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Falling in love with Philly

Midwestern transplant Richard Hwang fell in love with Philly – partly through his volunteer work with the Collaborative. He combines his passion for community service with his engineering and design expertise, sharing his knowledge with communities and organizations in need. 

Growing up in South Kansas City, Richard learned the importance of community service at a young age. As a child, he and his parents volunteered with local soup kitchens, and as a teenager he took advantage of the many community service opportunities being offered through his high school. His volunteering instilled in him a sense of civic duty that continues to inform the work that he takes on. “It’s good exposure when you’re young,” Richard says, “Being part of a community and knowing it’s important to go outside your bubble to share your knowledge and time.”

After completing two bachelor’s degrees in Chicago and St. Louis, Richard made his way to Philadelphia and worked as a teacher at CHAD (the Charter High School for Architecture and Design) and as an engineer at a design/build firm before arriving at Bruce E. Brooks Associates. 

While it was quite the adjustment from the Midwestern cities he’s familiar with, he ultimately fell in love with Philadelphia’s gritty, “small big city” vibe, and quicker pace of life. "I thought, ‘Oh, I better try another city or I’m just going to go to Chicago and I’m going to die there.’  I got out here and found that Philly was very manageable.  Chicago is great, but it’s so big.”

Richard got involved with the Collaborative when Lisa Armstrong, an architect and leader of the Greening Greenfield initiative, solicited his help in installing solar panels on Greenfield Elementary School’s rooftop, a recommendation that came out of a master plan for a sustainable schoolyard the Collaborative did for the Greenfield’s Home and School Association in 2006. 

He has volunteered for five projects through the Collaborative. The experience introduced him to a network of design professionals doing pro bono work in the greater Philadelphia region.  "It was really awesome to find this in Philly... a giant group of people that are offering their knowledge just for community projects in Philadelphia… that glued me in.”       

When Richard served on the volunteer team for a feasibility study for Friends Center, he evaluated and made recommendations for the Center’s HVAC, fire protection, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as the building’s accessibility issues, such as where to place elevators and add additional bathrooms—all while maintaining the historic character of the building. He also advised the Friends Center task force on potential upgrades like a new sprinkler system.  He says, “Sprinklers can have a substantial cost and can be very intrusive in a historic space.  Then, when they’re done correctly, no one even cares. You look up and it’s like ‘Oh, it’s just sprinklers.’”

For Richard, the most enjoyable part of being on the Friends Center project was working with a client organization that is a “true community center with great social justice organizations.” 

He has since worked on the Collaborative's “little library” installation for PARK(ing) Day 2017, where he helped install a pop-up lending library that was later donated to Wister Recreation Center. 

“It’s hard to make the time, but everyone makes the time, which is great.  It seems like a very Philly thing: like we’re tight, we’re small..."

 Richard likens the projects he’s taken on with the Collaborative and its volunteers to the spirit of his adopted city at large. “It’s hard to make the time, but everyone makes the time, which is great.  It seems like a very Philly thing: like we’re tight, we’re small…and once you get used to it, you feel like it’s an infection—I’m totally infected with Philly!”  



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