When community service and pro bono design are part of your firm’s culture and DNA, great things happen. That’s certainly been the case with EskewDumezRipple (EDR), an architecture, interiors and planning firm with a longstanding dedication to community development.
The New Orleans- and Washington, DC-based firm performs an annual Day of Service program, driven by skills and hands-on engagement that aims to bolster nonprofit community organizations. Drawing inspiration from the legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the firm’s founder, Allen Eskew, EDR commits a full workday of its staff to participate in community-focused endeavors. According to Jose Alvarez, principal at EDR, this approach enables them to "focus our pro bono efforts in a way that allows ourselves to be more proactive and more beneficial, more impactful."
Reflecting on the firm's ethos, Alvarez recalled, “Our founding partner, Alan Eskew, who passed away a couple of years ago right before we got the [AIA Architecture Firm] award, his vision and the premise of the work that we do has been always about the balance of design and community engagement—and our practice has always focused on the ability to serve.” Eskew believed in architects' involvement not only within their professional circles but also at civic and cultural levels, which led to the annual service program.
“We committed to really think about and challenge ourselves to create sustainable architecture and high-performance architecture, low carbon architecture paired with design, but a couple of years back, we really committed to the ability of the firm to be part of our community and serve our community through our design process.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service program provides selected nonprofit organizations the opportunity to collaborate with the firm’s experienced team in a tailored design process. Covering architecture, interior design, construction, and more, the initiative aligns with the firm’s service-oriented culture.
In celebration of the program’s 10th anniversary, EDR marked the MLK Day of Service on January 12. By offering a customized process aligned with the mission of selected nonprofit organizations, the program endeavors to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the community.
The selection process for this initiative involved a Request for Proposal (RFP) phase that concluded in October 2023. Each chosen project was assigned a team comprised of five to 10 individuals from EDR and other local design firms. This year's nonprofit partners included KIDsmART, People's Housing+, Hollygrove Dixon Neighborhood Association, and others.
Thom Smith, the day of service coordinator at EDR, remarked, “I think the program is a really smart and even practical alignment of what we as architects and designers and the firm are good at doing, what our skill sets are and how we can leverage those to help nonprofits who have a really clear idea of their mission … and are generally probably unable to afford design services or whatever type of assistance they're looking for.”
This year's edition of the event witnessed the program's expansion to include nine additional architecture and design firms. Collaborating with EskewDumezRipple were Rome Office, CICADA, Bell-Butler, Albert Architecture, GOAT, Atelier Design, Mathes Brierre and Chase Marshall. These firms, advocating civic responsibility and sustainable design, contributed their time and expertise to initiatives promoting equity in the design of the built environment.
“This was a big assist for many [clients] which was great to hear,” said Smith. “More importantly, we know that we are making a difference in some way to these groups who are doing necessary work in New Orleans or up near DC and that they will be able to take the next step and follow through and make something happen afterward. This does have a life beyond just the single day or even the few weeks leading up to it and after.”