Obiora Nwazota, founder of Ọkpara House, reads his book Nkemdiche with his daughter.
Photo by Valdis Kauliņš
Founded in 2020, Span’s founders and studio members have collectively been taking actions to increase our awareness, involvement, and support of what it means to be purpose-driven. This work builds on our shared desires of helping create a more just, inclusive, and equitable world.
Ongoing Community Actions
Defining our Ethos
Span invests time for members of our studio to research, discuss, and define a common ethos — exploring how diversity, society, environment, and culture should shape our practice. This work affects change in the areas of who Span is, who Span works for, who Span works with, how Span spends money, how Span practices design.
Lead by Prerna Abbi-Scanlon and Heidi Massey of Community Connective, Span began its anti-racism journey with trainings to better understand individual, interpersonal, institutional, systemic, and structural racism. These actions took the form of self-assessments and workshops that helped build a foundation of shared context for the studio and its members to better understand where we all are as individuals in our anti-racism journey, and how Span can become an anti-racist organization.
Alt_ Community Service
Alt_ identified that community disinvestment is visible and most significantly in the presence of litter and trash. This problem is often due to the lack of resources, as well as lack of access to trash bins in Black and Brown spaces. Throughout the summer of 2021, Span partnered with alt_ and Design Museum of Chicago to sponsor the community of Austin’s alt_ [Bin]. Weekly, members of our studio would meet to clean up the visible trash around the Austin alt_ [Bin] and restock the alt_ [Market].
Creative Grounds at Overton
Creative Grounds led by Borderless Studio explores the community and urban role of school grounds after the Public School closures in Chicago. Since 2017, Creative Grounds creates space for community by activating the former Overton Elementary School. Throughout the summer of 2022, Span has committed to volunteering at Reunite Respond, Creative Grounds’ Community Days. Members of Span will be onsite to support a variety of programming activities.
Span regularly invests in local, regional, and national organizations with proven track records leading social and environmental justice efforts.
We are committed to give at least 1% of our annual revenue to environmental nonprofits in partnership with 1% for the Planet. Our annual pledge supports organizations actively working within six core areas: climate, food, land, pollution, water, and wildlife.
Ongoing Financial Support
A collaboration between Jon Veal and Jordan Campbell, alt_ was incepted by the two artists in response to the trauma of surrounding communities and the belief that art could be used as a tool for healing.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
For over 25 years, AAAJ | Chicago has worked to bring together the Asian American community, and empower them to create change in their communities.
Brave Space Alliance
Brave Space Alliance is the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ Center located on the South Side of Chicago, and designed to create and provide affirming and culturally competent services for the entire LGBTQ+ community of Chicago.
The Brigid Alliance is a referral-based service that provides travel, food, lodging, child care and other logistical support for people seeking abortions. They are a part of an ecosystem of support organizations that is propping up abortion care access in this country.
Campaign Zero encourages policymakers to focus on solutions with the strongest evidence of effectiveness at reducing police violence. Our platform is continuously updated in response to the findings and insights of researchers and organizers nationwide.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Since 1980, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) has had a clear mission: “We organize and advocate to prevent and end homelessness, because we believe housing is a human right in a just society.”
Ingenuity, Inc.’s mission is to ensure that every student, in every grade, in every school, has access to the arts as part of a well-rounded education. The organization was founded in 2011 to increase arts education access, quality and equity in Chicago Public Schools in direct response to decades of arts divestment.
Neighbors for Environmental Justice
The mission of Neighbors for Environmental Justice is to foster awareness, organize and promote community action on environmental justice to achieve environmental health and just transition by preventing and reducing pollution and building a green, healthy and sustainable community and environment.
Since 1997, PODER’s objective has been to empower Spanish-speaking adult immigrants to create successful and fulfilling new lives in the United States. Through a deep commitment to the needs of the immigrant communities on Chicago’s southwest side, PODER provides critical societal and workforce integration services with both immediate and long-term impact for families, communities, and employers throughout the City of Chicago.
The Love Fridge
The Love Fridge is a Chicago-based initiative created to nourish our communities through mutual aid by offering solutions to food scarcity and food waste. Powered by kindness, generosity, and most importantly, love, we firmly believe that feeding oneself is not a privilege, but a right.
The Night Ministry
The Night Ministry compassionately provides housing, health care, outreach, spiritual care, and social services to adults and youth who struggle with homelessness, poverty, and loneliness. We accept individuals as they are and offer support as they seek to improve their lives. We invite others to join this hope-filled work.
Who we work for and what we create is a large part of who we are as designers. Span has chosen to proactively engage in projects that amplify solutions towards community power and justice as well as environmental sustainability. Through deep collaboration with clients and community leaders, we are proud to make work that aligns with our values.
Ongoing Design Collaborations
Span created a new name and brand to help IDNR and Tetratech reposition ‘Asian carp’ for human consumption. The four species of fish that make up Asian carp are invasive in Midwestern waterways, severely damaging the already vulnerable ecosystem and threatening the Great Lakes.
Urban Sequoia Film
Span created a short film that premiered at the UN's Climate Change Conference COP26 introducing architecture firm SOM’s design concept of “forests” of buildings that sequester carbon, creating a new carbon economy and a resilient urban environment.
Lead by founder Obiora Nwazota, Span is working with Ọkpara House in the design of books, objects, and various media focused on Igbo culture. Obiora assembled a global team to collaborate on their first publishing Nkemdiche. Span was brought in to design the book’s cover and the interior pages. This book went on to be selected in AIGA’s 50 Books | 50 covers award.
By creating space for community activism and expression, the Silverroom is a boutique store that goes far beyond retail. Since 1997, the Silverroom has been a Chicago institution whose mission is: to create a global community through art and culture. Span works closely with founder Eric Williams on design of the stores identity, campaign and select events.
Buildings account for over 35% of energy-related carbon emissions every year. SunStyle is actively developing a more efficient and sustainable solar roof system that combines photovoltaic cells with a glass roofing shingle — roof and solar panel as one. Span created a complete brand strategy across multiple mediums to elevate the brand within the U.S. and international markets.
Friends of the Chicago River
Span created a short film celebrating 40 years of accomplishments by Friends of the Chicago River, who are working to improve the health of the Chicago River system for the benefit of people and wildlife.
Climate Action Film
As one of the world’s largest and most influential architectural firms, SOM is taking actions towards decarbonizing cities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in both built and proposed projects. Span created this short trailer highlighting the firm’s efforts towards addressing climate change through architecture and urbanism.
The Land We Work On
As a design practice operating in Chicago, we feel it is important to honor the Indigenous communities as part of a continued commitment to better understand and respect the homelands of tribal nations.
Located near the confluence of several waterways, our studio is on land that intersects with the aboriginal homelands of several tribal nations: the Council of the Three Fires (Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe Nations) the Illinois Confederacy (Peoria and Kaskaskia Nations); and the Myaamia, Wea, Thakiwaki, and Meskwaki Nations. The region of northeast Illinois is also home to the Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Kiikaapoi, and Mascouten Nations.
Indigenous people continue to live in these areas and celebrate their traditional teachings and lifeways. Today, Chicago is home to one of the largest urban Indigenous communities in the United States, and this land remains an important place for Indigenous peoples.