Our Nation's Capital Pro Bono Ideas
After fulfilling the required three-year apprenticeship working under the supervision of a licensed architect (Chloethiel Woodard Smith FAIA, in my case), I was qualified to take the Washington, D.C. license exam—five days of written and design tests and one oral exam. I passed on the first try—a good omen; my dream of becoming an Architect had come true.
In 1965, with a copy of my passport to the world of Architecture in my pocket, I quit my job, got on my bike, and rode around the Federal City for hours and hours, during which I decided—being unemployed, without paying clients or prospects—to make the city my first client. (Decades later, even when working on clients’ projects, in the back of my mind, I was still working for their client: the public.)
As a sixth-generation Washingtonian, and a relative of Senator James McMillan (1901–1902 McMillan Plan), I’ve always felt an allegiance to, and patriotic pride in, our Nation’s Capital. To this day, I treasure my bond with the city and its history, and my promise to myself to be in the conversation about its future all the days of my life.
I’ve used up several bikes on my regular weekend rides since then, going all over the city looking for opportunities in the public arena where I could make a positive contribution.
Early on, I realized that the only way to maintain the integrity of this vocation, and to exercise the agency—the freedom—it deserved, was within a strict pro bono publico environment: there could be no clients, no compensation by money or favor, and no pursuit of architectural commissions. I would personally do the work without involving the architects in my firm.
Only after about ten years into this saga, when I learned to balance these two very different practices, did I fully embrace the joy of volunteering a portion of my professional services—it had become one of the most rewarding and satisfying activities of my life. Not only was it the best way for me to give back to my hometown, but it gave me valuable and unimaginably complex challenges available no other way—interweaving politics, testimony, engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, real estate development, lobbying, and master planning into a practical, credible, and feasible tapestry of solutions for a hugely variant collection of would-be projects.
These tapestries achieved their level of reality by my stepping—uninvited and mostly unwelcomed—onto the thickly guarded turf of D.C. and Federal Government agencies, which naturally reacted unenthusiastically at times because they came from the outside. When a former Associate Regional Director of the National Park Service called me a fomenter, I was complimented.
Except for the five requests for conceptual designs, I imagined and created these ideas, and personally drew, rendered, sketched, and generated each image (with computer tech help on two of them).
This body of work is being published in digital and limited print form because— essentially—the only people who know about it are those who kindly and generously allowed me into their purview—into their conversation—for which I am forever grateful.