10/27/23 Student-Run “Architecture + Advocacy” attains independent 501c3 status


Architecture + Advocacy (A+A) achieved independent 501(c)(3) status in June, solidifying its position as a non-profit corporation and equipping it to scale its mission of remedying injustice through the power of architectural design.

Established in 2020 as a student-run project funded by USC Arts In Action, Architecture + Advocacy aims to bridge the gap between recent architectural development and South LA residents who experience injustice. They believe that by equipping everyday people with the tools of architecture, neighborhood development will better serve the needs of current residents.

Over the years, the organization has grown in size and impact, offering introductory architecture workshops for South LA youth, pro-bono design-builds, and neighborhood walking tours– all by partnering with more than 15 community-based non-profits.

Today, the organization has swelled to over 100 volunteers drawing from 8 different USC schools, and it continues to be the only organization in Los Angeles dedicated to teaching architecture as outreach. One of A+A’s most notable projects was the recent collaboration with the Amazing Grace Conservatory (AGC)– a theater program for at-risk youth in West Adams– where A+A volunteers designed and constructed a modular storage system based on participants' design recommendations. By remedying the storage needs of AGC– and by extension enhancing the quality of the non-profit’s space– A+A expanded AGC’s capacity to serve the needs of their youth participants. This project not only served as a tangible example of how architecture can be a catalyst for positive social change, but also provided valuable hands-on experience for the student-architects.

Sean Le (B.Arch ‘26) reflected on his experience as an A+A volunteer, “When I sat down with the youth to listen to their experience, I got a good view in the communities we design for... that’s what real research is and I plan on incorporating it into my design process.” In addition to benefiting the communities around USC, teaching USC students the power of involving residents in the design process is a key component of A+A’s mission.

Attaining 501(c)(3) status marks a pivotal moment in the organization's evolution. Previously, Architecture + Advocacy was funded by a combination of grants from USC-based initiatives and small donations from private individuals. The status not only legally recognizes the group's commitment to its mission but also unlocks a host of benefits, including eligibility for public grants, tax-deductions for donations, and the ability to pursue paid contracts. These resources will be instrumental in scaling their impact and reaching more communities in need.

As part of the journey to 501(c)(3) status, A+A assembled a Board of Directors to guide its long-term program strategy and financial sustainability. Their Board is a mix of former A+A volunteers and advisors from the architecture industry– many of whom are USC alumni. Board members include: Marcela Oliva (USC B.Arch ‘88), 2021 AIA LA Educator of the Year for her work teaching community-driven architecture at LATTC; Joshua Foster (USC M.Arch ‘19) founder of JAF Creative Solutions, which provides community engagement consulting services to AEC development projects; Manuel Bradley Zavaleta (USC M.Arch ‘23), 2023 USC Alpha Rho Chi School Medal awardee for outstanding leadership and service; Oogna Ryan, founder of the architecture firm that bears her initials, ORA; Dr. Victoria Behner, lecturer at the USC School of Architecture; Elenor Seltzer (USC M.Arch ‘23), junior architectural designer at Lamar Johnson; and Erin Light (USC B.S. Arch ‘23), former Community Organizer in public and affordable housing.

With backgrounds ranging from small-business management, to education, to architecture, to community organizing, this team of advisors is poised to carry Architecture + Advocacy into a new chapter of innovation and impact.

Looking ahead, Architecture + Advocacy intends to complete its second design-build this year and expand its architecture workshop operations to additional neighborhoods where residents face displacement, including Lincoln Heights. They intend to expand their network of student volunteers and establish partnerships with local governments, community organizations, and architectural firms. With their newfound nonprofit status, they are better positioned than ever to make a lasting impact on the intersection of architecture and social advocacy.

As Architecture + Advocacy continues to grow and evolve, it serves as a shining example of how architects can use design processes to build residents’ power to affect change in their neighborhood. With their dedication, passion, and non-profit structure, this remarkable organization stands poised to change neighborhoods– and even the world. 


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