Open Hand Studio

Our incubator for public interest design

Jamaa Birth Village
Our ongoing work with Jamaa Birth Village is helping provide equitable access to maternal care and midwife and doula services for Black women.

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In 2008, when we formalized our commitment to pro bono service, we did something vitally important for the pro bono movement: we gave it a name. A name not laden with design jargon, but instead comprised of two universally understandable words: open and hand. Together, they cast a striking image of CannonDesign as a provider, a partner and a recipient.

Since then, Open Hand Studio has worked as an incubator for dozens of public interest design projects. Through the studio, we take a two-pronged approach to giving back: connecting individuals to organizations that provide design services for the public good, and identifying and providing pro bono or reduced-fee services to those who would otherwise lack access to them.

Our goal isn't just to design for in-need communities. It's to empower people within these communities to directly shape solutions that have widespread and direct impact on their lives. Our approach is rooted in Living-Centered Design and a belief that the people most affected by inequity should be involved in every step of our design process.

We're proud of what Open Hand Studio has become and even more proud of the impact the organizations we've partnered with are having on their communities. Here's a look at just a few of the projects we've been honored to lead in recent years.

Jamaa Birth Village

Founded in Ferguson, Missouri in 2015, Jamaa (Swahili for family) is a nonprofit offering midwife and doula services to Black families across the greater St. Louis metro area. It also provides training to empower more women of color to enter the profession. 

In 2018, we helped transform a former physician office building into an Equal Access Midwifery Clinic. The design provides nurturing, healing and supportive spaces for expectant women and their families. The renovation allowed Jamaa to expand its services into pre- and post-natal care, mental health, custom childbirth and nutrition classes. The success of the design is also a recognition of the latent and previously unmet demand for accessible, inclusive services owned, operated and used by members of the local community.

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Jamaa Group Instruction
Jamaa Healing

Jamaa is now expanding its model of care to include a birthing and postpartum retreat center just a block away from the current building. The vision is simple: turn the property into small, hut-like structures that allow moms and their families to be cared for up to a week past the birth. CannonDesign is leading the project in partnership with several St. Louis-based members of our Inclusive Partner Program.

NYC YMCA Camp

Sleepaway camps welcome children and youth to build their social muscles and develop life skills through immersive experiences. Giving these young campers access to growth experiences outside of their norm is empowering, particularly for those from underserved communities. Camp Huguenot in Upstate New York had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with closure. Our team worked with the YMCA to identify low-cost, quick turnaround and high-impact interventions.

A redesigned cabin of simple geometry brought immediate benefits: reduced construction cost, improved maintenance, flexible scale-up potential for future growth, and enhanced camper experiences across indoor, outdoor and transitional spaces.

Exterior Talcott

The single floorplan is effective for all cabins, while exterior modifications can match the architectural character and situational needs of each campsite. Clad in polycarbonate panels, the cabins are conceived as dark metal-sided sheds with warm natural wood interiors and wrap-around covered porches perfect for rainy day activities. The cabin prototype has the potential to be applied to campgrounds across the country, leveraging resources and enabling transformative impact for underserved kids, their families and their communities.

Interior Section
Nyc Ymca Talcot Division 060718 1

Baltimore Community Guidelines

Cities across the globe confront a host of urban challenges, including economic disparity, increasing living costs and lack of quality public space. In Baltimore, we partnered with non-profit Neighborhood Design Center to tackle some of these issues within a critical stretch of the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor.

Our team developed a series of streetscape and storefront guidelines to revitalize a section of this historic corridor, celebrating its legacy as an entertainment district and jazz epicenter. Formal storefront guidelines include detailed recommendations on external and remote attributes, from signage and lighting to murals and security gates. Streetscape improvements address sidewalks and crossings, curbs, vegetation and public space.

Together, these guidelines provide a holistic set of placemaking strategies to enliven the corridor, increase pedestrian traffic and encourage people to continually come back. Most important, our community-driven approach put the local residents and stakeholders at the center of the project from start to finish.

Baltimore Comm Guidelines
Our work on the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor earned us a Volunteer of the Year Award from the Neighborhood Design Center.

Cook County Bond Court

Due to the volume of cases, Bond Court detainment decisions can take less than a minute and have an irreversible impact on a person's life trajectory. Local leaders were concerned that the physical design of Chicago's Cook County Central Bond Court had led to a chaotic process, preventing fair hearings. The activities of the traditional courtroom-turned-Bond Court brought a constant stream of staff, disrupting proceedings and distracting everyone in session. It was a noisy, unorganized and confusing place.

We partnered with Civic Consulting Alliance to generate a redesign to better serve all parties in the equitable delivery of justice. A new configuration delineates specific activities to dedicated pathways through the room. With improved sightlines, acoustics and circulation, the judge is now front and center, while improving their connection with the defendant. Infographics help visitors spatially orient themselves around three key groups: pretrial services, public defender and state's attorney. This new situational awareness over the proceedings can reduce disconnection and anxiety, and even help empower citizens in what can be an intimidating environment.

Removing the distractions and restoring the deliberative dignity and decorum of this civic space is a profound application of good design. Better judicial decision-making should be its lasting legacy and one that can be used in courts across the country.

Cook County Bc Rendering
Cook County Bc Signage

Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis

The Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis (DSAGSL) serves, supports and celebrates more than 2,000 individuals with Down Syndrome and their families through every stage of life. Recently relocated to the suburbs, the non-profit organization has already outgrown its newly opened office space and is motivated to renovate for greater impact: welcoming more participants to its programs and continuing to change lives.

Dsagsl Main Program Space

We partnered with the organization to create a series of flexible, interconnected spaces infused with light, views and energy. Warm tones and comfortable residential touches create a nurturing atmosphere. The main space features seating for large or small groups, writable surfaces and ample built-in storage. The proposed café has a communal table evoking a home-like environment, while a lounge does double duty as a catering area and invites more intimate gatherings. Bold colors and wall graphics paired with iPads, games, educational tools and video conferencing will bring an inspiring, playful vibe and sensory cues for learners. The reimagined space will be an empowering hub for families and will allow the DSAGSL to focus further on outreach efforts to support, connect and allow more families to thrive.

Dsagsl Cafe
Dsagsl Lounge