According to the American Institute of Architects, an emerging professional is someone “considered to be intern architects aspiring towards licensure, as well as those who have been licensed for 10 years or less.”
Recently, on a call for another publication with which I’m involved, a contributor informed our team “technically I am no longer an emerging professional…” and announced his plans to roll off our committee in the coming months. What might be considered “unique” about this conversation is that this individual was in his early 40’s, had over 15+ years of experience ranging from intern to licensed professional to firm leader, as well as a myriad of other “adult-like responsibilities.” His omission and decision to mark a clear departure from emerging professional status seemed fair, and frankly, overdue.
After the call, I found myself once again revisiting a question that seems to remain ambiguous and unresolved: when, in architecture, are we no longer an “emerging professional?” When are we just a “professional,” that could strike out on our own, or lead, or feel content in our grasp of architectural skill and knowledge?
There are many milestones in life that mark when we transition from one life stage or level of seniority to another. From graduation to moving into a first apartment, jumpstarting a career, and achieving financial independence, many life milestones serve as small and large measuring sticks for personal self-evolution. In my own life, I distinctly remember the day I bought a “real” couch (I defined this as a furniture item that was not a futon or snagged from Goodwill or Craigslist) to mark a personal milestone of perceived “adulthood.”
Architecture, while seemingly marked with milestones (completion of internship, licensure, promotion, etc.) is a profession in which personal advancement seems to be measured by the acquisition of individual experience and a sense of self-awareness and progress, rather than a universal checklist of skills and accomplishments that lend themselves towards a sense of prescribed seniority.
This may be attributed to the concept that architecture typically demands a lot of in-put before one starts receiving tangible “output” in the form of two-pronged advancement. The first prong lends itself to the acquisition of relevant technical and design knowledge. This can vary highly from person to person in terms of how project experience is acquired and what its outcomes are. For example, someone might work on a large-scale project for the first few years of their career, participating in each phase. Others might work on a series of short, quick projects in which their contributions and learning experiences focus on a specific aspect of the trade.
The second form of “tangible advancement” could relate to leadership and, quite frankly, the often long-term process of building towards compensation opportunities that transcend a mediocre payscale in comparison to known hours of demonstrated effort and work. This issue is larger than the individual, and is being looked at in different ways as the architectural profession continues to work to redefine both its public perception and economic value to clients and society alike.
When I started blogging for the AIA Colorado Emerging Professional’s Blog almost four years ago, I was a fairly new transplant to Denver via Chicago. At the time I was still pursuing IDP hours, and had not even begun to take me ARE’s. As my career evolved in chorus with natural timelines, being able to put pen to digital paper regarding my experiences as a young architect felt just as important as the design work I was doing, and this continues to be true.
This blog has been a resource for me to discuss a wide range of experiences that range from profession to place to personal thought and forum. From “leaning in” to exploring “The Ego and the Architect” to exploring what it means to be an extroverted introvert, to covering the many important events and resources for young architecture professionals in the Denver community, each post has been a rewarding opportunity to distill experience and opportunity into a public format that is now hopefully part of a larger shared dialogue.
A little over a year post-licensure, I can still say that I am an emerging professional. From waterproofing to work authorizations, the peg board of gaps in my knowledge looks light a light bright waiting to be fully-illuminated, but a large enough surface area that I know I have to pace myself.
With that said, I’ve decided in the spirit of adapting to all of life’s change and milestones, to pass the torch to younger professionals’ with more early-career stories to tell and lessons to be learned. Thank you for your time, readership, and dialogue, and please keep reading the blog for important and relevant messages from our peers, co-workers, and contemporaries.
I recently edited an interview for the Young Architect’s Forum “Connection” magazine featuring a conversation at the 2016 AIA Convention between Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA and national President of the AIA in 2015 and Virginia E. Marquardt, AIA.
When asked what changes Richter would like to see 15 years from now in architectural professional practice, she replied, “ We [architecture professionals] have talked about expanding our services so that we don’t bracket ourselves within ‘just’ design. Architects need to find ways to apply our set of skills, knowledge, and ability to solve problems creatively. I think being able to find options is one of our main strengths as architects. We are not formulaic and that’s what makes us so valuable when it comes to weighing options and helping our clients sort through whatever issue might need a solution.” She proceeded to say that, “While architects shouldn’t bracket themselves, it’s very important to realize that architects build. We build buildings, we build spaces. We can’t forget the core of our profession.”
Richter’s comments regarding the architects’ ability to think iteratively and in an option-oriented manner highlighted one of my favorite aspects or our profession. When approaching a design problem, we already know that there is no one perfect solution, but rather, a multitude of options that must be studied and explored in order to build consensus regarding which option is most appropriate given a specific array of constraints and overarching project goals.
This past week I began to think through the potentials of diagramming a site for a new project. Wrapping my head around how I might create 4 distinctive options that solved a similar problem but in different ways was teased out in a quick sketch exercise, followed by study and some preliminary testing, conversation, and of course, more drawing. The results felt exciting and latent with potentials that will continue to be tested against our client’s vision, needs, and long-term goals. Already I am excited to see which scheme has the most promise, and do not feel married to a specific parti in favor of recognizing that the iterative process needs to once again be fed through a literal feedback loop that will garner new strategies and results.
Having returned this past May from C2, a conference in Montreal geared towards “Commerce and Creativity,” it seems that “big business” is also seeking this type of iterative thinking– and with great marketing gusto and enthusiasm. During my time at C2 I attended a Master Class taught by a partner with Deloitte Digital, a self-described “digital consultancy” that “brings together all the creative and technology capabilities, business acumen, and industry insight needed to help transform our clients’ businesses.” The class was titled “Innovation in the Digital Era,” and focused on “exploring how leading innovators are able to disrupt their markets.”
Not sure what to expect, I was amazed to find myself in a class that was teaching principles and strategies of design thinking and prototyping paired with product development and outcomes. When I met someone in the class that worked for Deloitte Digital, they mentioned that some of their staff was comprised of architects, and that these individuals were achieving success in their new roles.
Much in the way that IDEO and other companies that aim to use design thinking as a lens with which to solve problems, architects’ process of working iteratively to generate quick solutions to evaluate and refine is being adopted and celebrated across industry sectors and various forms of media.
When I asked Mia Scharphie, founder of Creative Agency, a social impact design firm based in Boston, about the concept of “design thinking” being appropriated across a wide range of business sectors as a tool for re-thinking existing issues or initiatives by engaging users directly and prototyping potential solutions, I appreciated her initial response “they [the corporate sector] stole our words!” She then countered by adding, “The design process allows for uncertainty and creativity, which is deeply optimistic and imaginative. To see examples of that being valued in the world outside of design is something I feel great about. Design thinking as the marriage of ethnography and open-ended problem solving is a great process that can produce great things.”
As for my personal opinion, I second Richter that architects’ unique academic training instills a certain juxtaposition of rigor and “what if” that helps facilitate diverse, rich dialogues and thinking that hopefully result in, as Richter reminds us, amazing built work. What I also hope is that architects continue to sit at the table in multidisciplinary settings, where the rigor of the design process might add value to problem-solving even when built solutions aren’t required, not only as a means of generating unique solutions to various problems, but demonstrating a certain level of rigor and process that goes beyond the adoption of sometimes ambiguous or slippery words like “innovation.”
And I think it will: it seems like there has never been a better time and appetite to think iteratively not only in our work, but in the diverse and applicable ways architecture professionals may want to utilize their varied skill sets.
If you haven’t checked your social media feeds this week or driven by a downtown streetscape where large foam letters spelling “DDW” sit boldly outside an event space, you might have missed one of Denver’s most trending topics regarding the city’s inaugural week-long series of events; Denver Design Week.
Denver’s first design week is described by the founder and organizer, Modern in Denver, as “a showcase for the region’s best architecture, interiors, art, brands, and technology. Eight days of education, home and studio tours, demonstrations, presentations, conversations, inspiration, collaboration, and a launch party that might be the highlight of your summer…Denver Design Week celebrates and elevates design because it shapes our lives. Good design has the power to change the world in real and meaningful ways, and better design leads to better living…Dozens of cities around the world host design weeks, bringing creative communities together, promoting a wide array of design industries and organizations and connecting the public to local design ecosystems.”
Throughout the week, I was able to attend and participate in several of the events offered. From a launch party in RiNo’s Glitterdome industrial-event space that combined social interaction with the artistic and experiential to discussions with various thought-leaders in the community regarding topics ranging from rapid urbanization to driverless cars to a dynamic discussion regarding on-going issues of equity in design, each event was thoughtfully-curated and well-attended by a diverse cross section of Denver residents. Many events accommodating 100 or more people sold out, identifying a desire from Denver’s broader community to connect and learn more about various aspects of design and Denver’s design community.
At an event I participated in on Tuesday, “What’s Next for Denver: Harnessing the Power of Our Built Environment,” I found myself sitting next to a youthful and engaged husband and wife. After brief introductions, they explained to me that they were attending due to their 13 year old son’s burgeoning interest in architecture, engineering, and design. They wanted to learn more about the design community, and were curious about different organizations and events in Denver that they might attend with their son to continue to facilitate his developing interest. To me, this was an important moment in my design-week experience. As a design professional, their presence and enthusiasm at the event felt very significant to me, and to the broader intent and positive implications of an initiative such as a city-specific Design Week.
Providing opportunities for connection and direct dialogue (almost all sessions involved an audience Q&A) between design professionals and members of the community helps demystify the inherent value of design in cities, while also creating greater access to residents’ concerns, priorities, and aspirations for the places in which they live, work, and play.
If you’ve missed the events thus far, there is still a chance to attend Friday night’s keynote with special guest-speaker Andrew Zolli, founder of Brooklyn Design Week and forward-thinker that “works at the intersection of global innovation, foresight, social change, and resilience.”
Much like Denver Start-Up Week, Modern in Denver’s first Denver Design Week has been a huge success, and will hopefully continue to grow and create more meaningful connections and opportunities between the city and the design community (and its outcomes) in the years to follow.
A few weeks ago I attended the incredible C2 Conference in Montreal; a unique conference in the sense that the aim is to blend “commerce, culture, and creativity,” in several days of high-quality presentations, masterclasses, brain dates, and labs that provoke as well as inspire. Having arrived a bit early due to the lengthy flight time, I spent the night before the conference wandering the city. After being charmed by the European feel of the friendly and sophisticated city, I found myself strolling along Montreal’s Historic District’s waterfront.
Across a slender body of water the long, modular composition of stacked boxes unfolded before me. Scanning my mental index of architectural precedents and projects, I quickly identified the project as the iconic Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie.
Conceived and presented as Safdie’s Master’s Thesis Project at McGill University in 1961 (coined “A Case for City Living,”) the project was selected to be built for the Canadian Pavilion at the World Exposition of 1967 in Montreal. At that time, Safdie was interning in Louis Kahn’s studio and was only 23 years of age.
Given the green light to develop his thesis idea, as explained in ArchDaily, Safdie applied his original theories regarding a “three-dimensional modular building system” (a highly novel idea at the time, pre-3d-modeling software and proposed amidst the adoption of North American suburban sprawl.) The result was an ambitious masterplan/microcosm comprised of “shopping centers, a school, and 1000 housing units” (ArchDaily 2013.)
Ultimately Safdie’s visionary proposal was approved, albeit cut down in scope. The final built project consisted of 158 residential units constructed from 340+ prefabricated modules. The modules were arranged in varied combinations and connected by steel cables. Units were designed to be accessible via pedestrian bridges and streets as well as three cores with elevators for the top floors.
As described by Gili Merin for ArchDaily, “the prefabrication process of the 90-ton boxes took place on-site. The basic modular shape was molded in a reinforced steel cage, which measured 38 x 17 feet. Once cured, the concrete box was transferred to an assembly line for the insertion of electrical and mechanical systems, as well as insulation and windows. To finalize the production, modular kitchens and bathrooms were installed, and finally a crane lifted each unit to its designated position.”
Several days later, my former architecture professor (currently a Professor at McGill) and I found ourselves quickly and quietly scuttling around the grounds of Habitat 67 at early dusk.
A still-thriving residential community that values privacy and the almost utopian vision of a hybridized garden home in the sky (that is also, subsequently, on a narrow island surrounded by beautiful vistas of water, dense forest, and urbanity) we were discrete in our quick tour of the grounds. Similar to Falling Water, some of the concrete had begun to crack and the stamp of time added a vintage patina that was admittedly pleasing in its acknowledgement of an idea distilled but also alive in a continuum of history and time.
Somewhat brutalist in its overall presentation, what won me over about the development was the lush greenery and individual gardens flanking the various sides and roofs of the extruded boxes. Due to the unique stacking and configuration of the boxes, each unit is located a step back from its neighbor, creating an opportunity for “a roof garden, fresh air, and natural light” (Merin 2013.)
While today’s multi-family housing provides narrow balconies at a premium, Habitat 67’s simple juxtaposition of elemental form (the concrete box,) nature (an individual garden per unit,) and glass (a visual connection between the outside to the inside) creates a simple-but-elegant dialogue that remains desirable to any prospective housing tenant.
We stayed only a brief time, but my first impression and visit to Habitat 67 reminded me of why visiting historically significant architecture buildings is so worthwhile. I left thinking about our current housing typologies, and was reminded how important it is to challenge existing assumptions in order to explore different models for living and building.
I’ve also thought a lot about what it means to be given a chance at the age of 23; Safdie was encouraged to submit his project for consideration by his thesis advisor, Sandy Van Ginkel. Without a mentor or someone that believed in Safdie, his career may have taken a very different trajectory. How do we inspire young architects to take risks, and for worthwhile ideas that rise to the surface, how do we facilitate these ideas and ambitions to be realized? The Canadian Government ultimately took a huge chance on Safdie. While the project wasn’t without high cost (in part due to its reduced scope,) ultimately many would consider the project a now integral part of Montreal’s built environment.