Making the Most of Opportunities

As many of you may know, I have moved away from Denver. This is my last official blog post as an AIA Colorado Emerging Professional. Three months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to move to DC with my firm. It was one of those instances where the stars couldn’t have aligned better had I tried to plan it myself. If you know me, then you know I do try to plan it myself. In letting opportunity guide my path and watching this unfold, I have now identified key lessons for those of you that might be making a big transition yourself.

  • Opportunity may come knocking but that still doesn’t mean you sit back and relax. As a part of the move I had to research what salaries were in DC, what the cost of living increase is and if it was even going to be possible to maintain the lifestyle I had come to love in Denver. As they say, where there is a will there is a way. You need to put in the leg work, ask the questions and take action. You are your own best advocate. My move happened rather quickly, but it was because I had prepared along the way and knew what I was hoping to get out of the opportunity.
  • Once you move, life can be a bit daunting. You don’t have your regular friends, you may or may not move to be closer to family. In my case, it is the exact same distance as before (12 hours) but in the opposite direction. Social media is a beautiful thing and when used for a move, can open doors you didn’t know existed. Upon the announcement of my move, I reached out to junior high friends, high school friends, undergrad friends, grad school friends, conference friends and professional friends. Once again, this proved to me that networking and maintaining relationships is one of the most important things you can do. In many cases, I haven’t talked to these people in years. But it is amazing how meeting up with an old undergraduate architectural school friend in an unknown place can make it feel a little more comfortable.
    • TIP: When you hear from someone or are connected to someone else and say “let’s get together”, follow through! It will make your new place feel a little more like home.
  • For me, being involved and having a community is what drives me. I knew that in moving, I would have the opportunity to start over on my commitments, broaden my horizons and embrace new experiences. I also knew it meant leaving what was comfortable. So I brainstormed what was comfortable and found a group of University of Illinois Alumni called the DC Illini. They happened to have a volunteer opportunity at the DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen engaged in food recycling and meal distribution programs. I wasn’t sure if I would meet anyone, if these alumni would be my age or what, but I figured this was a great way to get involved in the DC community and become a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was only a 3-hour commitment. It was an amazing experience for a really amazing organization. And I met a few women who had graduated around the time I did who happen to work down the street.IMG_0216
  • Just say yes! My current roommates, who happen to be my Denver roommate’s parents, were having a dinner party on Monday evening. They invited me because the crowd was going to be fellow coworkers who were around my age. I went and made some connections with people doing different things than me. What’s funny is they all come from the volunteer and non-profit world. (Side note: They were throwing around acronyms and I gained a little insight into what it must feel like for non-architects to be around a group of architects.) I met a woman who is using design strategy to find solutions to poverty and marginalization in international communities. She was curious about my work as a trained designer and how that could potentially influence the work that they do.

Moving across the country, moving to a new company or going back to school are big changes for anyone. I have had a few opportunities to start new chapters in my life and it is through each start that I get a little more comfortable with the unknowns of new places and new people. But the key is to really build on the connections you have from previous chapters. Keeping all options on the table gives you the chance to create the new life you want to live.

With that, I close a Denver chapter and will hold dear the relationships and networks I built in Colorado. I already miss the architectural community and the EPs that I worked day in and day out to advance the architectural profession.

Thanks for the opportunity to guide this blog and become a leader among a group of such great leaders.

Best, Korey

The Importance of What We Do

aalto-4Many of the conversations architects have with other architects are about our value. We know what we do is valuable and we know why we do it. It seems our recurring problem as an architectural profession and one we can’t seem to answer is “how do we get the public to understand why the work we do is so important?”

To increase the perceived value of architecture, increases the wellness, health, safety and equity within our communities and cities. But yet, we are a small profession (relative to law and medicine) and it is often difficult to share how architecture makes an impact.

Last week I visited the Alvar Aalto Library at Mount Angel Monastery outside of Portland, OR. We happened upon a monk whom was waiting to give a group a tour, but apparently hadn’t shown up. It was clear this monk thoroughly enjoyed giving tours of this beautiful building and was happy to do so for a group of architects that just happened to walk through the door.

What struck me most, outside of the architecture, was how appreciative this monk, who was not formally trained in architecture, was of this building. He expressed some of the design intent behind painting the roof orange (to change the color of the northern light entering the building) or how Aalto compressed the entrance only to release the visitor into the soul of the library. I wasn’t sure whether or not to attribute his depth of knowledge to a pure love of architecture or the fact that he spends day after day reading (presumably anything but more specifically architectural books) honoring his vow of silence.

It became clear by the end of this trip, that architects cannot be solely responsible for spreading the message of why architecture is valuable to our society and has an impact on many societal issues we face. Similarly, this was clear when the monk took out a coin from the rare collection dated 36 AD and told us researchers had tested and believed this to be a coin owned by Pontius Pilate. None of us on the tour were Catholic, but understood the weight of who once owned this coin and the impact that has had on world history. Clearly there have been powerful messengers of Catholicism.

After passing around the coin, this very jovial monk said very solemnly “What you all do as architects has never been more necessary and has never been less appreciated.” I took this as a charge to go back to my desk and figure out how to best equip those around me to speak about the power and importance of architecture. This isn’t about gaining more clients or building the next iconic museum. The very core of what we do is to create a better built environment for all of those living in it.

I challenge you, whether you are an architect or a friend/family of an architect to talk with someone about how our buildings affect our lives. Once we all become messengers, we have a better opportunity to build great places for all.

Inclusive Growth

By definition, gentrification is the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper and middle-income people, which ultimately improves property values but displaces low-income families and small businesses.

As architects, planners and urban designers we often struggle with the idea of gentrification. Specifically, in Denver, we are often attracted to the eccentric neighborhoods that exist because of the diversity of families, lifestyles, cultures and businesses. This in turn attracts many people to those neighborhoods; therefore, becoming more attractive places to develop and build new homes, apartments and businesses. What we may often forget or deliberately choose to forget, is that when we develop these neighborhoods with the uses that stimulate the economy, we are displacing families and businesses because of the rise in property values, residential rents and commercial rents.

The question then remains; how do we create economic opportunity in our neighborhoods while remaining inclusive?

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This week, the Downtown Denver Partnership hosted their annual CityBuild event “CollaborEAT”. For one night, the CityBuild team activates a space in the city to demonstrate how activity can influence our urban spaces. This year, they turned a surface parking lot between 26th and 27th on Larimer into a four-course dining room. The event featured speakers from the RiNo Community to talk about the very issues of inclusive growth. As an Art District, RiNo’s mission is to smartly grow the district, but maintain the quality, culture and artists within the District. As you can imagine, this hasn’t been an easy task. There have been a lot of partners involved in the development of RiNo as it is today.

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It can be argued that RiNo is not affordable. Part of the CollaborEAT event was sitting and mingling with strangers, discussing how we preserve art in our communities, while also strengthening it. One of our table mates described how her boyfriend had been pushed out of his current RiNo location and priced out of other options within the District.

As our communities continue to evolve, develop and grow, we need to find strategies that allow for inclusive growth. Often development occurs to stimulate economic growth in an area. How can we advocate for inclusive economic growth?

Just this morning I read an article by CEOs for Cities about the role of Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) in Inclusive Growth. This article underlines a different aspect of inclusive growth in communities: jobs. It argues that sustainable communities and inclusive ones exist when communities invest in job creation, job preparation, and job access. The article also outlines three major strategies for ensuring and achieving inclusive growth. These strategies being:

  1. EDOs have a vital role to play in achieving inclusive growth.
  2. Inclusive growth is not an add-on to business as usual.
  3. Inclusive growth requires a good ground game.

I feel there are contrasting strategies that can be employed to ensure that the neighborhoods we love, maintain the people, character and culture that exists within them today. First, as residents, activists and artists, we must work together to support strategies and policies that work towards this goal. Second, business owners and Economic Development Organizations need to work together to provide opportunities and jobs so that residents can stay within these communities.

It seems the bottom line is, there is no one strategy to mitigate gentrification. But if we all work together to improve our communities, we might just be able to strengthen the aspects of it that we love.

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Disruption: Architecture 2.0

As seen in AIA YAF CONNECTION 14.04


Disruption is all around us. We have recently seen it in the likes of the transportation industry, the energy market, and our politics.  Historically, major disruptions have transformed how we live and how our cities work. The invention of the car in the 1800s, for example, changed the course of urban planning that has continued to this day.  The content delivery of books, a foundation of our society, have been revolutionized to be predominantly digital in nature.  And environmental concerns related to climate change have altered how we harvest our energy.  These examples have given rise to new industries and advanced technologies, but have also caused casualties to those who didn’t adapt.  For example, as US policy shifts away from pollution heavy coal burning, the mining industry has been burned.  Where does the miner, who has specialized skills, go?  This situation can be applied to our own industry as well.  If we disrupt the profession of architecture, what does that mean for the workplace and types of employment? Will people lose their jobs? Will technology replace us?

We live in a world where data is accessible, can be gathered by almost everyone and is being used to help others prosper. Take 2016 Pritzker laureate Alejandro Aravena for example. His firm, Elemental, released four social housing designs for public use. Aravena suggested he released his designs because “we need to work together to tackle the challenge of rapid migration” (ArchDaily, 5 April 2016). This release of design into an open forum could be seen as a disruption to the profession as we have known it. The benefit of sharing data and design lies in the ability for us to gather what has worked successfully, humanize it and strengthen the relationship our users have to the buildings.

Over the past few months, the National Associates Committee and the Young Architects Forum have analyzed and gathered data on what the disruptions might be for the architecture industry.  And

this isn’t the only disruption we will see. As a profession, we need to be open to more. We need all architects to think about disruption differently. Disruption isn’t going to take our jobs away. It is going to create opportunity for new jobs. Technology has its downfalls but also has the ability to allow for the freedom to use our talents the way we want to use them. Technology allows us to create a kit of parts and use these components to think through boundless design options and new thought.

Change is inevitable and often scary. But if our firms can learn to be nimble and agile, we have exponential potential to create environments that are best for our communities. Whatever it is, I will be ready to embrace Architecture 2.0.

So you Wanted to be an Architect?

In any given social situation, the most frequently asked question is “What do you do?” Whether it’s a networking event, at a baseball game or Lyft Ride you can almost guarantee that you will be asked this question. I think all architects can agree, the most heard response is “Oh, I wanted to be an architect!”

I haven’t conducted professional data collection on this, but my informal surveying says that 50% of people thought about being an architect at one point in their lives. According to NCARB, in 2013 there were 105,847 licensed architects in the United States. This is less than .03% of the population that are architects.

We often discuss a perception issue we have within architecture. Whether it’s the perceived value of hiring an architect, or being seen as only designing high-end residential homes, it has made me ponder this statement even more so than usual. If so many people thought about being an architect, what is the disconnect here?

I have changed my approach in how I respond to this question. Instead of commenting, “Yes, so has everyone else.” I have started asking, “What changed your mind?” To this, most respond that they were inadequate at art and/or math in school. While both of these are important qualities and personally drove me to pursue a career in architecture, it seems funny that a middle school or high school student had to make a decision that they could never learn these skills in order to pursue a career that highly interested them.

Most people have a fear of being inadequate and this in turn directs their personal career choice or path through school. As a freshman in college, I struggled with my Physics course (which was required by my Architecture curriculum) and more than once a week thought “I am going to have to quit architecture”.  However, since working professionally, I have not needed to use F = MxA or any derivative.

The architecture profession is facing a shift, both technologically and in our labor force. As a country, we are facing large infrastructural issues and will need architects to help find the solutions for the cities we care about. We are working more collaboratively with experts to produce highly complex solutions to these problems.  We need a diverse body of architects that come from a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and interests.

Having now worked in firms of various sizes and project types, I have found that there is not one way to be an architect. Each person has a very specific set of skills and this makes for well-rounded teams to complete the best projects.

Last night, I had an opportunity to share a Lyft Line with a guy who responded to my most frequently asked question with “Oh, I wanted to be an architect”. To this, I asked him “Why didn’t you pursue it?” And he responded that his school counselor told him his math skills weren’t strong enough. We shouldn’t blame our school counselors for turning this student away from architecture. But as architects, we should work with our school counselors and instructors to share with them what qualities an architect might possess.

After all, if it turns out that a student who might have been interested in architecture doesn’t ultimately pursue it, haven’t we just created a more educated and accepting client who understands the importance of architecture?