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Our COVID19 Response: Design A.I.D.

Aid /ād/ (verb) - to help, assist, or support (someone or something) in the achievement of something

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Community Design Collaborative is leveraging the creativity and problem-solving skills of its volunteers to meet the critical needs of nonprofit organizations that are serving vulnerable populations.

The Collaborative's mission is to ensure that high-quality design is accessible to everyone. To do that, we match nonprofit organizations with volunteer design professionals to provide pro bono preliminary design services. Our community-engaged design process typically takes six months to complete.

To tackle the urgent needs of nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, we needed to move fast. In March, the Collaborative put out the call for seasoned volunteer design professionals to join Design Assistance IDemand (A.I.D), a Team configured to work quickly, with the goal of providing implementable designs in a week's time.  

                              Watch this video about the impact of the Design A.I.D. program  


The Challenge
Our first assignment was to help Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission (SBRM), which houses and serves three meals a day to Philadelphia’s homeless population. Social distancing requirements created new challenges for how guests enter and utilize SBRM’s communal spaces. In addition, due to increased need, SBRM started offering “grab and go” meals that were being distributed through a window for lack of a better solution.

A virtual kickoff meeting between the Design A.I.D. Team and SBRM leadership provided an opportunity for SBRM’s CEO, Jeremy Montgomery, to orient the group and provide a remote tour of the space. The team was tasked with addressing four issues:

     1. Social distancing concerns at the queue line to enter the building

     2. Food distribution at the new “grab and go” service

     3. Interior updates to improve the dining space

     4. Logistics and interior updates to the guest storage area

The Design A.I.D. Team takes a virtual tour to see how guests at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission are currently accessing services.

The Process
The team immediately dove in and began developing solutions both individually and as a group. The Collaborative’s design process calls for a peer review, which we were able to implement despite the truncated timeline. This became the Collaborative’s first-ever virtual design review, providing an opportunity for the Design A.I.D. Team to present its initial plans and collect feedback from over 20 design professionals via Zoom. The Design A.I.D. Team adjusted their designs based on feedback before presenting their final concepts to SBRM. The entire process – from kick-off to final presentation – took only 7 days.

The Concepts
The Design A.I.D. Team provided conceptual design solutions addressing each of SBRM’s four challenges. To provide adequate distance for queueing, the team presented options that would create two separate paths/entrances: one for guests who are entering the building to dine-in and sleep, and another for guests who are picking up meals. The team provided recommendations for queue positioning, wayfinding signage, and floor decals to indicate six-foot intervals. Instead of handing meals out of a window, the plan calls for an outdoor distribution area with easy access to the kitchen that includes new hand-washing stations and trash receptacles.

Sample signage and decals for grab and go pick-up location
Option for Grab & Go (green) and Dine In (blue) queues

SBRM’s dining room is currently being used as a multipurpose space to accommodate guests that cannot leave due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. To help with sound dampening and to improve the aesthetics, the team provided recommendations for inexpensive and easily-implemented improvements including painting the room in soothing colors, hanging artwork, adding panels with hanging plants, and installing fun light fixtures and hooks made of recycled kitchen utensils. 

The interior design plan for the dining room

The final area addressed by the team was the storage area (referred to as “the cage”) where guests are required to leave their personal belongings when they enter the building. Even under normal circumstances, this area becomes congested when guests arrive for mealtimes and at night when they are accessing their toiletries. Social distancing requirements created even more problems. The team created a proposal to improve flow, and recommended adding paint, baseboard and artwork to the walls, and ivy to cover the chain-link fencing. 

New proposal for access to the cage area
Recommendations for the cage area

The Impact
Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission’s leadership team eagerly approved many of the recommended strategies and immediately began making improvements.

SBRM is moving forward with a new “grab and go” strategy that enables diners to line up and pick-up meals from an outdoor area adjacent to the parking lot. SBRM will install a new gate, add wayfinding markers, and create new barriers to safely separate the queuing area from the parking lot. This plan accomplishes the goal of separating the “grab and go” diners from residents and diners who are entering the building. At the residential guest entrance, SBRM will be adding window signage for wayfinding and floor decals to encourage proper distancing. Additional improvements to the alleyway where the entrance is located will be considered as part of a future collaboration between SBRM and the Community Design Collaborative.

In the interior of the building, SBRM is immediately implementing the team’s recommendations for the dining room – painting the walls, adding artwork and hanging plants, and creating light fixtures and coat hooks made from kitchen utensils. In the cage area, SBRM is installing new artwork, adding baseboards, and repainting. The residents themselves will be assisting with the interior improvements, which promotes ownership of the space and provides an opportunity for participation in tangible and uplifting activities during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Team 
The initial Design A.I.D. Team was comprised of 10 experienced volunteers including architects, a landscape architect, an urban designer, a planner, a civil engineer, a contractor, and an interior designer. Two volunteers are also Community Design Collaborative Board Members, and two Design A.I.D.Team members had prior experience volunteering at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

Yoona Ahn
Jody Arena
Alex Bruce
Jeffrey Brummer
Carolyn Campbell
Kevin Flynn
Robin Kohles
Betsy Way
Sabrena Wishart
Caitlin Youngster

Next Steps
The Collaborative hopes to use the Design A.I.D. Team model to provide quick-response services to other nonprofit organizations during this unprecedented time. If you know of an organization in need, or if you would like to volunteer to be part of the Design A.I.D. Team, please contact the Collaborative’s Director of Design Services, Heidi Segall Levy.



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