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Design Matters - February 2021

Celebrating Our History In Black History Month 

Happy Black History Month! As we move into February, the Collaborative team wants to take this time to honor and highlight the ways in which black history has played a role in our impactful work. Here in Philadelphia, Black professionals have brought their design skills and community expertise to projects since the Collaborative’s inception. Additionally, many of the projects we have been able to complete have been done for organizations with deep history and connections within Philadelphia’s African American community.

To learn more about some great representatives of Philadelphia who have had major impacts on the design community, we suggest you start with Julian Francis Abele; the first black graduate at University of Pennsylvania for architecture, and a talented designer whose vision and technical skills brought much of our skyline to life. Another homegrown icon is Phillip Freelon, most known for his contribution to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. After starting his own company, the Freelon Group, the firm merged with Perkins & Will where Mr. Freelon remained a partner until his death in 2019. Other notable institutions include Dobbins High School, which opened in 1937 in North Philadelphia and was one of a few high schools with an architecture program in city. Design fields are highlighted on a mural on the building featuring careers jumpstarted within. Additionally, the Architect’s Workshop, a precursor to the Collaborative, was a committee of AIA Philadelphia that worked with community groups and designers, offering drafting training to residents. Locally, the National Organization of Minority Architects (PhilaNOMA) has also served as an advocate for current and future practitioners in highlighting the expertise and work of local colleagues. For Black History Month, NOMA National is featuring 28 Days a curated gallery on their social media to showcase Black architects across the country. They also maintain the Directory of African American Architects, a database outlining licensed practitioners in each state.

In the design professions, the highest elevation is that of Fellow, with the first Black fellow being elevated locally in 1976 to the AIA with Walter Livingston.  In addition to being a local pioneer, Mr. Livingston was also the first Black member of the Union League (a site with an Abele addition) and the architect of Zion Baptist Church, where the Collaborative has completed a project and is currently offering technical assistance. When looking for a designer to build a new space for his congregation, famed Civil Rights leader Rev. Leon Sullivan vowed it would be designed by a black architect and built by black contractors. The leadership and example set by Fellows locally has left an indelible mark on our local design community.  The Collaborative has been honored to have all three living Black AIA fellows as a part of our network: Dominque Hawkins, FAIAEmmanuel Kelly, FAIA; and Michael Johns, FAIA (also a member of our Advisory Committee). Mr. Kelly and Mr. Johns are also currently volunteering on projects with the organization! We always appreciate the insight, ingenuity, and experience they bring to our projects.

Throughout our history, the Collaborative has had the privilege of working with many different neighborhood organizations and groups. We pride ourselves on creating design opportunities for residents to improve their quality of life. Many of the projects have been focused on preserving aspects of Philadelphia’s Black culture, supporting Black-owned businesses, creating opportunities for affordable housing, and engaging these local communities. Some of our highlights have included improvements for local churches and religious institutions, explorations for ways to improve storefronts and commercial corridors, conceptual designs for new public spaces, feasibility studies for adaptive reuses and affordable housing, and ways to improve learning and play for young residents. Through these opportunities we have learned and celebrated with our community partners. We appreciate being granted the chance to contribute small part to your incredible narrative.

We celebrate your stories; past, present, and future this month. We look forward to continuing our support and partnership with you on ways to design your own communities.

Conceptual Collage created by students from the Allegheny West Project
Playful Learning Landscapes Focus Group

The Collaborative will be assisting the Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network (PLLAN) with organizing and conducting a focus group to learn from experienced designers and project leaders about the process of designing with child development in mind. PLLAN is committed to fostering the creation of playful learning infrastructure and activities in the everyday spaces where children and families gather by infusing our cities with playful learning opportunities. To achieve this, they are seeking input from designers in order to build on the recent debut of the PLLAN Playbook by developing a Playful Learning Designer Expansion Pack" which will serve as an education tool and practical resource for designers. 

Tabernacle Lutheran Church Design Grant Wraps Up

Tabernacle Lutheran Church (TELC) is a small urban congregation with a long-standing presence in its West Philadelphia community. In addition to serving their congregation with a holistic ministry, they are also committed to serving their community through a neighborhood food bank, early education services, civic engagement opportunities, rentable community space, and adult services like Narcotics Anonymous and Weight Watchers. The Collaborative provided a design grant to TELC for a feasibility study to examine and re-envision the Church’s existing facilities as a community hub. Working with input from TELC’s congregation and surrounding community, the Collaborative volunteer team produced recommendations for three feasibility options - each includes proposals to remediate longstanding maintenance issues, as well as varying propositions for renovation and new construction. The Collaborative’s study has provided TELC with the tools needed to assess their institutional goals, long-term financial sustainability options, and aid in the pursuit of funding for the redevelopment. Through the implementation of these efforts, the congregation will be able to continue to serve and enrich their community.  

RFI For Early Literacy in Public Spaces

Later this month, as part of an initiative supported by the William Penn Foundation, the Collaborative will be putting out a call for design teams to support community-based organizations as they engage in a planning and implementation process to elevate early literacy in public spaces. The design teams will work with communities to create “Literacy-Rich Neighborhoods”, offering multiple opportunities in a single neighborhood for families with young children to interact with literacy-rich materials and activities prompting productive adult-child conversation and interaction.  

Leverage 2021

This is big year for the Collaborative – our 30th Anniversary.  You are Invited! 

Update your calendars to celebrate with us a remarkable three decades of spreading community-driven design throughout Greater Philadelphia. With fresh energy, we are forging ahead to advance equity in design services. 

Join us on June 3, 2021 for more networking time at the start of the online event. See old friends and meet new people. Get the inside scoop on recent design grants from the designers and clients who dreamed and collaborated. 

Look for information about sponsorship opportunities in your inbox later this month. 


The support of donors spanning the public and private sectors from foundations, businesses of all sizes, other nonprofits, agencies, and many generous individuals enabled the Collaborative to enter 2021 on solid footing.  We are grateful to all of you. 

Check out who was behind our innovation and success in 2020. Contact Elyssa Kane, Development Manager, if we need to correct your listing.  

Then resolve this year to join them. Your gift enables us to deliver core design grants, develop initiatives, and provide technical assistance.  

Corporate Champions

We have refreshed the benefits package that our Corporate Champions will enjoy this year. These leading corporate donors make a significant, comprehensive annual commitment.  

Responding to their feedback and the reality that we will continue interacting heavily in the digital realm for most of the year, we boosted benefits. This includes more tickets to events and more opportunities to engage as volunteers and with you. 

See the 2021 perks of being a Corporate Champion

Ready to join them? Contact Elyssa Kane, Development Manager.   


Congratulations to Michael Spain Associate AIA, NOMA, in his new role as Director of Design Education at The Center for Architecture and Design (Center).  Michael is a long-time volunteer, current advisory council member, past board member, and all-around amazing supporter! He has worked with us on several design grants in which we integrated the Architecture in Education program into our design grants so that the students could help design the projects.

While Congratulating Mike on a well-deserved role, we took the opportunity to  ask him about this passion community engagement in community revitalization. Read that interview Here. 

Resources & Events 
  • Listen to Iron Sharpens Iron - a new podcast from PACDC to spread information and tools from one neighborhood to another and become sharper with every conversation!
  • Congratulations to PACDC for being awarded the TD Ready Challenge, a $577,500 grant to provide free legal and technical assistance aimed at addressing the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on small business owners of color across Philly.



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