Jeff is the owner and principal of Jeffrey Brummer Architects, a design firm specializing in retail, nonprofit facilities, and residential work. His firm’s work reflects the portfolio of projects he has built as a Collaborative volunteer. “As a Collaborative volunteer, Jeff gravitates towards hands-on design," says Heidi Segall Levy, Director of Design Services. "He’s the first to step up for design-build projects... and projects with lots of one-on-one interaction."
He has sat down with Philly-based small businesses to sketch out storefront improvement projects and organized an AEC Cares “blitz build” to renovate the Philadelphia Athletic Recreation Center in Sharswood during the 2016 AIA Convention. He has led the design and construction of two Collaborative PARK(ing) Day parklets. Jeff also serves as a co-chair of Collaborative committees that guide our design services programs, select grantees, and review projects in progress.
Jeff will be presented with the award on Wednesday, November 7th as part of the AIA Philadelphia Design Awards Gala. As this year's award recipient, the Collaborative asked Jeff to share his thoughts on his design practice and the value of volunteering.
Tell me about two or three projects you’re particularly proud of.
My recent work with Applaud the Youth on space planning and renovations it is a great example of helping my client visualize their ideas. We worked through multiple iterations, which allowed them to see how each space connects to another and how we can make maximize use of the space in the buildings.
Another project that was extremely transformative is the Modern Age Furniture storefront renovation. The storefront consists of six consecutive two-story buildings. The upper window bays were covered with plywood signs and people had difficulty finding the entrance. We were able to uncover the windows above and highlight the historic detailing on the bays and cornices with a vivid color scheme. We reversed the colors on the two central buildings to allow them to stand out from the other storefronts, creating an inviting (and more obvious) entrance to the store.
Finally, I’m very proud of our Pennypack Environmental Center display kitchen and reception area renovation. The kitchen is used to show how maple syrup is created and other special events for visitors to the center. We accomplished a lot on a tight budget. My favorite feature is a ceramic tile mural created by children visiting the center, which we repurposed above the display kitchen counter.
How has volunteering with the Collaborative influenced your practice?
Volunteering with the Collaborative has provided me with the confidence to start a design practice. Since my first Collaborative project back in 2002, I have been able to work directly with many clients throughout the city. The Collaborative also introduced me to countless colleagues who have taught me how to view design problems from a different perspective. I have become a much better collaborator! The Collaborative has also given me an outlet to try out project types that I wasn’t exposed to regularly.
You’ve built at least two PARK(ing) Day parklets and expect to do more.? How has the collaboration and the design-build process influenced the designs? . For our 2017 “Little Library” parklet, we focused on the theme of literacy and access. The idea of giving away donated books was born during our group meetings. That parklet transformed into much more after PARK(ing) Day: we donated the installation and remaining books to a youth recreation center.
The 2018 playful learning (or “plearning”) installation came out of a collaboration between the volunteer team and children attending an afterschool program at McCreesh Playground. We developed a couple of game boards that are customizable, so the children can make up their own games. Moving forward, we want to collaborate with the children receiving the installation, so they feel involved in the process and excited about receiving something that they helped to create.
The construction process heavily influences what we ultimately design along with access to materials on a tight budget. We have to be extremely conscious about our ability to build a safe installation that can be used both outdoors on PARK(ing) Day and inside at the chosen recreation center. We also need to be able to find our materials through salvage or by creative repurposing.
"Get involved in your community... it will give you exposure to design that’s difficult to get behind a desk."
What was an important learning experience for you as a young architect?
At the University of Minnesota, I was exposed to the importance of working with nonprofit groups and the benefits of volunteering. My first job in architecture during school was with a two-person firm that worked exclusively with nonprofit organizations, where I learned that there is a need for architects to work with nonprofits and also to use materials creatively to maximize their impact.
Any advice to architects starting out?
Get involved in your community, whether it is with the Community Design Collaborative or on a local planning or design board. It will give you exposure to design that’s difficult to get behind a desk. You can make an impact in your community through design, and the experience will help you become a better designer.