational and volunteer sides of design for social change shape her architectural career. “I was told early on that you get out what you put into things. That’s especially relevant to my volunteer work with the Collaborative. The time I put in feels very rewarding.”
Ballinger’s commitment will continue. In 2017, over ten Ballinger staff members will be volunteering for three more Collaborative projects.
“The Collaborative creates a hub for neighborhoods and the design community to work together. It provides a connection to Philadelphia, to see what my community looks like, how people live, and how I participate in that. It’s a great opportunity.
- Bonnie Netel, Architectural Designer, Ballinger
Ballinger’s involvement with the Collaborative extends from traditional team-based volunteering to sponsoring and helping to plan key fundraisers. Senior Designer Mike [Woo Young] Choi has contributed to the annual Bowling Ball fundraiser since 2011. He began as a bowling team organizer, subsequently joined the Collaborative’s fundraising team, and in 2016 designed and fabricated custom trophies for the event. He donated time and Ballinger donated the use of its laser cutter to create the special award plaques.
Choi explains that B::Engaged continues to make him aware of opportunities to give back. “It has become a forum and a news source,” he says. “Volunteering has had a really profound impact on me personally.”
Since 2012, Ballinger has also donated to the Collaborative through the City of Philadelphia’s Community Development Tax Credit program. Ballinger shares a ten-year tax credit commitment to the Collaborative with Volpe and Koenig, P.C. The firms’ contributions are earmarked for pro bono design services to revitalize Philadelphia’s neighborhood commercial corridors.
Ballinger professionals express satisfaction with their Collaborative involvement, from friendships fostered among professionals within the firm who may not work together on a daily basis to opportunities to highlight specific areas of interest.
Shoemaker says, “Specifically with the viaduct project, I was exposed to city agencies, people, parts of the city, and other design professionals. That exposure is critical personally and professionally. The bigger your own network gets, the more potential for success. For me, volunteering also contributes to positive well-being.”
“I was exposed to city agencies, people, parts of the city, and other design professionals. That exposure is critical personally and professionally. The bigger your own network gets, the more potential for success...Volunteering also contributes to your positive well-being."
- Jake Shoemaker, AIA, Project Architect, Ballinger
About the Community Design Collaborative
The Community Design Collaborative provides pro bono preliminary design services to nonprofit organizations in greater Philadelphia, creates engaging volunteer opportunities for design professionals, and raises awareness about the importance of design in revitalizing communities.
Ballinger has made interdisciplinary design excellence the centerpiece of the architecture/engineering/interiors firm’s culture, and is a nationally recognized leader in academic, research, healthcare, and corporate planning and design.