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Applying our practice to a purpose for homeless youth

August 08, 2023

How Stantec designers volunteered their time and talents to transform an aging youth shelter in San Francisco

Service leadership, volunteerism, community design. All facets of Stantec’s ethos that were embodied in our recent work on the Larkin Street Youth Services, a pro-bono project in San Francisco, California, sponsored by AEC Cares.

AEC Cares brings together design and building professionals for a one-day, design-build program each year during the national AIA Conference on Architecture, which took place in San Francisco. Since 2011, this program has renovated, refurbished, and rejuvenated homeless shelters, workforce programs, parks, schools, and more in the host city. Volunteers from the conference attendees and exhibiting vendors donate materials and thousands of hours to accomplish in one day what would oftentimes take months.

A new space to create new dreams for San Francisco’s youth.

Founded by Laura Marlow and Mike Waldinger, AEC Cares is a nonprofit sponsored by the AIA and ConstructConnect that recognizes the impact our industry can leave on the host cities—and on the professionals who offer their skills and time.

Months of preparations, design, and logistic coordination go into pulling this off. In December 2022, the Stantec team used its expansive reach to support AEC Cares’ search for this year’s deserving organization. After a review and visits to many worthy programs, a selection was made. Larkin Street Youth Services, a 36-bed youth shelter, and the only organization in San Francisco specifically serving the homeless population under the age of 24. Larkin Street Youth Services hadn’t seen a renovation in more than 20 years, 20 years of wear and tear the Stantec volunteers were eager to rejuvenate.

From the beginning Stantec design director Chu Foxlin and interior designer Sarang Song championed the design effort for Larkin Street. They poured hundreds of hours into meetings, site visits, design, and coordination with a growing list of collaborators as the project’s scope and schedule solidified leading up to the A’23 event. 

Chu Foxlin proudly shares our work.

For Chu, it was a personal experience

“I met with the team from Larkin Street Youth Services on a cold, rainy December day. I walked past the streets with homeless people huddled in tents pitched in the dirty nooks and side alleyways. Random pieces of garment and containers littered on the sidewalks if not stored under whatever shelter could be found. It was hard to think this was in the most famous city of the richest state in the US, boasting the fifth largest economy in the world. Kevin Taylor, director of facilities, showed me the aging facility with its paint peeling walls, cramped reception, and dark, damp sleeping area. There were kids, not much younger than my own daughter, hanging around in their makeshift home. Though dry, they were not any less lost or exposed than those I saw in the rain. The moment hit home. These are someone’s children, lost to the street when they most need guidance and protection. We need to do more, to show them that WE care.”

In the months leading up to the June 7 build day, Stantec’s San Francisco office stepped up and coordinated efforts with our design firm peers—CRB, DLR, and Gensler—collaborating on the shared spaces and scope. Vendors, manufacturers, and suppliers also stepped up with Forbo, Sherwin Williams, Acoufelt, Teknion, and One Workplace donating substantial materials for this one-day building blitz. It was all hands-on deck as over 140 volunteers descended on the Larkin Street Youth Shelter in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. New furniture was assembled, walls painted, counters built and replaced. Also added were greenery and uplifting colors, including a wonderful series of murals, helping bring a sense of dignity to the space. One alum of the Larkin Street program eloquently voiced the hope this space rekindled in his life, which helped him forge a career as a screenwriter. 

A Stantec team effort at the 2023 AEC Cares project in San Francisco, California. Left to right: Stephen Parker, Chu Foxlin, Sarang Song, David Onodera, Amber Wade, Shreegouri Katakoi, Victor Fong, Jamie Frank, and Shreya Shridhar.

For Sarang, the project was an opportunity for collective impact

“I collaborated with designers from partner firms for five months on the project’s design and construction while also soliciting vendor donations to help bring our efforts to light. After a few disappointments, we found generous donors to provide needed materials. With the tight schedule and evolving design, the project needed efficient virtual collaboration with fellow design firms and careful coordination with vendors to ensure the delivery of materials and quantities—even receiving deliveries on the day of the opening. All our efforts turned into incredible transformation of the Larkin Street Youth Services with AEC Cares.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed checks out the progress at Larkin Street Youth Services. 

A surprise visit by San Francisco Mayor London Breed helped drive home the importance of the project. She expressed explicit appreciation to the design team and build day volunteers.

Stantec is honored to be part of a project that gives purpose to its practice. When we collaborate, empathize with the built environment, and dignify humanity at its most vulnerable, we design with community in mind. 

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