In tough times, architects find it hard to say no to clients who can help them make the payroll, even if the potential projects won't show off the firm at its best. And if a firm plays in the big leagues, its principals are hotly pursuing those few golden commissions that not only earn big fees but also garner media attention. That doesn't leave much time or resources for pro bono design.
Some architects, however, are challenging that model for running an office. Whether creating parks in poor neighborhoods, aiding in post-disaster situations, or constructing migrant-worker housing, there are surprising numbers of designers intensely focused on socially conscious work. Their efforts are undoubtedly noble, yet the question remains: Can they possibly make a living doing it?