Five Years Out: advice to my past self from my current self

Over the last month or so, I have seen numerous pictures and heartfelt posts from recent graduates flooding the social media channels. It made me think back fondly of when I graduated from architecture school five years ago and even, as shocking as it may seem, made me think fondly of being in architecture school (I guess it’s true: time does heal all wounds).

This past week has proven more taxing than most as I was reminded that I still have a long ways to go in figuring out the whole “being an architect” thing and what that entails. It brought me back to my post-graduation days of thinking that I had a firm grasp on what I was supposed to be doing and how much I actually knew about architecture. This has led me here: to the ever cliché format of “what advice would I give my younger self?” So, without further ado: here are a handful of tidbits that “five years out of architecture school and recently licensed Drew” would give “just graduated and trying to figure it out Drew”.

  • It’s okay to not be working on your dream projects. Architecture school is, more or less, built around the idea of teaching us to THINK like architects, while professional practice is where we figure out all the other aspects that make up actually being an architect. It’s hard to go from dreaming up grandiose projects in school with no client and no budget and then move into the realm of construction budgets and numerous outside sources trying to influence the project with their own priorities in mind. It takes time to wrap your head around even the simplest building projects. Be patient and try to absorb the lessons that will come at you daily.
  • You won’t know how to do everything that people ask you to do. That’s okay. People are (usually) willing to help you out because they remember how it felt to be in your situation and they would rather spend the time showing you the right way to do things than have to tell you to fix them later. I spent a lot of time afraid to ask questions because I didn’t want to bother people because everyone seemed so busy. However, once I decided to take the initiative and speak up, the amount of things that I learned on a daily basis skyrocketed (and continues to grow every day).
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from thing that are not the right fit for you. We often find ourselves in circumstances, be it jobs, workplaces, project teams, or just life situations, where we know that it’s not going to work out. If you are able to walk away from these things and better your circumstances and your own mental health, do it. Change can be frightening, but it’s even more frightening to think back on times that you wasted in situations that made you unhappy.
  • Get licensed ASAP. Seriously. You probably have as few responsibilities right now as you will ever have. Find a method of studying that works for you and stick to it. Find a person or group of people that you can lean on for support and pick their brains as much as you can. Don’t waste time thinking about getting licensed. Just go for it and don’t stop until you get to the end.
  • It will take time before people to take you seriously. It won’t matter how much prior knowledge you have on a subject, people will see that you are recently out of school and immediately assume that you know less than you do and treat you as such. It will be frustrating and at times cause you great angst, but do your best to let it roll off your back. It takes time to build up a working relationship with your project teams and clients before they trust you, so just give it time and try to take things in stride.
    • Side note: I am a white male, so if it’s this way for me, there are many others that will experience this same thing ten times over and, potentially, for much longer.

These points probably seem obvious to many if not most. However, that doesn’t make them less true. I wish someone had sat me down five years ago and vehemently made these points. On top of that, these are all things that I continually have to remind myself of even today. The learning curve is ever bending and all we can do is to try to keep things in perspective and continually grow with it.

Hopefully I won’t be writing the same thing in five more years about my current self. If so, with any luck we will have time machines by then.

Filling the Gap

This week’s post is from our newest EP Blog contributor: Rachael Johnson. Rachel recently moved to Denver from Washington D.C. and brought with her an amazing program called the Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program (CKLDP). 2016_ckldp_grad_slideshow

Filling the Gap by Rachael Johnson

As one of the few official “professions” – those jobs that require continuous improvement, evolution, innovation and training – lawyers and doctors have us architects beat when it comes to post-graduate school professional training and development. We emerge from a rigorous, often heavily theoretical education and begin our new professional lives as bathroom elevation trainees – interns. We learn and test our skills and knowledge until – BAM! – We’ve passed our tests and now have the credentials to do some real good (or damage – depending on how much we have actually learned and experienced). Aside from informal learning opportunities at an occasional lunch’n’learn with a vendor and those lucky chances to shadow a mentor, there is little regular and formal professional education built into an emerging professional’s early career.

Over the years, the professional architecture community here in Colorado has recognized this lack of guidance for interns and responded with various committees and programs including mentorship programs and testing support. There is still a gap, though. For freshly licensed folks who have collected mentors over the years and have exhausted many of the professional learning opportunities out there, there is still a gaping hole, an education void impeding the path to expertise, leadership and partnership. The knowledge needed to run a firm competently or reach a peak level in the profession is seemingly absorbed through osmosis (or perhaps through many iterations and subsequent failures and successes). I do not discount the hard work and raw talent that got our industry leaders where they are today, but I also recognize (and venture to guess that the architecture community at large agrees) that there is new talent out there that could not only enhance, but lead the next era of the practice of architecture. Let this serve as a call to action – We must empower and equip those eager to innovate and lead!

Enter stage right… the Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program. This 9-month program serves as an opportunity for those bright, young professionals to think, dream and grow with like-minded young architects and leaders in the local community both within and outside the profession. Just by its inherent qualities and syllabus structure, the program has proven (over four years in Washington DC and now one in Denver) to be not only a plentiful environment for learning and exploring, but an incubator for daring, curious, diligent leaders. Each May, the local architecture and design community has the privilege of welcoming 16 empowered, fresh and enthusiastic candidates into the highly-qualified pool of leader candidates – the future of our profession.

Send us your best and brightest: scholars, speakers and collaborators!

*For more information – to sponsor, apply, contact – please visit: https://aiacolorado.org/ckldp

Automobile Speech (‘Car Talk’ is already a thing, I guess)

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles within an architecture office. Recently, I have been leading the CA effort on one project, while leading the design of another. Working on these two wildly different projects has opened my eyes to an idea that is never taught in architecture school, never comes up on the ARE, and has no hours to be logged via AXP: how do you work with and manage a wide variety of people throughout a project?

A few months ago I had a much more experienced architect in my office lament to me about not being able to motivate some of the younger staff (of which I am one, but that fact seems to have gone unnoticed). This got me thinking about ways that humans are motivated, both in a professional and personal manner. I realized (unfortunately after the conversation took place) that everyone is motivated through different stimuli and that the best way to motivate and work with people is to observe what works for those people and adjust your own style to work with them instead of hoping that they eventually come around to your way of thinking and working .

As people who know me will attest, I am a big fan of using unlike stories to illustrate a point. That being said, here it goes: working with and managing people is like moving a car without a key. Sometimes the car is broken down and needs a good push so that it can fall into gear. Once it’s in gear, it will run just fine like nothing ever happened to it. On the other hand, sometimes the car is already rolling downhill and your job is to absorb its momentum and navigate it in the correct direction. If you try to force your will upon the car that moving car, it will run you over and then end up in a ditch.

That seemingly obscure analogy lends itself to each project in the following ways: on one project, it took some real effort to motivate many team members, both internally and externally, to care about the project. Once people became invested in the project and felt ownership over it, though, everyone gained momentum and they no longer required as much pushing in order to move the project forward. On the other hand, the polar opposite was experienced on a different project. I came into the process about halfway through schematic design and the team was already wholly invested in the design and nuances of the project. At first, I came in with the same mentality that I had had to “push people in the direction that I wished them to go”. However, when the team already had momentum, it became twice as difficult to move things to where I thought they should be. Instead, I took a step back and used the momentum that was already in place and gently shifted decisions and ideas one way or another. While neither method is perfect and both require effort, I am sure that I avoided many headaches by tailoring my approach for each project.

Ultimately, what I have learned is that the best way to motivate and lead a project team is to adapt my approach to each team and even each team member to what they require. There can’t be a “one size fits all” approach because people are about as varied a species as there is. We can shift and customize our approaches within a spectrum, but it is important to recognize that people and situations will always vary and we need to be flexible enough to adjust accordingly. It’s just too bad I couldn’t think of all this when the question was originally posed months ago.

Guest Post: Emily Axtman – “Finding Our Voices” – recap of AIA Grassroots 2017

This week’s guest post is by Emily Axtman, who recently attended AIA Grassroots in Washington D.C. as a representative of the AIA Colorado North Section. The following post originally appeared on the WORKSHOP8 blog (it has been edited to fit this format).

emily grassroots

I have had the opportunity over the last year and a half to serve on the Colorado North AIA Board as the Associate Director (2016) and now the President-Elect (2017). Every year, the President-Elect and President of each region travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual Grassroots Conference, an AIA leadership event. Grassroots brings together AIA members from around the country to talk about the most pressing issues we face within our communities and how architects can take leadership roles to create healthier, more sustainable architecture that will improve the built environment for all. It was an eye-opening, inspiring three-day event that will have a lasting impression in my mind for years to come.

A few B I G picture items came to me on this trip:

  • Exposure to diversity is key to combating fear. In this political climate of fear, diversity is key.
  • I have a voice. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to use that voice.
  • We really are stronger together.

Lesson 1: Exposure to diversity is key to combating fear: Public transportation is an amazing way to expose yourself to diversity. It provides a means for every walk of life to get from point A to point B. When you are put into situations where you are in close proximity to those whom you do not know, you are more likely to understand that he and she are actually quite similar to you. While traveling to D.C. I witnessed a few situations like this: a Latino man and a European man striking up a conversation about their pasts and similarities, a Muslim airport worker leading a blind man onto the tram, and a train security guard helping out two homeless people on the train. Watching people of varied backgrounds show each other compassion and understanding re-affirmed that all is not lost– and that public transportation rocks!

Day 1

On the first day of the conference, we had the chance to sit down with members of Congress to discuss federal issues that are important to our AIA Members and our professional community. Stacee Kersley, the North President, and myself sat down with Congressman Jared Polis’ Senior Legislative Assistant, Blaine Miller-McFeeley, to discuss ways in which young architects can help serve their communities in exchange for student loan assistance. It was a successful and rewarding conversation; and a great experience for me as a young designer. After visiting Congressman Polis’ office, we sat in on both the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate. It just so happened that the very day we were visiting Capitol Hill was also International Women’s Day. As I walked across the US Capitol lawn, I stumbled upon a women’s equal rights protest. It was awesome– free speech! It made me proud to be a woman, a designer and an American- with a voice.

Lesson 2: I have a voice. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to use that voice.

Day 2

The second day of the conference was the official kick-off. We spent the day getting to know the AIA National Board, learning about what professionals are doing around the country to better their communities and gaining skills to become more effective leaders.

“WE CAN CHOOSE TO LIVE WHERE WE WILL HAVE THE LIGHTEST URBAN FOOTPRINT.”

Jeff Speck, City Planner and Urban Developer of Speck and Associates, blew me away with his lecture on “Walkable Cities”. Check out his new book “Walkable City” here. TED talk here.

“WE CAN’T CONSUME OUR WAY OUT OF THE PROBLEM.”

Jean Carroon, Principal at Goody Clancy, reminded us of the importance and value that existing buildings have in contributing to our future urban fabric in her lecture “Heritage Cities”. She stated that there are thousands upon thousands of square feet of existing buildings waiting to be re-used. And that “Old is the new, new”. Check out her book “Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings” here. One of her lectures on historic preservation here.

“URBAN RESILIENCY IS THE ABILITY OF A CITY TO WITHSTAND DISASTER… NOT JUST THE IMMEDIATE SHOCKS.”

Michael Berkowitz, President of Resilient Cities and Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, spoke about the necessity to equip cities around the world with tools to be more resilient against the physical, social, and economic challenges we currently face.

“THE BEST WAY TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN IS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE.”

Tom Dallessio, President, CEO & Publisher of Next City, Philadelphia, challenged architects to think critically about what a 21st Century City is and how architects have the ability to shape our cities in positive ways.

And all this was before noon. The rest of the day focused on leadership workshops and gave everyone the time to connect with like-minded professionals. Throughout the day as I connected with more and more people, I realized that we are all working towards the same goals and had similar outlooks and hopes for the future. I felt as though I was a part of this big national team of designers, all pushing forward with support from each other.

Lesson 3: We really are stronger together.

Day 3

The third day focused on leadership workshops such as “Speak Like a Pro” and “Managing Cultural Differences.” The final keynote speaker: Catherine Pugh, Mayor of Baltimore, spoke of the unique capability architects have to create change for the better.

“BECAUSE THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT IS NOT SIMPLY BUILDINGS,” PUGH SAID, “BUT THE POTENTIAL TO SOLVE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS THROUGH DESIGN.”

Overall, the 2017 Grassroots Conference was incredible. I am thankful to the AIA Colorado for this experience and to WORKSHOP8 for supporting me throughout my AIA Board roles.

 

What’s in a name?

Intern. The term that has been the source of debate, ridicule, scorn, and general hair pulling for years. Until this past December, the AIA regarded all unlicensed persons practicing architecture as “interns”, much to the dismay of… just about everyone. The term was seen as demeaning to those who go to work every day and put in the time and work at a professional architectural practice. It was seen as a title that should have been left behind as soon as that person walked across the stage and was handed a diploma from their NAAB accredited program. Finally, though, there is movement forward.

In December of 2016, the AIA opted to pivot away from using intern to describe all unlicensed persons working in the field of architecture. Instead, it will now only refer to those that are still in school and working at a professional architecture practice. Those that are unlicensed will now have the titles of architectural associate or design professional. I cannot speak for everyone, but it seems that this shift is a long overdue step in the right direction.

Without doubt, these two titles will not please everyone. In my own experience at work, the title “associate” is used to describe someone that has been elevated within the firm to a position of leadership, so using that term will most likely not work for our office or a great many other offices. The term of design professional indicates a level of professional aptitude, but omits any reference to architecture, so is inherently vague, which is possibly by design so that it encompasses those not directly working in the field of architecture.

Each term has its own positives and negatives, but all in all, the move is a positive one. A person that is forty years old and has been practicing for fifteen years, moved up within the profession, and is highly regarded by their peers, but never got around to taking their tests should not be referred to as an intern the same way that a twenty year old student with three months of experience is. It defies logical reasoning.

Regardless of how the architectural community responds to the change, it is a positive step for the AIA to be taking. The organization has taken its share of backlash over the years and even more so recently. However, the American Institute of Architects still holds, and will continue to hold, major sway in the architecture community, with government entities, and with the general public. The name carries with it major influence and represents a wide array of members. While AIA may be a bit tardy in catching up with the shift away from outdated terminology, steps are being made to set things on the right track. That being said, I will leave you with this: the best way to ensure the AIA is representing architecture and all members is to continue to stay engaged, demand accountability, and to relentlessly push forward on the issues that matter. This change would not have come about if not for a strong push from members. It’s a small step, but it is indicative of the influence that members have and will continue to have.