ARCIFORM Builds More Than Just Houses: They Build Community

Ask ARCIFORM Principal Designer Anne De Wolf why supporting community organizations is important to her, and her answer is quick and definitive: “These organizations add character and meaning to our society. If we only focus on the endless list of tasks that need to be done each day, we lose track of what is beautiful in this world; we lose track of what actually makes life interesting, unique, and precious.” And these aren’t just words, but a philosophy that guides the way she and her partner, Richard, contribute to their community.

Richard and Anne De Wolf, co-owners of ARCIFORM, have a long history of community involvement in the Pacific Northwest. The list of organizations they have supported is lengthy and diverse and includes Restore Oregon, Architectural Heritage Center, Lan Su Chinese Garden, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Oregon Food Bank, Serendipity Center, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Oregon Humane Society, Portland Baroque Orchestra, American Institute of Architects, Portland Center Stage, The Old Church Concert Hall, Girls Build, and others.

Katie Hughes, executive director of Girls Build

Anne explains that some of their most valuable contributions are in their collaborative efforts, using networking to connect donors and organizations. “We spread the word and help identify potential donors who might be interested in supporting these nonprofits. We look at how can we rally our resources to network together,” Anne says.

Anne and Richard are known locally as champions of architectural preservation, and have advocated for the conservation and restoration of many of the region’s most valuable historic buildings, like the Fried-Durkheimer House (also known as the first Morris Marks House), the Old Church, the Caples House, and a pair of 19th century lighthouses on the Oregon coast.

It makes sense, then, that the Anne and Richard support the Architectural Heritage Center and Restore Oregon, two organizations whose mission statements clearly align with the De Wolfs’ own values. Restore Oregon’s site states that they have “always focused on taking care of the places that make Oregon, OREGON: the historic homes and neighborhoods, bridges and barns, churches and Main Streets that make this place so authentic and livable. Historic places are cultural, environmental, and economic assets, and they need active stewardship or they will be lost to future generations.” Similarly, the mission of the Architectural Heritage Center is “to inspire people to conserve the art, craft, and context of historic buildings and places to promote our cultural heritage as a vital element of livable, sustainable, communities. We seek to preserve the historic character and livability of our built environment, and to promote sustainability through the re-use of period homes and buildings.”

The Coquille River Lighthouse, built in 1896, in Bandon, Oregon

Anne explains that Restore Oregon emphasizes advocacy and intervention at the governmental level, whereas the work of the Architectural Heritage Center focuses more on education. Richard has served as a board member for both organizations, contributing a wealth of knowledge and connections within this field. “Being on their board meant making decisions, as a board member normally does, but also had me giving speeches, driving trucks for events, inspecting historic buildings, and taking tickets at shows and events. Dirty and glamorous stuff,” Richard quips. For her part, Anne regularly gives presentations at the Architectural Heritage Center on topics such as architectural styles and design.

Beyond offering direct financial support, time, energy, and expertise, Anne and Richard have even offered their own work and living space to benefit their favorite nonprofits. In fact, the De Wolf residence, the historic Isam White House, has been the site of multiple fundraising galas, most recently in support of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon

The stunning Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China and was built by Chinese artisans in collaboration with Portland’s sister city, Suzhou, in Jiangsu province. Richard says, “Lan Su is such a gorgeous place within our city. It was being built when we lived just a couple blocks away in our little downtown studio, and I was always impressed by how their efforts changed the dynamics of the entire neighborhood.” A few years ago, ARCIFORM helped restore the intricately carved windows of the garden’s Teahouse. Anne said, “Working on public buildings like this always brings a sense of pride knowing that thousands of people from all around the world pass through this space to see, touch, and have an appreciation for our craft.”

Beyond the advocacy that is directly tied to their professional lives, their philanthropy extends to their personal interests as well, including their love of animals, theater, and education.

Anyone who knows Richard and Anne knows they love their dogs, and they have been proud fur parents to several leggy, glamourous dogs, including Silken Windhounds Finney and Archer, and Salvador, an Afghan Hound. Salvador, their first dog, was a rescue adopted from the Oregon Humane Society (OHS). “Finding Salvador as a little puppy there was such a great experience,” said Richard. “He was such a cute, cuddly guy. We are forever grateful to the Oregon Humane Society for their role in bringing him into our lives.”

Salvador, the De Wolfs’ first dog

The Oregon Humane Society rescues 10,000-12,000 animals each year, saving 98% of all animals it receives, and Richard and Anne are enthusiastic supporters of this work. Richard explains, “The Oregon Humane Society has a wonderful hospital facility where veterinarians are trained and given hands-on experience. Some of the best veterinary science in our country happens here because of that hospital.” The De Wolfs have offered a wide range of support to OHS, including donating funds, pet food, and two box trucks to the organization. “We are happy to donate to this great organization that uses their funds wisely and for such a good cause,” says Richard.

A dog rescued via the Oregon Humane Society

Making meaningful connections with their neighbors has led Richard and Anne to other instances of collaboration and support. For example, Cynthia Fuhrman, the managing director of Portland Center Stage, used to live in the same duplex as the De Wolfs. “We got to know Cynthia and met a lot of the artists during that time, so we gained a great appreciation for the organization,” says Anne. “I love the theatre. It symbolizes the meaning of art to me. It provides a way to pause our daily routines, to escape our endless chores, and to set aside the screens and monitors through which many of us view the world.”

Portland Center Stage

Both Richard and Anne are huge fans of the Armory, a historic building that was renovated in the early 2000s to house Portland Center Stage. “That’s my favorite building in Portland,” says Richard. The $36.1 million renovation was a massive undertaking, but earned the building nationwide accolades as an example of environmentally friendly green building. In fact, Portland Center Stage’s website states that the Armory was “the first performing arts facility in the country to achieve the US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum rating.” (Read more about the Amory’s history and renovation here.)

The De Wolfs’ connection with another nonprofit organization was similarly forged when a neighbor approached Anne to share information about her sister’s organization, Girls Build, a nonprofit that teaches girls about the field of construction through hands-on camps and workshops in the Pacific Northwest. Anne explains, “She told me that her sister, Ev Hu, was involved with Girls Build and asked if we were interested in supporting the organization. After introductions where made, we realized that we could help. Girls Build was looking to lease shop space, so we’ve carved out a special corner for them in our shop. Richard and I are personally contributing funds to help with rent payments because we feel their efforts make such a difference to our industry. We believe in supporting women in the trades.”

One of the hands-on workshops offered by Girls Build

Long before the De Wolfs were such a big presence in Portland’s architectural preservation community, Richard considered whether he might want to take a different path, so he took a two-year stint at Serendipity Center, a therapeutic school offering high quality education to at-risk students. Richard explains, “I worked here for the first two years we lived in Portland. It was a point in my life where I wanted to see if I should stick with architecture or not. I’d been in architecture since I was 14, in some fashion or another, so it sort of felt like marrying my high school sweetheart. I thought I should try a career outside of architecture to make sure I was ready to spend the rest of my life doing this. Two years at Serendipity confirmed I was better suited for the architectural life than the life of a teacher.”

A teacher and student at Serendipity Center

Today, Serendipity Center remains an important part of Richard’s life, and the De Wolfs regularly allocate resources in support of the center. Despite ultimately deciding that teaching was not for him, Richard learned a great deal from his experience. “The kids were great, and they taught me a lot,” he says. “With Serendipity, I think the greatest thing I learned was that we all have our own ways of learning things, and we need to be patient with others. Some people like pictures, others like bullet points, and there are those who need a narrative. We all have our ways. As the leader of this organization, I try to remember this and adapt.”

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