In 1970 the University of Washington resembled most campuses of the time – groups of students gathering, planning and protesting. But one group of students was different, meeting instead with several professors to figure out how to tackle local urban issues of the day through architecture and design. Taking inspiration from Whitney M. Young’s keynote address at the 1968 AIA national convention, those involved in the early meetings took this message to heart:
We are not at a loss in our society for the know-how. We have the technology. We have the scientific know-how. We have the resources. We are at a loss for the will…You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights, and I am sure this does not come to you as any shock. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.
In celebration of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, Environmental Works was born with the purpose of helping those organizations and initiatives that needed professional expertise to launch, preserve and sustain communities throughout greater Seattle. Its first act as an organization was to take up residence at Fire Station 7 (where we still operate today) in an effort to save the building from razing. Despite a shoestring budget and an all-volunteer staff, the early days filled quickly with community meetings and collaborative urban design solutions.
From a group of eager students and professors to today’s staff of architects and designers, Environmental Works has evolved to into a modern community design center that serves nonprofit and institutional clients across the state of Washington, in both fee-for-service capacities and the no-fee projects of its Community Design Fund. Each project embodies the early days from feasibility to completion as described by founding board member Dale Miller: “Bringing the resources, information and education needed to communities with limited resources so that they could control the planning, design and development of their own communities.”