Development update :: AIA MN kicks off weekend of pro bono design

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February 1, 2010 // UPDATED 10:04 am - February 4, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
It could be a scene out of some Bravo reality television show.

Beginning at about 8 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, teams of student and professional designers will have less than 24 hours to turn nonprofit proposals into graphic realities.

The one-day scramble is part of the 23rd annual Search for Shelter Charrette, a weekend of pro-bono design organized by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota’s Housing Advocacy Committee. Nonprofits that lack the funds to hire a professional design firm submit wish-list building proposals — anything from a simple redesign of a lobby space to an inside-out renovation of an entire apartment complex.  Then volunteer architects, landscape architects and interior designers collaborate to produce visual tools — working drawings, promotional brochures, presentation storyboards — that might help the nonprofits secure funding.

Projects this year include a new lobby for People Serving People and a redesigned façade for Aeon’s Buri Manor apartments. For People Serving People, the charrette is a new discovery — an event the nonprofit wishes it would have found out about sooner.

“We’ve been wanting to remodel our lobby for a while, so when we saw that this opportunity came up, we just couldn’t pass it up,” said Amy Jenkins, director of development for People Serving People. “The hope is that we will have a starting point that we can use to formulate a proposal to secure funding. It’s extremely helpful to have a vision for your project when you go to a funder.”

All in all, each nonprofit receives about 20 hours of free design services. Students get valuable portfolio items and professional mentoring. And working designers get to reach back to their college days of budget-free, hand-rendered design.

“It’s a pretty unique concept. It reminds the professionals of an old reality, and opens the eyes of the students to a new reality of what their professional life might be like,” said Andrew Centanni, co-chair of the Housing Advocacy Committee. “It also shows that the scope of our work isn’t just a finished project; it begins with napkin drawings.”

The event begins Friday night at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. Teams discover their assignments via presentations by participating non-profits, then report back Saturday morning at 8 a.m. for initial site visits. The brainstorming and grunt work continue all day Saturday, often ending long after the sun has gone down.

“I’ve seen people stay until 2, 3 in the morning and be back at the school at 8 a.m. the following day,” Centanni said.

Finished designs are presented to the nonprofits on Sunday morning.

And while Search for Shelter ideas are meant to be only starting points for nonprofits, some do go on to become real world projects. Tim Bicknell, a project designer at AECOM Ellerbe Beckett and former charrette participant, is about to see one of his ideas come into fruition. During the 2008 charrette, Bicknell worked with a team to redesign the entrance of a building on 12th St. N. occupied by YouthLink, a community hub for homeless youth. The design of a more accessible entrance with new skylights delighted the director, and Bicknell decided to stay involved with the project on a pro bono basis.  

The design helped YouthLink win a grant, and construction of the new entrance is slated to begin this March.

Another of Bicknell’s Search for Shelter designs, an environmental renovation of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association building from last year’s charrette, may also be realized in the near future.

Bicknell will touch on these successes at the charrette’s opening reception, where he’ll be a featured speaker.

“I just want [participants] to see that this can be more than a weekend,” he said. “It can turn into something real.”


New development company buys Elliot Park building

New development company PDJ, LLC has announced its first purchase, a 13,000-square-foot commercial building located at 609 10th St. S. The company closed on the building  Jan. 6.  Doug Hoskin, one of PDJ’s principals, said he was pleased to secure a building on such a critical block of Elliot Park and that he has begun seeking out tenants. He hopes to attract a coffee shop or wine bar, but said the 6,500 square feet of space on the first floor would be large enough to accommodate offices, as well. Hoskins’ partners in the PDJ, LLC are Tony Janoweic and Chuck Biller.

In 2005 and 2006, the building had been slated to become a 300-unit condo tower. When development plans stalled, the sales center for Skyscape moved in, along with a coffee shop. The building has been vacant since May of 2009.

Reach Gregory J. Scott at