Staff: Flexibility allows architect to pursue charity work

From working with Sri Lankan Buddhist Monks in Minneapolis, to Twin Cities “food desert” mobile relief and projects in Ghana and Nepal, Architect Tim Jordan with CNH Architects takes his own time out each week to assist with charitable projects.

“There are mostly community groups and other various projects that we get,” said Jordan. “They’re looking for some initial concept or schematic design.”

Around the world, regional and local

The funnel for these requests is the Open Architecture Collaborative, a California nonprofit with a chapter in Minnesota. Jordan said the charitable projects were the reason why he got into architecture. He started with CNH at the close of 2010 as a contractor and later became an employee working four days a week.

The earlier charity focus was more on humanitarian response for places around the world, and several projects were built based on designs from Jordan and other professional volunteers, he explains. The focus has since changed to a more local or regional scope, however.

The Buddhist monks have had a site in north Minneapolis for 15 years and were looking to expand. The group has a successful temple building created inside in an old apartment structure. Leaders wanted a larger, stand-alone meditation temple space in the back, Jordan said.

Design work began, was put on the shelf and then the monks returned a year later. “It’s interesting when you get to work with a client multiple times, to get to know their concerns,” he said.

Out west and ‘food desert’ relief efforts

Another project involved a mental health facility on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The area is known for low life expectancies and poverty.

Twin Cities Mobile Market Grocery store bus

Sometimes architecture can go “mobile,” as was the case with a food truck that was partially designed by Jordan using an old Metro Transit bus that once sat on the site of the new soccer stadium in St. Paul. “It was mostly initial layout and concept stuff,” said Jordan. They found a fabricator that made food trucks and the vehicle is up and running around the city, serving seniors in high rise buildings and others who have trouble getting out, Jordan explains.

Taking care to guide others well

Comparing volunteer architecture to paid work, Jordan said there are times when he has to force himself to be as responsive as he would be to a paying client. People involved in charity projects tend to be less sophisticated. This means Jordan must be watchful to avoid leading them down the wrong path.

“It is good to have an architect like Tim at the firm, as he brings a different perspective and concern for a variety of interest groups,” said CNH Principal Wayne Hilbert.

In the commercial realm, Jordan carries a heavy interest in sustainable design. Sometimes, he’s not leading projects, but doing “broader support.”

“You don’t feel like you’re adrift on a project and they don’t have you do things that are off the mark. This helps the staff to feel productive on a daily basis.” Architect Tim Jordan

Jordan is often tasked with the exterior building details, which they refer to as “the envelope.” These are the roofs and walls that keep the weather out. Energy codes are changing as are the materials that are being used, he explains.

His interests include the artistic elements and the technical details. Jordan refers to it as a “wholistic” approach. “Volunteering allows me to do straight design work, so there’s some of both,” he said.

Organized, productive work environment at CNH

The architect said CNH is very well organized and easy to work for. Firm principals write their own specs and are keyed into the projects.

“You don’t feel like you’re adrift on a project and they don’t have you do things that are off the mark,” said Jordan. This, he says, helps the staff to feel productive on a daily basis.

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