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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?

Dear Udo, You were the original Hacker.

(Reflections on Studio and the 2016 Equity by Design Hackathon at AIA Convention)

by Lilian Asperin Clyman

Back then, we used to call it ED 11B. It was commonly referred to as one of the two foundational classes of Cal’s Environmental Design curriculum.  Looking back, ED 11A taught us how to draw and ED 11B required us to learn how to communicate an authentic point of view.  My professor was Udo Greinacher, and his class had three projects: the Garden, the Personal Space, and the Earthquake Fence.  But it was what Udo shared that created in our studio the space to think, to be ourselves, to think fast and to trust in our intuition.  Our studio was an environment for us to experiment – we were the hackers and our studio was the original Hackathon.

The projects got progressively reliant on our own ideas - shaped by that influential force he made sure we paid attention to.  For the Garden project, it was the symbiotic nature between the natural and built.  He had us go out, document, reflect and express meaning through drawing. For the Personal Space project, it was understanding intimacy. Each of us interviewed a subject and designed a space for them. I always had a little bit of a hard time understanding Udo’s German accent. So when I asked him what he was passionate about, I could have sworn I heard him say “his mistress”. But in my mind, that did not stand out too much as he was also the same person who during crits would encourage us “to know the rules so that you can break them”. I proceeded to do an entire project about sensuality, light,  shadow, allure, and passion only to realize later that what he had said was that he loved “mysteries”.

Perhaps it was the third project when I felt the most vulnerable - leaning on self-reliance the most.  For the Earthquake Fence project, Udo wanted us to focus on the ultimate influential force, the present. We had all just survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. There was no precedent we could “google” and learn about. You had to dig in, gain understanding, build your confidence and get going – all on your own. There still is no such thing as an Earthquake Fence, but all of us designed one.  We had no stated deliverables, other than to describing our process for arriving at the solution. Mine was a cardboard model with sawdust from the model shop floor, a triangular structure of welded brass tubes, and a slice of crimped aluminum metal used to “mark” the fault when dormant, and react to it dynamically when active.  The fence was one way and then completely different when affected by the force of nature – experienced in many scales, from what you can touch to what you can see from the sky. In some ways, it was a three dimensional seismograph. By far, this is my favorite project of all time.

But it was his insistence on three things that made him the original hacker: relying on your intuition, having relentless commitment, and being relevant and responsive to the world we live in. He didn’t care what we designed as long as it was evident that those three hallmarks were guiding us. For two decades after studio, I had been somewhat astounded about the infrequency of this spirit in our profession, and the compromising outcomes that result when we all stop hacking and just follow.  So during the recent AIA Convention in Philadelphia, the Equity by Design Hackathon became another modern environment for experimentation - this time exploring innovation in a team setting and focusing on how to create better experiences in our beloved profession of Architecture.

What are the parallels between Udo’s studio and the Equity by Design Hackathon experience? Here are a handful, which I hope we all pledge to adopt as habits in our everyday work:

  • Change makers are magnets.
  • Find each other. Many folks just “showed up” not knowing too much about what to expect but trusting they were at the right place to make something good.
  • Engage with your authentic self.  
  • In a setting with limited time, we don’t have time to work out of our natural strengths.  You are a better contributor when you come from the depths of your heart and mind. And we can all edit more effectively than we trust ourselves to.
  • Ask better questions.
  • Truly understand the “why”?And make it a habit to also ask “why not?”, “what if?”, and “who with?”. The more diverse your team is, the better.
  • Practice inclusivity.
  • Ironically, many teams are assembled based on availability and experience. Welcome others and when you do, give everyone the same amount of airtime.
  • Just laugh.

We are certainly still buzzing from the second Equity by Design Hackathon at the AIA Convention in Philadelphia. In the coming days, we will share with you the reflections, proposals and take-aways from all the teams. Each embraced their vulnerability and let their point of view guide them as they collaborated on envisioning more authentic, day to day experiences as Architects and new ways to shape the future of the profession.  Enjoy!

Thanks to our EQxD Hackathon Sponsors!



I make (a change)

by Jame Anderson, AIA

When invited to write a post about my “return to architecture”, my first thought was “What was this ‘Architecture’ that I had left?”  I pondered all of the ways I could describe this decision, anything I could share with others, and I started performing an epic Tina Fey eye roll.  Who would want to hear this?  It sounds like a cheesy self-help book or one of those posters in the breakroom of The Office.

Jame Anderson worked as an Architect at the National Gallery of Art for over a decade before returning to a private architecture practice. 

Jame Anderson worked as an Architect at the National Gallery of Art for over a decade before returning to a private architecture practice. 

So, let's embrace the cheese…

Everyone wants to believe in themselves, that they have an internal source of power.  It’s the stuff of super-hero movies, and Star Wars (admit it, you tried to move stuff by concentrating on it too).  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m drawn to down-and-out characters saving themselves and others, fighting free.  As an audience, we are totally sucked in by this stuff.  It is a lot more dramatic than seemingly happy people making a change.  Where’s the drama in that?  

In December, I left my position as an Architect at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) to return to private architecture practice at SmithGroupJJR, a company for which I’d worked prior to my 13 years at the NGA.  I was in an absolutely beautiful place, I loved my work and my colleagues at the Gallery.  I was surrounded by the most amazing objects in the world, and felt a sense of fulfillment and a touch of pride in making the Nation’s Collection shine.  I had great federal benefits, a wonderful schedule, and solid, stable pay.  My work was fulfilling, detailed, and my colleagues were driven.  

Sure, there was this lazy person over here, or that crappy office relationship over there, but I typically try not to let those things make my big life decisions for me.  Complaining about the day-to-day, or “sweating the small stuff” was not a part of the decision.  Besides, every workplace has that.  My decision was not about any of those factors.  My decision was about deciding to alter my path. 

This is not a tell-all, nor is it a list of observations of my new job.  This is about the moment of decision.

Changing jobs is not that big of a deal for some people.  For me, this was a pretty big thing.  

You may remember my last post, from January 2015.  I spoke about labels, titles, and life-work. 

Perhaps this was the first step in my “transformation”.  I felt that I was ready to put to greater use the skills I had honed in the field since I walked into my first museum internship at the age of 19. I was beginning to get a bit antsy.  Maybe that Scarlet Letter that some of us try to avoid – Ambition – had something to do with it.  Or, perhaps this disquiet came from not having that next step solidified in front of me: there were clouds at what looked like the top of the ladder.  In order to get to the bottom of this feeling of uncertainty, I started asking questions.

I talked to a lot of people: to mentors, to people who had jobs I could envision myself having, to those who had jobs I’d never want.  Things began to solidify.  I attended the AIA WLS Conference in Seattle and met amazing people, and I sat at a lunch table called “Taking Risks,” although I’m not quite sure why I chose that table… maybe the title was direct and short enough for me. Maybe I felt that I wasn’t taking enough of those.  I listened… really listened.  And I discovered that we are all searching for a place where we feel important, utilized, and a place where we are comfortable and can contribute… and lead.

All of this talking led me to discover that it was time for a change.  But, who wants to move, change jobs, find a new relationship?  It’s easier to do what we know, especially if we’re good at it.  But sometimes, we need to realize that the desire to move on, to do something different, to ‘go boldly where no man has gone before’ is just as human as the desire to stay put, and feel safe.

What was I doing?  I had one of the coolest jobs, EVER!  At parties, people’s eyes widened when I told them what I did for a living.  Visions of Night at the Museum and of the those Mixed-Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler danced in their heads.  They can be magical places, right?  My daughter, I’m convinced, thought I was working in some fairy tale.  I had been to architecture school with the Gallery as THE goal….but what do you do when you get what you want in the middle of your career?  Sit still?  Camp out?  The more I became an expert, the easier things got.  Perhaps that was it.  I have a great fear of complacency, which is very different than boredom.  My work has never been boring, or easy. But in closing my mascaraed eyes, I took a deep breath and imagined… what would the Shonda Rhimes show of my life look like if I could “design it?”

It wasn’t that the museum was “wrong”.  I was ready for a different path…my own yellow brick road.   Journeys teach us something.  This time, I’m on my own terms:  I’ve picked my specialty,  I have a ton of knowledge many don’t, I’m confident in what I can do, and I’m confident I’ll pick up on the stuff I have no idea how to do.

I want to do more, I think I can, I will.

I was concerned, frankly, about some people’s reactions to my decision.  It takes a lot to get over what you may think other people’s expectations of you are.  I worried a little.  The reaction that had the most impact was my daughter’s. Change and suspense are not thrills for her and we had a fascinating series of conversations about it (which might be yet another post).  I was able to tell her that there was no boogie-man in the office and that she could visit the museum any time.  I think she understood.

You see, support matters.  There is absolutely no way I could do the things I’ve been able to do throughout my life without it.  I’m talking support in the form of a spouse that knows that my work and how I spend my time away from my family is one of my personifiers that makes me ME, in mentors who simply listen and then at times offer suggestions, in friends who give hugs and order champagne when they hear my good news, in parents who made sure I had the most fantastic art teacher they could find, in professors who were direct and supportive, in bosses that hired me for my potential, in a child that gives me hugs and looks up to me as if i am the most impressive thing in the world.  

You have to find support somewhere. You can't isolate yourself, and you can't do it all by yourself.

I’ve been surprised by the responses I’ve received about my “transformation.”  I've heard a lot from folks.  There have been some "Wows", the normal "Congratulations" from others, and the "What about your benefits?" from those who think I'm nuts.  Then, from most architects, an immediate commentary on how difficult my new life will be due to the pace of things, as if there's a secret I don't know.

But I try not to take it as patronizing.  There have been countless articles about women in the workplace that Leaned Back… that selected what's called a slower track or slower paced professions, took time away during their child-bearing and raising years.  I think it’s unfortunate to see choices through these do/don’t filters.  Nevertheless, I didn’t Lean Back, I did exactly what I set out to do when I enrolled in architecture school in the first place: work in a museum designing things.  I tried to be as smart as I could about my career, work in a firm to follow through on my education, and get licensed. It wasn’t for another 5 years that I had my kid. I feel lucky to have been able to do it that way… get ME done first before dealing with mini-ME.

Timing sometimes works, things sometimes fall into place.  But sometimes, you have to do some leaning.

Back to Architecture… this fictional place I left. Now, I can say I’m an Architect with no one asking me what I mean without the addition of the words Exhibit Designer.  Does that matter? People seem to need very cut and dry terms.  People also have a lot of crazy ideas about what an architect is or does… I’m not walking around with a blueprints, although I do still wear a lot of black.  But I don’t allow others to define me.  I am an architect, and I have been one, for quite a while. Now, I hope I am in a place where I can make spaces and containers for beautiful works of art, and also build buildings again, while I look at the greater whole. My experiences are not two separate pieces, they are part of me.

I want both, you see.  Will I get it? Who knows, but there is only one way to find out.

OK, the first month has been weird… honestly… and yet, exhilarating.  I have this headset at my desk and no actual phone (which makes me feel like Brittany Spears or Tom Cruise a la Magnolia).  Not that we used rotary phones at the museum, but you get what I mean.  Then there’s the culture, and the notions of money (profit vs. non-profit) which are quite new.  Most days my new colleagues say things to me and I stare back at them blankly.  Every trade and office carries its own language around, its lingo, its series of acronyms that one has to decipher.  Architects especially are known for their, wait, our, made up words.

I went on my first project interview this week.  It was peculiar not being on the client side of the table.  I felt very “nervicited” (a word from my daughter)  But, feeling uneasy is something I asked for.  Honestly, I question myself too, just like anyone.  Will I succeed? Can I contribute enough?  Will I be good at this again?  It all creeps in.  But I’ve learned to let it go.  No one has all the answers, no one can do it all, and no one is better than you, they are just different.  I just keep reminding myself that I have a ton of knowledge many don’t.  I’m confident in what I can do.  I’m confident I’ll pick up on the stuff I have no idea how to do.

I want to do more, I think I can, I will.  (But I've been here for like 3 months… talk to me in about 6 more.)

In writing this I began to wonder who reads the Inspire blogs? Who are you, reader? If you are mid way through your career, are you keeping up the good fight?  If you are in the beginnings of your life as an architect, or are contemplating a career as one, I’ll leave the cheese and get down to those brass tacks…


Here it is… the unsolicited advice…ready? 

Get licensed.  

Look at it like brushing your teeth… it’s something you have to do. If you never use it that’s another matter entirely. Just get it, and you will have it.

I would not have been at the level I was outside of the profession without this credential. I would not have had any choices in a return to an architecture firm without it.

So many of the other things that affect diversity in practice are non-tangible and seemingly out of our reach. This one is very cut and dry.  It is hard, it is annoying, but it is doable and quantifiable. So, make a plan and follow through. Life gets in the way and always will. I get it.

You can fix it.

Get your license.

Don’t go missing.

Then, go through whatever process you need to in order to figure out what you WANT to do.  Write it all down, talk to folks, imagine your future, go see a fortune teller… whatever.  Design it.  But keep it short, succinct.  Don't get stuck in that planning stage forever… in the time it has taken you to read this long rambling post, you could've gone online and signed up for the exam.  I realize this simplifies everything, but seriously… there is no try there is only do.

Just Do it.

Early Bird Registration for #AIACon15 ENDS Wednesday, March 23rd

Curious about joining the most innovative workshop at AIA National Convention in Philadelphia?

Winning the lottery, requires buying a ticket

“You can’t win the lottery, if you don’t buy a ticket”.
— Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq.

At the AIA Women's Leadership Summit in Seattle, there was advocacy; taking action to drive positive change for equitable practice and representation. Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq., in her presentation about leading the campaign to nominate Julia Morgan for the AIA Gold Medal summed it up pretty well; "You can't win the lottery, if you don't buy a ticket". 

That message was already on our minds prior to the summit and in early discussions with the WIA/Equity Alliance Group of the AIA Diversity & Inclusion Council.  There was the discussion that AIA National Convention in the past has been lacking educational programs that addressed equitable practice and overall diverse representation on the panels groups. Applying the theory that you have to "Be in it, to win it", we asked everyone to submit an AIA Convention seminar or workshop program during the call for proposals earlier this summer. There were 10 proposals submitted with 2 phases of peer review. At each phase, there was great collaboration and strategic thinking about panelists for each program to increase the strength of the individual submissions. We are happy to report that 7 out of the 10 have been accepted as AIA convention programs for 2016 in Philadelphia!

Here are the 7 and their respective abstracts of each program for your reference:

  1. EQxD Hackathon : Architecture And...The Era of Connections
  2. EQxD What's Flex Got to Do with Success
  3. EQxD Negotiation is your Power Tool
  4. Establishing the Business Case for Women in architecture
  5. Moving the Needle: Achieving Equity starts with Architecture Schools
  6. Attract, Engage, Retain, Promote: Recommendations for Equitable Practices in Architecture
  7. Future Firm Culture: Defining a Path to Success

Here are the abstracts of each program for your reference:

EQxD Hackathon : Architecture And...The Era of Connections

One of the most unique and talked about ½ Day Pre-Convention Workshops is back! Join us for a new EQxD Hackathon this year. In Architecture AND the Era of Connection, we will explore the intersection of Design and Tech with a diverse panel of industry leaders and entrepreneurs to explore the practice innovations and future opportunities related to the business of Architecture in the new digital economy. The second half of the workshop will feature the popular "mini-Hackathon" format for groups to explore and develop a real plan of action that will have positive impact on the profession. (What is a Hackathon?) Very similar in format to a design charrette, this rapid prototyping format will leverage your Design Thinking skills to propose actionable initiatives and best practices for innovating equitable practice and exploring future business models for the profession. (Submitted by Rosa Sheng, AIA)


Equity by Design: Win-Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility

Establishing a healthy integration between work and life positively impacts business bottom lines by: providing access to a wider talent pool; increasing employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity; and reducing costly employee turnover. Meanwhile, the architectural profession commonly demands long, and often unpredictable, hours spent in the office. In this panel discussion, we will explore successful strategies for both firm leaders and employees to develop infrastructure that promotes and rewards results over the “Culture of Busy”. (Submitted by Lilian Asperin-Clyman, AIA)


Equity by Design: Negotiation is your Power Tool

According to the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey, negotiation skills are sorely lacking in our profession. The survey found that less than 35% of all respondents, regardless of gender, negotiated their current salaries. Those who had negotiated salary increases experienced similar rates of self-reported success, and successful negotiators of both genders made more money on average than their non-negotiating counterparts. Successful negotiation is a well-honed skill that requires a deep understanding of all the potential factors that influence positive outcomes. At this session, we will discuss and learn strategies for achieving success in negotiations. (Submitted by Lilian Asperin-Clyman, AIA)


Establishing the Business Case for Women in architecture

This seminar begins with trends of women in architectural school, practice, and leadership positions. We will then identify root causes of what holds women back, or causes them to leave the profession; explore the business case for integrating women into leadership positions; and define actionable items firms can implement to raise women into leadership roles. Panelists will discuss personal experiences with attaining leadership roles, overcoming barriers, and views on the importance of women in a thriving practice.(Submitted by Amy Kalar, AIA)


Moving the Needle: Achieving Equity starts with Architecture Schools

The number of women and minorities attending architecture school has steadily increased, yet the comparable percentage of professors, department heads, heads of schools and deans of colleges that are women or minorities has not increased in years. Come hear from several Deans and Department Heads that have broken through this barrier as they describe what it means to their university, to their students and to the architectural profession. (Submitted by Nicole Dress, AIA)


Attract, Engage, Retain, Promote: Recommendations for Equitable Practices in Architecture

While women graduate with architecture degrees at a rate equal to men, they still make up only 20% of practicing architects; and today’s emerging professionals, regardless of gender, demand new approaches to work-life integration and career development. This session uses research-based recommendations and tools developed by Iowa Women in Architecture to help firms attract, retain, and nurture diverse talent pools, and to aid individuals as they move through their own career paths. (Submitted by Ann Sobiech Munson, AIA)


Future Firm Culture: Defining a Path to Success

Every architect is seeking a good firm culture that nurtures personal and professional success. But defining the necessary ingredients for a positive firm culture can be elusive. How do you as an individual influence the mood and energy of your firm? Your success and happiness as a professional may depend on your thoughtful decision to join a firm that best fits you culturally as well as your skills. ((Submitted by Nicole Martineau, AIA)

In the months to come prior to AIA National Convention, we will continue to engage, promote and advocate for attending these seminars and workshops to move the needle towards equitable practice. This will include documentation of the events and providing the best information to participants prior to and after events as we continue to build a network of champions for change.

If you have an approved program at AIA National Convention that is focused on the topic of equitable practice that is not represented here, please let us know and we will add you to the list of workshops and seminars.


"Being Engaged" is the new "Being Balanced".

An audience of over 50 people convened at the AIA Center for Architecture on the the evening of Wednesday, November 6th, to listen in on a panel discussion titled, "Careers in the Balance".  This conversation is the first in a series of events and discussions focusing on life/work balance put on by the AIA's ForWARD Committee, a Forum for Women Architects and Related Disciplines. The panelists included architects in large firms, husband/wife partnerships, those in sole proprietorships and the president of an engineering firm. The influence of Sheryl Sandberg, author of the ubiquitous "Lean In", was evident from the start as the evening's moderator began with a thought provoking quote about nobody having it all, or at least no one admitting to having successfully figured it all out. Indicating perhaps, that even this word "life/work balance" is an unrealistic ambition, which I believe was unwittingly revealed through the evening's discourse; but this being a very subjective topic,  I will let you decide…..

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