FIRM Profile: Inscape Publico and Non-profit Architecture

Inscape Publico, a non-profit architecture firm, designed new spaces for the Arlington Food Assistance Center in Arlington, Virginia. The firm takes on non-profit projects, helping organizations create visions for new projects.Rendering courtesy Inscape Publico.

There are firms that take on a pro bono project or two each year; some firms are entirely non-profit. DC-based Inscape Publico is an altogether different animal. The non-profit firm grew directly out of the work its progenitor, Inscape Studio, was doing.

“We did the normal pro bono architecture firm model,” says Stefan Schwarzkopf, the design director. “As things tanked during the recession that became harder and harder to do. Our non-profit clients had needs that weren’t being met.” Chief among them was the bottleneck at the beginning of a project. There’s a great idea and enthusiasm, but very often no funds to initiate the preliminary stages of the design process. “In order to fundraise for a project, you need some collateral to show,” explains Greg Kearley, the group’s executive director.

For their efforts, company charges a much-reduced percentage, a policy that’s both practically and philosophically motivated. “People will be vested in project and pause and think,” says Kearley. The fees also mean the clients “will have high expectations for us, and we will have high expectations for ourselves. It’s not something we’re working on a couple of nights a month.”

The funding can come from any number of sources—grants, individuals, organizations. At the moment, the firm itself is embarking on its first quarterly fundraising campaign, with the goal of raising $12,000, in support of the work they’re doing for the Arlington Food Assistance Center in Arlington, Virginia. Inscape Publico’s board has contributed as have donors from the building industry. To date, they’ve surpassed their goal and are donating funds above the amount back to AFAC.

Beyond just getting the ball rolling design-wise, though, the firm also helps clients navigate the next steps of the building process. “For very little money, they have the vision created and can apply for grants, set up capital campaigns or apply for private financing,” says Kearley, which he and his team help with too. They also work with contractors to help their clients bid jobs so the actual building costs and fundraising goals align from the beginning.

So far, their efforts have met with success. “It hasn’t been a problem finding clients, since we didn’t start out of the blue,” says Kearley. Besides AFAC, they’re working with the Children’s Defense Fund and, among several others, have four projects cooking Mi Casa, a DC organization dedicated to providing housing opportunities for low- and middle-income populations. In turn, their work has generated interest—and funds—allowing the projects to move forward. A design for Repair the World proved so exciting that a single donor underwrote the work.

Inscape Publico has even had an impact on the culture for the for-profit segment of the firm. For each project, the design team undertakes a thorough visioning exercise to get at the heart of the client’s mission, goals and needs. “We’re implementing it for our for-profit,” says Kearley. “Change for one side informs the other.”

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