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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

Bringing a Hackathon to Payette

by Karen Robichaud, Communications Editor at Payette

When I attended the Equity by Design Hackathon at the AIA Convention this spring, I left feeling so inspired. The dialogue in that room was exciting and deep, and I was even more excited about the potential of the Hackathon platform. As I thought about how the hackathon worked – small group discussion focused on conversation and problem solving leading to a brief presentation – I had this feeling that I could bring the format to Payette.

photo by Mike Lee After attending the 2015 AIA Convention Equity by Design Hackathon, Robichaud returned to Payette energized about the potential of the hackathon format to increase inclusion and creativity within the firm. She organized her firm's first Hackathon in early September.

photo by Mike Lee
After attending the 2015 AIA Convention Equity by Design Hackathon, Robichaud returned to Payette energized about the potential of the hackathon format to increase inclusion and creativity within the firm. She organized her firm's first Hackathon in early September.

I envisioned small groups working on a design challenge and coming together to present their ideas. This isn’t unlike the charrette process architects know from school. However, what if we called it a hackathon and rooted it in the desire to disrupt the status quo? I saw the hackathon as a way to stimulate new ideas related to our project work, a mechanism to bring people throughout our firm together who might not always work together and as a way for us to stretch our design muscles. Because the hackathon ends with brief presentations, participants would also have an opportunity to practice their public speaking skills and work on concisely and coherently presenting an idea.

At Payette we all sit in an open studio, with visual access to project alcoves lining the interior perimeter. We encourage dialogue and discussion and the hackathon format seemed like a natural, obvious extension of that atmosphere.

I returned from the AIA Convention fired up. I couldn’t wait to get a hackathon off the ground. While it took most of the summer to organize and plan the event, I am thrilled with the event we launched in early September. For one Friday afternoon in September, five teams of 4-5 people hacked a design challenge. We included three judges and tasked them with selecting a winning team. At Payette we often hold an internal happy hour late on Friday afternoons. Though informal, we take this time to share travel photography, outside projects and special skills (like a passion for letterpress printing or basket weaving). I tied the hackathon presentations into that Friday afternoon happy hour and invited the rest of the firm to hear the presentations and join an open discussion about the hackathon while the judges deliberated.

Photo by Mike Lee Payette's first Hackathon

Photo by Mike Lee
Payette's first Hackathon

What started out as a bit of a passion project for me and a bit of an experiment for the firm, turned into a highly successful event. Through the hackathon we opened up dialogue about our project work and challenged some assumptions. We also elevated voices throughout the firm, initiating a diverse and varied design conversation.

I wanted the event to offer an avenue for design discussion separate from project work, but related to it. I also wanted the hackathon to be as inclusive as possible – pulling perspectives from a range of experience levels and backgrounds. My hope was that with success, we’d be able to hold more hackathons and eventually, everyone would have an opportunity to participate.

Overall, the Payette’s first hackathon was a success! I learned a lot about what worked for the groups and what might be improved. Due to the success, I’m in the process of planning our second hackathon.

LEARN MORE ABOUT PAYETTE'S FIRST HACKATHON

Photos by Mike Lee, Payette's Hackathon Teams


Hungry for more conversation about the future of Design, Architecture and the Built Environment? In less than 2 weeks, AIA SF is hosting the "NEXT" Conference on November 12 & 13th in San Francisco. What is NEXT? THAT is precisely the question the event will be addressing. 

The AIA SF NEXT Conference is a unique opportunity to extend and expand the conversation about how the professional practice of Architecture will need to adapt to the needs of our rapidly changing society that is affected by advancements in technology, transitions in commerce and availability of land and natural resources. Day 1 will a Deep Dive about Placemaking and Day 2 will kick off with keynote "The New Frontier of Design" by Paola Antonelli of MoMa.