Getting to know a client and really understand their mission is one of the most exciting parts of any design project. The process of comprehending the DNA and culture of The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) was not only personally eye-opening, but critical to defining a concept for their new headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. As we would learn, this was step one in a larger process requiring the generosity of many key players to ensure that this worthy group received a space they deserved.
The organization had far outgrown their space – its original location within an old mansion had offices carved out of bedrooms and closets. CVT leased a second office three miles away to accommodate growth. This organizational dislocation provided multiple inefficiencies for CVT. A key driver for the new headquarters project would be to bring everyone together and break down the barriers impeding their work.
As our design team began introducing ideas of an open office environment with smaller personal space balanced by more collaborative and shared spaces, the client’s initial hesitation grew into anticipation, knowing that those barriers could be removed. The biggest challenge to the design team was coming up with a solution that worked for a budget that didn’t compromise vital programs. CVT’s real estate broker, Dan Johnson from Tegra Group, donated some of his time to negotiate a reasonable tenant fit-out cost with the landlord and the design team aimed to stay within those limits. His contribution was one of many that would add to this project.
The new CVT headquarters is a project completed under the Perkins+Will social responsibility program and all planning, programming and design services were provided pro bono. The design team used the story of CVT’s mission to talk to other consultants about donating their own services. For example, Leigh Gice from Schuler Shook gladly provided lighting design pro-bono to ensure that the existing dark space was transformed to a bright cheerful environment.
Once bidding was underway, the team organized tours of CVT’s healing center for subcontractors, product vendors and other parties participating in construction. These tours were a means to enlighten participants about the important work that CVT does for torture survivors, and also had the effect of encouraging donations of time and materials. Further capitalizing on the power of relationships and connections, personal phone calls were made requesting product donations. The outpouring of support we found by simply engaging those we had relationships with and using CVT’s mission to explain the need was downright heartwarming.
As construction began, it was clear that Gardner Builders was also willing to do what it would take to ensure that the project could be completed within budget. Gardner personally visited each and every subcontractor’s office to make a personal ask for time and material donations, resulting in thousands of dollars savings for CVT. Their team also helped organize and assist volunteer cleaning days which saved critical dollars out of the budget. Based on a long-standing relationship, we asked Fluid Interiors to be the workspace solutions vendor. Fluid donated design and research time to ensure that CVT staff would be supported with a modern, well-functioning, and dignified workspace without breaking their budget.
When the dust cleared and the project was complete, our team helped CVT organize a celebration party where each and every person that worked on the project could be personally thanked for their time, efforts and donations. In conjunction with the party, CVT created a Razoo site to support their Finishing Touches Fund. This site was used to generate additional donations for items such as a sound masking system, podium and reception desk. As a result of this outpouring of thankfulness, the networking contractor, MTG, came through with a major donation for the white noise system.
From the very beginning, the project was framed around generosity, honesty, and personal relationships. CVT benefitted greatly from the big-heartedness of many different partners, and just as well we were beneficiaries from this process – one that reinforced the power of relationships and developed the larger community’s commitment to pro-bono services.
The following short film tells CVT’s story as they transitioned to their new world headquarters.
This post was authored with Meredith Hayes Gordon.