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Perkins+Will Revamps Community Childcare Center

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ellen Anderson and Lynette Klein are emerging designers working in Perkins+Will’s Chicago office.  We recently sat down with them to learn more about their pro bono work for the Oak Park & River Forrest Day Nursery, a nonprofit nursery that has been operating for over 100 years in the greater Chicago area. As a Public Architecture alumni of the CCA Connects externship program, it was a great bonus to see what Ellen has been up to lately.

Q: How did P+W’s work for the Oak Park River Forrest Day Nursery come about?

       L: The Day Nursery found Perkins+Will through our website and e-mailed us to ask if we would be willing to take them on as a client. They read about our Social Responsibility Initiative, a part of The 1% program.  Our SRI taskforce vets many pro bono projects every year, figuring out what we have time to do and what makes sense for us to do.  They chose the Day Nursery as one of our projects for the year. 

Q: Do you work with the SRI taskforce to choose projects?  Do they hand pick the designers or did you both sign up for this?

       E: The SRI committee in our office is made up of various staff with whom we work closely on other projects. We were selected to work on this pro bono project but we were also interested in working on it.

Q: What role did each of you take in the project and how did it differ from traditional projects that you work on?

       E: The Day Nursery was one of the very first projects I worked on at Perkins+Will. I got to step up and become a designer with Lynette.  As an intern, it gave me an opportunity to interact with the client and attend client meetings. 

       L: I am an interior designer and the Day Nursery was much smaller than my typical projects.  It was also a historic property, making it was an interesting renovation project.  Our client was very enthusiastic, appreciative, and all around very happy with our work.  Within Perkins+Will, the process and management of pro bono projects works the same way as any other project we work on. Although, these types of projects are usually on a shorter schedule so there’s always bit of a crunch.

Q: Have you ever designed for clients that serve a youth population?  Was something learned through your work with the nursery that you’ve carried into future projects?

       E: I’ve only worked on one other project for children. It was a speech and language clinic for young children, where we designed a very safe and colorful environment.  In the process, I thought back to what I would have wanted and what would have been interesting at that age. To delve into your inner child for this clientele is definitely a fun side of what we do.

Q: Could you describe the design strategy for the Day Nursery in greater detail?

       L: We painted the ceiling a light blue to be reminiscent of the sky and the design was very much about shape.  We selected a carpet with squares in the pattern and created a modular system on the wall that mirrored the carpet squares.  The design was also functional because the Day Nursery needed a number of bulletin boards and brochure holders that we were able to incorporate within the modular wall system. 

       E: The entry lobby for the Day Nursery used to be chaotic for parents and staff.  The new colors gave the space a more natural feel, which helped to calm the lobby. One of the most important factors was to align the eye level for our clientele. The Day Nursery pre-kindergarteners look at the world from a much different point of view, and that had to be factored in.

Q: Given the budget constraints, were there any specific challenges that you solved without sacrificing high quality design?

       E: One of the most positive aspects was our work with the contractor, Quinn Construction, who also donated their services pro bono.  Everyone showed up and shared the spirit of giving for this client, which made it a very easy project in a lot of ways.  The biggest challenge was to make the design feel fresh and functional without sacrificing the historic characteristics of the building.

       L: We also had some construction and client meetings in the pre-k classroom. The chairs were pretty short (laughs).

Q: We read that the build-out was slated to be finished in time for their 100-year anniversary celebration.  We were curious to know if it made it in time and how it was received.

       E: The Day Nursery is an incredible organization that has been in the same building with the same mission for over 100 years.  They love their space and it is very well received.  In the last year, they honored Perkins+Will with a Rocking Horse Award, which recognizes a person or a group’s extraordinary commitment to the Day Nursery.

Q: Do you have any advice for emerging designers who might be interested in getting involved in pro bono work?

       L: If you work for a large firm with a pro bono policy, voice that you want to work on these projects and your specific areas of interest.  If you are on your own or work for a firm that doesn’t have a pro bono policy, then be the one that starts it.  Talk to senior staff and co-workers about getting involved.  Check The 1% website for opportunities – there’s always something you can do!

       E: Our office has opportunities come about as a result of being involved in the community. If you’re interested in local issues, be active in your community.

Q: How does the leadership in your firm support you as junior designers?  How do they make this work accessible to your positions?

       E: Pro bono projects especially give young designers an opportunity to take on more of a leadership role in the design process.

       L: Attending the meetings is a great way to give junior designers experience in front of an appreciative client. It’s a perfect way to get your feet wet.

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