Vincent Ricardel

Gregory Kearley, AIA, is the executive director of Inscape Publico, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit design firm whose mission is to collaborate with other nonprofit clients to provide affordable concept design services for new construction, renovation, and adaptive reuse. Kearley’s efforts are part of a growing trend among small- and medium-sized firms to diversify by offering different design services through separate business and legal entities. To that end, he is the principal of the architecture firm Inscape Studio and the prefabricated house kit manufacturer Inscape Modular.

It’s important that everyone has a vehicle to contribute to the community. Whether you’re a musician or a writer or a doctor, you need something. I happen to be an architect. Now you never like to think your parents influenced you, but I have to say the concept of giving was always present in our house growing up. There were always people living there for short periods of time that didn’t have a place to live, and my parents consistently supported causes that had broader impacts outside of our home or our family. When I started practice, I made a conscious decision not to be a corporate architect. I happen to like smaller-scale projects and working closely with clients anyway, but design for the public good is something that has always been part of my mind-set.

Instead of running a design firm that completes one nonprofit project per year, I wanted to have a separate 501(c)(3) that was dedicated to other nonprofits like housing organizations, arts centers, and so forth. And we’ve just launched Inscape Modular, which currently has two energy-efficient small-home prototypes right now—one at 1,400 square feet and another at 650 square feet. I have the same staff for the 501(c)(3), the architecture firm, and the modular company, so our design process, our rigor as a group, and our skill sets as individuals transfer automatically.

So many nonprofits have wonderful missions and great aspirations but lack the capacity to follow through with a capital campaign. And that’s why we call our clients our “partners,” because we’re completely committed to seeing a project through to the end and we want our partners to do the same. I’m very excited today because we just signed a contract with the Children’s Defense Fund to renovate their 48,000-square-foot building in Washington, D.C.—which is the largest project that Inscape Publico has acquired in terms of square footage.

A lot of people forget that pro bono publico is the full Latin term for what gets shortened to pro bono when referring to certain kinds of work. But it’s the spirit of working together for some greater public good that matters. I purposely didn’t use my own name when creating Inscape—I didn’t want something that was top-down. The name reflects the fact that we work together in a dialogue and, as a result, Inscape is able to attract interesting and very talented people who have autonomy to grow as architects, professionally and personally. —As told to William Richards