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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?

I’ve seen glimpses of the future….and I can’t wait to see it arrive!

By Renée Cheng, FAIA, Professor and Director of the MS in Research Practices, University of Minnesota

Imagine a building industry that is lean, efficient and widely recognized for its valuable contributions to society. This industry would use research to identify and build upon best practices to create a more effective built environment. In this ideal future, leaders are diverse, so the industry reaps the benefit of creativity and innovation that comes from diversity while also reflecting the demographics of the communities it serves. This future will only be possible if we establish a vibrant culture of research and increase the number of women and people of color leading the industry. Over time, a long time, global population change may address the demographic issue, but we prefer not to wait.

At the University of Minnesota, we have developed the only program in the country that combines research, leadership and professional  licensure. Students conduct research projects that connect faculty and firm leaders, and along the way architecture students earn their license before graduating,shortening the time to license after graduation with a professional degree from an average of 7.6 years to 1 year. The Masters of Science in Architecture with a concentration in Research Practices (MSRP) is a three semester program that provides graduates of B. Arch and M. Arch programs with a structured path to licensure. The MSRP program has created the Consortium for Research practices, a group of AEC firms dedicated to pursuing new research and ideas. In addition to coursework on research methods and analysis, students within the program spend 25 hours a week working with a host firm from within the consortium and a faculty mentor to tackle a research topic, and the research is then shared with the entire consortium. Since the research is practice-based, the hours meet AXP requirements. Students’ AXP progress is complemented with coursework covering topics related to the ARE exams and students complete all exams during the academic program.

After four years of running the MSRP, we realised its greatest value to the profession is not licensure. The program’s largest impact is how it identifies future leaders and gives them opportunities to succeed. Students contribute to their firms by addressing emerging areas that are typically unexplored in traditional practice. Anecdotally, we have heard that our graduates receive responsibilities typically given to those who graduated five years before them. This suggests that, if a typical trajectory brings a graduate to partnership in 10-15 years, MSRP graduates could reach partnership in 5-10 years. We understand that if our graduates are predominantly women and people currently underrepresented in our industry, our program’s accelerated path to firm leadership could help change the face of the architectural profession, pushing it to look significantly more like the diversity of the communities we serve. For this reason, we have prioritized recruiting a diverse student body. Currently, our small cohort is 80% women of color.

Equity by Design’s research findings indicate that connection to senior leaders is one of the most important predictors of various attributes of success early in one’s career. MSRP students directly collaborate with senior partners and faculty experts on projects that typically focus on areas of innovation and emerging practices. From this work, students are not only networked into leadership circles, but also have the opportunity to demonstrate expertise in ways most interns are never asked to do. We believe students are capable of far more than we ask them to do in a traditional professional setting. This program provides the opportunity for students to shine.

Many strategic plans for firms and schools set goals to increase diversity and change demographics, but as the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” There is no easy way to achieve these goals because it’s not about changing numbers but changing culture. Culture change is hard but can be achieved with big goals and small steps. We’ve started to see this with the firms that are part of the Consortium for Research Practices, the essential base to the MSRP program. Some have developed internal interdisciplinary groups to identify research priorities, others adapted their previous practices to include more research in more areas. We’ve also seen firms shift how they communicate internally and externally about research and the work of the students.

Our program is new and growing, so measuring our broader impact is yet to come, but we believe that we provide a model linking practice with academy in order to change the culture of the industry through small projects that lead to massive change. We are impatient for the future of our industry and are doing everything we can to accelerate its arrival.

For more information about MSRP see <>. We have full fellowships to award by April 15; to nominate a student who has graduated or will be graduating with a B.Arch or M.Arch professional degree, please email Associate Director Andrea J. Johnson, <>

About our guest blog writer - 

Renée Cheng, FAIA

Professor, Associate Dean for Research and Engagement, University of Minnesota.  

Renée Cheng is a nationally renowned Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Minnesota.  Educated at Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cheng has been recognized for education excellence with numerous teaching awards at the school, state and national level. Most recently, Cheng was twice honored as one of the top 25 most admired design educators in the United States by Design Intelligence.  She led a team of faculty from the University of Minnesota who won the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Education Honor Award for a transformative professional curriculum and developed a professional practice course, Building Stories, that won the first Practice Leadership Award from AIA and ACSA. Cheng served as 2009 President of AIA Minnesota and is a former member of AIA National Board advisory group on Integrated Practice (IPDiG) and the AIA National Board Knowledge Committee, AIA Center for Integrated Practice and currently AIA Culture Collective leading a group on Firm Culture.

EQxD Get Real: Being the Only One in the Room

by Mark Gardner, AIA, LEED AP

My path to architecture began with an almost naïve understanding of what I might face in becoming an architect.

Initially, I was lured by the art, science, history and technical nature of the field, the ability to affect the environment and change people’s lives. I  had an opportunity to practice a profession with a history.

I had never met a Black architect until I got to Georgia Tech. 

Mark Gardner Principal at  Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects

Mark Gardner Principal at Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects

 Even at that time, I didn’t have the experience to ask the hard questions: Is the practice of architecture difficult? Is it made more difficult by the complication of color? At what point will the bias of others get shelved? Could I make use of this position to understand what it means to be a good architect?

I only needed to put my talents forward… right?
The architecture profession does not represent the cross section of this country, much like congress. Congress is
87 percent white; 85 percent in the House and 96 percent in the Senate. Based on an article in The Atlantic, “The 33 Whitest Jobs in America” , The Architecture Profession is roughly 91.3 percent white. Black architects make up less than 2% of the total number of registered architects nationwide. 

How does this clear lack of diversity affect our design? What does it mean? I went to Georgia Tech and I was 1 of 4 African-American students in a class of 120 students. Some professors were my champions and mentors and others, not so much. Occasionally unsure of my footing, I would make decisions slowly, deliberately and waited for opportunities. 

Early in my career, as friends found jobs and started their path toward licensure, grad school or whatever was coming next, I was turned away from many majority architecture firms. I would interview with the same firms and hear kind words, but little more. Still I kept faith. If I worked hard, that hard work would be rewarded. At one interview after a few years of working and managing, I had a firm Principal tell me that I could fill the role of an intern who was leaving for school. I reminded her of my experience level and was met by a blank stare. It is a difficult moment to reconstruct. Was I overly sensitive? Had she just overlooked my portfolio? Did she make up her mind in her busy schedule to believe what she wanted to believe? Whether we recognize it or not, there is an internal never-ending battle being waged by what we think we know against the unknown. Our eyes can't lie and yet our bias only gives undue weight to doubt. Questioning this bias is a good and necessary thing. I eventually found my opportunity from two African-American architects who could understand my struggles because it was their struggle. William Stanley and Ivenue Love-Stanley taught me how to find a space to design and make use of my experience. I sat in the theater at the 2014 AIA Convention to hear Ivenue share the lessons from our story. She practiced what she preached as evidenced in her 2014 Whitney Young Award Acceptance Speech:

“How many of you today realize that it is absolutely important that young people be afforded internships, as well as, permanent positions in your firms…” she said. “I, for one, will continue to advocate for change. I want to simply ask you to search your souls and honestly ask the question, ‘Is this profession what you want it to be?’ There is a scarcity of minorities and women in key leadership positions at the major architecture firms in the country. It is astounding. I would suggest that we start by aggressively increasing enrollment of minorities at major schools of architecture. Then aggressively work to increase the representation of minorities and female faculty members…these improvements are long overdue. We stand to lose an entire generation if we do not act fast.”  - Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA

I agree. Why do we as a profession not give more opportunity to younger architects — in particular, women and those of color? They bring incredible value to the profession, something unique, a new story to tell- the future story. The sea of change Ivenue was asking for is not one that can be made alone but requires the majority to align with what is being asked by the minority. I have been fortunate to be in situations where I have the opportunity to prove my talents and found the confidence to trust in my talents. That confidence is built upon the support and respect of architects who trained me.

The time spent in Atlanta gave me the confidence to return to school to pursue a graduate degree in architecture. Eventually a junior architect position brought me to New York and I spent several years working in various firms. I was always trying to get better, learn as much as possible and value the power of observation. From a young age, as an African-American, you’re told you have to work harder because in some quarters little is expected of you. 

As a principal of a firm, I now sit in a position of privilege, but it is also a position of perspective. I remember being a student. I remind myself what it is like to sit across the table in that interview. I remember the times when I could have used a mentor. I am a mentor. When asked “How did you do it?” or “Tell me the steps to get where I want to go.”  The first thing I say, is that we are free to write our own stories and there is not a guide book. I am reminded of a Charlie Rose interview with Steve Martin, that resonates with me. He says, “I always say, be so good they can’t ignore undeniable.”

I have found the confidence now to be the only one in the room. I no longer feel the burden to assimilate, but to celebrate that my experiences also want to be shared. We can all be agents of change. The disparities and bias that exist in our society demand it.

"Why the lack of Black Students?" Architecture Record Nov. 2012
The 33 Whitest Jobs in America, The Atlantic Nov. 6, 2013
Charlie Rose Interview Clip with Steve Martin

INSPIRE% Firm Culture: Inside View of Ehrlich Architects

An Interview by Susan Kolber (Part 2 of 2)

As EQxD continues to investigate how the profession can foster more equitable, innovative and sustainable practices, the voices of our top firms provide unique input on firm success and how these firms value their staff and work culture. On Monday EQxD shared 2015 AIA National Firm Award recipients Ehrlich Architects’ (EA) principal and staff perspectives on their daily routines and team dynamics. These interviews revealed EA's unique firm culture that seeks to create a family-like team with trust, respect, and collaboration at the forefront. This blog series has interviews by Principal Patricia Rhee (PR) and staff members with varying levels of experience: EJ Fernandez (EF), Will Korchek (WK), Amanda Snelson (AS), and Lyannie Tran (LT). The interviews featured below shed deeper insight into the staff’s development at EA and how they envision the future of architecture.

Can you expand on how you promote a healthy community and support "having fun” in your architecture practice?
(PR) It's a balance--at the end of the day, we are a part of EA because we believe in creating beautiful spaces that best serve our clients and communities. People don't choose to be an architect because it's an easy career path--we recognize the long hours, hard work, patience and endurance it takes to build buildings, particularly when you care deeply about the design. Design doesn't always follow a linear path or fit neatly into a tight schedule. So the reality is that we do inevitably need to work late hours to meet a deadline. So we try to make the working environment as comfortable and efficient for our employees as possible.

What is your average employee tenure? What benefits/incentives do you have to retain talent?
(PR) The principals and associates have all been at EA for 14-20 years. The junior staff ranges from 2-8 years.

Ehrlich Architects' studio located in Culver City, CA  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Ehrlich Architects' studio located in Culver City, CA
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your role at Ehrlich?
(EJ) I grew up in Chicago where I spent most of my time studying architecture before moving out to LA to get my masters at the University of Southern California.  While at USC, I was fortunate to have both Steven Ehrlich and Takashi Yanai as  studio professors which eventually lead to my current position here at Ehrlich Architects.  My role as a designer at EA is to provide project solutions through design strategies that function appropriately with the environment and client’s needs in mind.  I collaborate with my team to produce a functional project that promotes architectural honesty and community development.  I also help develop our office drawing standards and setting up our community outreach events.
(WK) I am a designer at the firm, managing projects that range from master plan studies to schematic design for an office building. Smaller roles include managing office IT and coordinating lunch and learns. I graduated with a BA in Architecture from UPenn in 2013.
(LT) I am a designer at the firm working in the residential team.  I have 5 years experience and am going to start my licensing soon.  I am a project manager for two houses which are soon to be under construction.
(AS) I’ve been at EA for 2.5 years, just after moving to the area from the Ozarks in southwest Missouri.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on considerable responsibility at my job. With limited experience, I’m often learning by doing. This can be challenging, but has provided incredible learning opportunities. The firm places a lot of trust in its employees, who take on a lot of work and are able to gain great experience.
— Will Korchek

Is getting licensed valued in the firm? If so, What are ways you encourage that and reward it? Do you have (have) formal or informal mentorship practices in place?
(PR) Yes, it is valued. As part of our office policy, we pay for study materials, the exams and licensure fees. It is one of the requirements for associateship. We have a long-standing internship program that is open to students or recent graduates that is approximately 6 months long. It's a good way for recent grads to gain exposure to an architecture practice with a wide-ranging portfolio and to pick up valuable skills like learning Revit. Mentorship occurs on an informal basis throughout the office--we are all still learning from each other constantly--at least I am!

Team meeting at Ehrlich Architects&nbsp;  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Team meeting at Ehrlich Architects 
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

What is the greatest challenge/difficulty that you have had to overcome in your professional career? How has Ehrlich helped you grow as an architect?
(EJ) The greatest challenge I have encountered was on my first project that involved finishing a CD set within a short amount of time.  Thankfully our project manager, Whitney Wyatt, and her experience, along with management's help to delegate two more workers on board, we were able to produce the set and get the project finished.  Ehrlich Architects has helped me grow immensely as an architectural designer.  This is also due to the fact that our experienced veterans take the time to teach the young staff rather than just assigning tasks.  I have learned everything I know up to this point in architecture because of the leaders we have here at Ehrlich Architects.
(WK) I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on considerable responsibility at my job. With limited experience, I’m often learning by doing. This can be challenging, but has provided incredible learning opportunities. The firm places a lot of trust in its employees, who take on a lot of work and are able to gain great experience.
(AS) Obtaining my architect license – of which EA had helped support through providing study materials, funding a lunch series for those studying, and reimbursing test fees once passed. A salary adjustment is also given once California licensure is obtained.
(LT) The first year is always the hardest, knowing the trade.  Then when you first learn to manage a project.  I still don’t know if that is something that has been overcome yet. [EA] has  given me the opportunity to manage a project and to also connect to other people beyond architecture.

(AS) I have not experienced any hesitations on the job due to my gender – the partners portray a level playing field when it comes to expectations (definitely equal opportunity from my experience). They are also very approachable if there is ever an issue, either with working remotely due to health or family issues, needed time off for family, working with flexible schedules, to keeping an open mind about each of our capabilities.
It’s really refreshing to have multiple female leaders at EA with families to look up to – it is possible (albeit challenging) to be a successful woman architect with kids!
— Amanda Snelson

Do you have work life flexibility policy? If you do not, how do you navigate everyone's life challenges?
(PR) During the summer, we offer employees the ability to take every other Friday as a half day, assuming they make up the hours within the two week time period. As for flexibility to work at home, it's on a case-by case basis. The nature of our medium-sized office is that it benefits most from people coming together, rubbing elbows, talking to each other, observing the goings-on around them. When people have life challenges--we listen and try to work together to find the best solution for everyone.

What inspires you on a daily basis?
(EF) Being able to create architecture, space and community as a living is what inspires me on a daily basis.  From listening to clients’ needs, figuring out spatial strategies and detailing the smallest crevice in order to produce a sound and holistic project is enough motivation.
(AS) The view out my window – either at home, at my desk, or from my car.
(LT) It is hard to constantly be inspired but on a daily basis, seeing other people’s work whether in the office or in the architectural field itself is inspiring.  This is accomplished through discussions in the office, daily newsletters from architectural organizations and books.

What do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments to date? Why?
(AS) Obtaining my license is my most important accomplishment professionally, to date, including all the efforts that lead up to licensure: university, internships, learning on the job under an architect, etc.  It’s a long road, and though most outside of the profession do not grasp the difficulty, it is a huge personal accomplishment – not only “jumping through hoops” but a necessary path in this demanding profession. If only we could be compensated to reflect these efforts.
(LT) To date, my greatest accomplishment is learning how to use the work that I do to achieve what I want to do in life.  I am able to pursue other hobbies and travel with my eyes wide open because of what I learn at work daily.

What is the best advice that you ever received and how does that apply today?
(AS) Surround yourself with people that inspire you, which you aspire to be like, and that believe in your potential. (This reinforces the great aspects of EA – the people you interact with on a daily basis are everything, and EAers are some of the best I’ve ever met.)
Timing is everything. Perfect is impossible. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Everything always ends up working out. (These mantras help put things into perspective, when work becomes overwhelming or out of our control.)
(LT) “Have patience, it will benefit you” from my first fortune cookie.  I’ve learned that time is relative and we all seem to be in a hurry to go somewhere, compressing what little time we already have.  However, in time, all will work out.

How do you see Architecture changing in the next 10 years? What would your role be in the future?
(WK) Architects should get out in the community, support public events, host public events, and invite the community in for studio visits. The more people who know an architect, the more people are comfortable with architecture.
(AS) We will be given shorter time to develop design and construct buildings; Higher demand for building performance (energy efficiency, indoor environment, water conservation, etc.); More partnerships in the private sector with Developers, Contractors and Architects with shared risk/reward.
My role will be to respond to the changing industry demands by exploring alternate deliverables, honing project and time management skills, observing projects post-occupancy, and embracing the latest technologies.
(LT) I think there will be more linkages between cutting edge technology and a recycling of styles of the past, whether that be modernism or something else.  As always vernacular will be on the fringes.  I’m not sure what my role is in the future, but I hope that it will be more meaningful to the community.  

Ehrlich Architects  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Ehrlich Architects
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

How does Ehrlich support equity in their firm culture, personal, and work?
(WK) At its very foundation, the firm is built on equity. We all work together; designers sit among partners sit among interns. Partners want to hear what designers are thinking and see how their personal creative background can inform a firm project.
(AS) I have not experienced any hesitations on the job due to my gender – the partners portray a level playing field when it comes to expectations (definitely equal opportunity from my experience). They are also very approachable if there is ever an issue, either with working remotely due to health or family issues, needed time off for family, working with flexible schedules, to keeping an open mind about each of our capabilities.
It’s really refreshing to have multiple female leaders at EA with families to look up to – it is possible (albeit challenging) to be a successful woman architect with kids!

Where do you see Ehrlich in 10 years?
(EF) As we continue to expand our portfolio and go beyond our boundaries I can see Ehrlich Architect growing in number and complex projects.  One thing we are not afraid of is adapting new technology and ideas, applying it to our projects and seeing how we can expand our architecture while sticking to our foundations in design.    
(AS) I would like to see EA challenging the industry’s status-quo by exploring alternate project management, project deliverables, and partnerships with developers and contractors for more productive project team dynamics.


INSPIRE% Best Practice: AIA National Firm Award winner Ehrlich Architects

An Interview by Susan Kolber (Part 1 of 2)

The Equity in Architecture 2014 Survey Report revealed respondents identified three key elements to success in their careers, “Working with the A-Team, Significance of Meaningful Work, and Work/Life Flexibility.”  With these three themes in mind, Equity by Design wanted to continue the energy of  INSPIRE% Best Practice blog post in January, an initiative that features Architecture firms that support equitable practice. We wanted to learn how Ehrlich Architects (EA) winner of the 2015 AIA National Firm Award fosters equity in their practice and firm culture. Known for their design approach deeply rooted in the needs of inhabitants, the surrounding culture and site context that has been coined as “multicultural modernism,” EA believes their firm culture should be equally focused on participatory and healthy community. How many firms do you know use words likehigh level of trustand “family” to describe their firm culture? We explore EA’s firm life with interviews from Principal Patricia Rhee (PR) and staff members: EJ Fernandez (EF), Will Korchek (WK), Amanda Snelson (AS), and Lyannie Tran (LT).

You practice multiculturalism in your work, how does this translate to your firm culture?
(PR)  Our firm is its own unique blend of People and Place. Our Place--the building itself--is a living breathing creature with a life of its own, that we interact with every day. Its size, compactness, its blend of casual, homey spots and intense coming-together spots--is an inspiration to work in. Our People, the greatest resource of EA, are what make our firm culture. The varied personalities, backgrounds, histories, knowledge and experience are ever-changing yet we maintain constant threads of openness, humor, familialism and of course, a love of food!    

Ehrlich Architects winners of the 2015 AIA Firm Award  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett&nbsp;

Ehrlich Architects winners of the 2015 AIA Firm Award
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett 

Ehrlich Architects is a family. We have strong leadership and young staff that collaborate together and learn from one another, which is one of the many strong qualities we have at our office. There is a sense of community and genuine appreciation for one another that resonates within our projects and the clients we work with.
— EJ Fernandez

Can you walk us through a week at the studio? Do you have daily/ weekly meetings that everyone participates in? What firm wide activities foster community? (PR) A week at the studio? Sorry, that would take too long! We do have a bi-monthly office-wide meeting to review project/staff status, where every single person shares with the group what they've been working on since the last office meeting. Because our project teams vary in size and type, there is not a standard way of running all project meetings--and each principal has their way of managing their projects.
We have been using an intra-office website--a virtual "water cooler"--for posting events, inspirational/fun images or blurbs, recent construction photos, and soliciting responses for questions on a variety of issues: code, Revit, the next softball game. It's a great way to be inclusive and crowdsource contributions from our people--the most invaluable resource of our office.
As for firm-wide activities, once or twice a year we will rent a bus for a field trip day and visit local projects recently completed or under construction. We have a tradition of summer multi-culti barbecues, hosted (sometimes lavishly!) by the current interns. We also have themed pecha kucha nights on the patio, which have been a great way for staff to share something about themselves. A growing number of action committees have also sprung up, with staff eager to delve deeper into arenas of interest and to make things happen in tandem with their project work. It's this balance of project work and non-project work (that sounds so dry!) that makes our office special--the amazing community of people working together, accessible to each other with a wealth of experience and knowledge that allows us all to learn from each other every day. It never gets boring.
(EF) Our studio is a very active space in which there are constant meetings happening either within the project team or with clients.  We have quarterly office meetings that allow every person in the office to speak about their current project.  If there is one firm that loves to have a good time and knows how to foster community within our office and those affiliated with us, it is Ehrlich Architects.  We engage as a family in countless office events and gatherings that are catered by different individuals in the office which allows for everyone to participate in creating community.
(AS) There is usually one event at least every other week, either a lunch and learn to hear the latest product or technology or sustainability update, or office-hosted BBQ, or softball game, or movie night, or a Friday happy hour at a nearby bar. EA differs from other firms because we all play hard – frequently together!
(WK) We relish times during the week that we are able to come together as a staff and enjoy a birthday celebration, an office announcement, or other quick gathering. We don’t have formal meetings very often, but are working to start meeting office-wide every other month. As we grow, it is becoming more important that we meet as a full office to hear what everyone is working on and build camaraderie. After-hours events like summer barbecues and movie nights are essential to fostering community.

What is the team structure of a normal project? Is it highly collaborative? Do junior staff have opportunity for design input or other opportunities/roles besides production? How do you promote team building and collaborative design?
(PR) The team structure varies depending on project type and size, but essentially, there is a principal in charge, project manager and project architect (sometimes one person) and supporting design staff. Junior staff have always been a very important part of the practice--typically coming out of our internship program or former students of ours--and depending on their unique skill set, will contribute to the design process and productivity of the overall firm. It always amazes me what the junior staff will come up whether it's design solutions, a new or better way of using software or a different approach to social media--because they are engaged with these elements and see things in a way that the older generation may not--and that makes our group all the more educated and enlightened. We encourage everyone, regardless of experience level, to speak their mind and contribute (and trust me, they have!) on their projects and to also have the freedom to reach out to the rest of the office for advice and support.

photo courtesy of Ehrlich Architects

photo courtesy of Ehrlich Architects

The open environment and density of the office also lends itself to collaboration. We've learned this through co-location with client and consultants in our design-build projects as well--the closer in proximity you are to your fellow teammates, the more in-tune you are with the issues of the team and equipped to help. Building 3d models to study design, physically and virtually, is integral to the way we work--and is also a great way for junior staff to contribute their design ideas from the beginning of a project.

Our People, the greatest resource of EA, are what make our firm culture. The varied personalities, backgrounds, histories, knowledge and experience are ever-changing yet we maintain constant threads of openness, humor, familialism and of course, a love of food!
— Patricia Rhee

What characteristics does Ehrlich Architects encourage in their employees?
(PR) I encourage the staff I work with to be self-motivated, confident, responsible designers who are not just focused on the project tasks at hand but also understand the bigger picture of the work they are doing--the economics, the politics, how it affects our clients and our communities. These are the invaluable lessons that are best learned on the job.
(EF) Honesty and hard work.  Ehrlich Architects encourages everyone to be true to their work and honest in their architecture.  Working with different teams you develop trust with everyone you work with and every employee is encouraged to participate and support each other.
(WK) Self-reliance, determination, and hard work. Compassion, understanding, and sympathy.
(AS) Positivity, Rigor, Curiosity, Confidence, Friendliness
(LT) To be current, to be able to relate to stakeholders and to be a communicator.

How is Ehrlich's firm culture different from other firms you have worked at?
(EF) Ehrlich Architects is a family.   We have strong leadership and young staff that collaborate together and learn from one another, which is one of the many strong qualities we have at our office.  There is a sense of community and genuine appreciation for one another that resonates within our projects and the clients we work with.  We are different because our firm culture extends beyond the walls we work in and is cultivated through activities outside of architecture.  This develops trust and builds team character even before we begin working on projects together which is what some firms do not offer.  We like to keep things light yet take our work very seriously.
(AS) I’ve never partied as hard with my boss before working at EA!  At work, we are given many responsibilities, which forces one to learn a lot quickly. It all stems from a high level of trust between everyone.
(LT) The culture here is more interactive in the sense that it is important for employees to not only get along but to build friendships.  There is a work hard play hard mentality here but it seems that the firm also supports the play hard factor as well.


Read Part 2 of 2 INSPIRE% FIRM CULTURE: Inside View of Ehrlich Architects

EQxD "U" Workshop #2 - What's Flex got to do with Success? Meet the Panelists!

by Amber Evans

June 11th, 2015 @AIASF 130 Sutter Street, San Francisco 6pm-8:30pm

We are excited to bring you the 2nd of 4 EQxD "U" Workshops - What's Flex got to do with Success?  (Win-Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility)

We will explore the complexities of making work and life "work" together to fulfill your maximum potential while enjoying the journey along the way.

Work life flexibility emerged as a major theme of last year's Equity in Architecture survey. Flexibility was one of the most important ways that our survey respondents defined success in their careers. The survey also shows that inflexible schedules and long hours are a real burden on our field - a significant portion of respondents had turned down opportunities or promotions due to issues of flexibility, people are leaving the field due to long hours and low pay, and taxing work schedules are a major obstacle to licensure. 

Our panel will feature 4 design professionals from diverse backgrounds; different stages of life and professional practice. All 4 share their insights on the constant dance between practice, life and everything in between. Following a summary of key survey findings on work life flexibility and caregiving, we will engage the panelists in an interactive Q&A. The second half of the session will leverage break-out groups to dive deep and propose actionable solutions to the work life flexibility challenges discussed.

Workshop Agenda

  • Networking & Refreshments 6:00-6:15 pm
  • Introductions/ Welcome 6:15-6:25pm
  • Panel Discussion 6:25-7:15pm
  • Break/ Transition 7:15-7:20pm
  • Break-Out Groups/ Storytelling 7:20-8:10pm
  • Report Back on Break-out Groups/ Conclusions 8:10-8:30pm

MEET THE PANELISTS! (and the amazing firms they lead)

Jeffery Till, AIA, LEED AP

Design Principal, Perkins + Will

Jeffrey Till has is an architect and leader in sustainable development, with twenty five years of architectural and master planning experience in North America, Asia, and Europe. He leads design on a range of projects for clients with high level sustainability goals, with a focus on research driven, multidisciplinary process and performance strategies. He has taught sustainable architecture at Stanford University, advised on green planning strategies, and is served on the national AIA working group on energy modeling, helping architects bring advanced tools to everyday practice.

Perkins+Will is an interdisciplinary, research-based architecture and design firm established in 1935 and founded on the belief that design has the power to transform lives and enhance communities. Each of the firm’s 24 offices focuses on local, regional and global work in a variety of practice areas. With hundreds of award-winning projects annually, Perkins+Will is ranked as one of the top global design firms. Perkins+Will is recognized as one of the industry’s preeminent sustainable design firms due to its innovative research, design tools, and expertise. The firm's 1,700 professionals are thought leaders developing 21st century solutions to inspire the creation of spaces in which clients and their communities work, heal, live, and learn. Social responsibility is a fundamental aspect of Perkins+Will’s culture and every year the company donates 1% of its design services to pro bono initiatives. In 2015, Fast Company ranked Perkins+Will among “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Architecture.”  

Kirstin Weeks, LEED AP

Senior Energy and Building Ecology Specialist, Arup


Kirstin Weeks is a senior Energy and Building Ecology Specialist at Arup.  She champions the San Francisco office’s Net Positive Design initiative, and specializes in biophilic design and integration of ecological function in the built environment.  Kirstin works with interdisciplinary teams to create resilient built environments that work like ecosystems, eliminating waste as a concept and supporting wellness, biodiversity, regeneration and reliance on renewable resources.  Her project experience extends from sustainability leadership on large office, civic, academic and industrial projects to city-scale plan development, research and cost-benefit studies. Kirstin holds an A.B. in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth and an M.S. in Building Science from UC Berkeley. 

Founded in 1985 as the first office in the Americas, the San Francisco Arup office is one of the largest in the region, delivering smart holistic solutions for their clients, with a focus on diversity and maintaining strong connections with our local community. The staff are well versed in smart land use, optimizing transit solutions, sustainable design, healthy buildings, and material choices. Resilience is at the forefront of their design solutions, due to the seismic concerns posed by nearby major earthquake faults and the issues raised by climate change. The San Francisco office has a strong portfolio in the design of buildings and infrastructure. These are supported by our offerings in specialized consulting services including acoustics, transportation planning, and transaction advice. Key projects in these sectors include the LEED Platinum San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Headquarters, the Project, Concord, and the Transbay. They are also highly versed in healthcare, arts and culture, and campus design projects, including both educational and corporate campus projects. Recent work includes the UCSF Medical Center at Mission BaySan Francisco General HospitalSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Annette Jannotta, Architect, IIDA, LEED AP ID&C

Interior Architect, Flad Architects

Annette Jannotta is an interior architect with Flad Architects San Francisco.  Since childhood, she has been fascinated by creating stories and characters that inspire her to make spaces (hello Barbie’s Condo!).  She found her way to studying architecture at the University of Florida and realized that through design she could share her passion with others. Originally from South Florida, Annette left the warm Atlantic waters to design interiors for award-winning firms in Los Angeles, Singapore and San Francisco.  Many of her current and former clients are leaders in their industries and are always passionate about what they do.  They include Warner Bros., Stanford University, Rhino Records, Genentech, Singapore Changi Airport, and even the beloved late Bay Area Feng Shui master, Liu Ming. Always in pursuit of creative expression, Annette strives to balance and integrate her passion for design, photography, art installation, writing and travel, with enjoying time with her husband, extended family and two very spoiled cats.

Flad Architects is an award-winning design firm delivering high performance environments that enable our clients to elevate their potential and advance their mission. Recognized as a leader in academic, life sciences, technology and workplace design, the firm has been honored with over 90 design awards (74 AIA, 12 IIDA and 8 Lab of the Year).  By leveraging specialized expertise across eight locations including San Francisco, Seattle and New York, Flad delivers transformational design solutions as a single organism. We have earned a reputation for outstanding client service, fiscal responsibility, and design excellence over our 85-year history. Flad’s commitment to sustainable design has driven the completion of more than 50 LEED certified buildings—including the first Platinum process science facility.

Douglas Speckhard, AIA, LEED AP

Associate, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Douglas Speckhard joined Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in 1998, working in the Pittsburgh office and contributing to a variety of projects, including the Rensselaer Biotechnology Center, Yale University's Chemistry Research Building, and the Natural Sciences Building at the University of California, San Diego. Since relocating to the San Francisco office in 2003, Doug has participated in a number of projects, including the Macromedia Headquarters (now Adobe), and has worked on both corporate and academic facilities in the master planning and design phases. Doug’s most recent experience has been on a creative campus project for a large entertainment company in the Los Angeles area. Doug served as Project Architect during the master planning and conceptual design of the Core Shell phases, which developed naturally into a role as Project Manager for the Interior Fit out, working closely with the client, users and an interdisciplinary team to develop a cutting edge, collaborative workplace for a demanding internet, gaming and mobile device business unit of a large entertainment company.

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is noted for elegant and humane design, ranging from modest houses to large academic, civic, cultural, commercial and corporate buildings. The principals and staff are deeply committed to active collaboration with our clients, emphasizing thorough research and analysis of each situation's particular human, technical and economic circumstances. The result is exceptional architecture that resonates within its place. Since 1965, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has received more than 625 regional, national and international design awards, including three AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Green Projects. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson are the recipients of the American Institute of Architects Architecture Firm Award, the most prestigious honor bestowed upon an architectural practice by the Institute. The founding principal, Peter Bohlin, was awarded the Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor an individual American architect can receive.

Work Life Flexibility in the News: (must reads before the event!)

Harvard Business Review: 

Millennials Say They’ll Relocate for Work-Life Flexibility

Why some men pretend to work 80 hours a week

New York Times: 

The Unspoken Stigma of Workplace Flexibility

How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters

Huffington Post: 

Forget Balance: 5 Things You Can Do to Lead the Life You Want




EQxD Event Sponsorship

We are seeking sponsors for our ambitious 2015 Equity by Design Initiatives. If you are interested in supporting our goals for achieving equitable practice in architecture, please contact us to learn more about the multiple benefits for your support. Among other benefits, Sponsors get designated tickets for each of the workshops in 2015 based on your level of support. So make the most of your sponsorship by contacting us early! 



EQxD Get Real: Found - The Missing 32%

by Melissa Daniel

I have a theory that the missing 32% is not really missing. I believe the 32% is actually recorded higher because licensed architects who identify themselves as women choose not to volunteer in architectural surveys, join AIA or be part of any architecture group unless such activities are driven by their employer. The following are the top 5 reasons licensed women architects do not participate in any women architecture related activity:

1. I have no Time/Money.

This seems like a legitimate reason. AIA membership is expensive, and we all understand that family does come first. To participate in the architecture conversation, however, it is not necessary to either join an architecture organization nor spend time traveling to a meeting. Social media is a great way to engage the architecture community. Please note that the key word here is ‘engage’.  Simply creating a twitter account with no profile picture does not count. Get involve in the conversation. Your opinion matters.


2. Underrepresented.

This is not only frustrating but very discouraging. According to the web, Zahid Hadid is the only woman of color who practices architecture. For the licensed women who are on panels discussing women’s issues, neither have my mocha skin tone nor are in my generation. Due to this lack of representation, there’s a broad spectrum of women’s issues that are never discussed including single motherhood and sexual orientation discrimination. Topics like these cannot be discussed if we are not in the room. Let the architecture community know we exist by joining groups like LinkedIn and participate in the conversation. (Make sure you add a profile photo to your LinkedIn account. It is part of personal branding and it establishes trust.)

3. WIA (Women in Architecture)/ WID (Women in Development) is like a Sorority.

Being the newbie in any group is difficult. However, with close knit groups of women, there’s a stereotype of drama. Conversations of male‐bashing or cattiness really do not exist in WIA/WID groups. If they do in any local group, it’s time to get involved and change things. What we as women fail to realize is that the men have their own exclusive groups. It’s the usually the project architect/managers/associates that go to the bar after work while the women go home and tend to their families. It’s usually those men who bond at lunch while you eat at the workstation. They form fraternities and establish strong networks.  Ladies, we do not need to sit in our own islands. Something as simple as inviting the other female co‐worker(s) to lunch can mean all the difference. Remember, this is business.

4. Superwoman.  

The ‘superwoman’ architect has done it all. They conquered the work‐life balance and wonder why we haven’t done the same. The reality is however, they have struggled. Like their male counterparts, the ‘superwoman’ architect tends to have enormous egos and almost never show signs of weakness in public. Events like the EQxD#Hackathon taking place at the AIA National Convention in Atlanta will reveal the ‘superwoman’ architect’s struggles and tools to succeed.

5. "Sucky" Advice.

‘Be the best you can be’, ‘Be confident’, and ‘Work hard’ sounds more like a pep talk than advice. When there’s a serious question about ‘how do you handle a co‐worker when...’ is asked, finding women architects to give ‘real advice’ is difficult because there’s a perception that only superwoman architects exist out there. The best way to find the answers to the questions is to seek out women with similar situations and ask them. The problem is that these women don’t participate. A vicious cycle of the non‐participants seeking advice from other non‐participants. The only other way to find like‐minded women, join WIA/WID groups in your local area, find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. If you’re not having luck there, start your own group (physical or visual). ‘Eat the Whale’ a wise woman once told me.


About Melissa Daniel  @MelissaRDaniel 

Photo credit: D. Phinney

Photo credit: D. Phinney

Former AIA Diversity and Inclusion Council member, Melissa Daniel is passionate about changing the culture of the architecture profession. She spent the past three years as chair of the Women in Architecture Series serving AIA|DC, DCNOMA and AIA|NOVA WIA Committee. She was selected in 2012 for the Emerging Architect Award by AIA|DC, 2013 Young Architect of the year by DCCEAS and 2014 Leading Women under 40 by Maryland’s The Daily Record.


EQxD Get Real - To read more about challenges and resilience from diverse viewpoints, go here.

In a similar spirit of spontaneity of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture. 


EQxD Get Real: True Stories of Challenge & Resilience

by Rosa Sheng, AIA

Last month, Architect Magazine featured an article referencing the 2014 Equity in Architecture survey as a catalyst for the conversation; “Closing the Gender Gap: Female architects identify ways that women can push through the traditional career choke points and advance through the ranks in a male-dominated field.”  by Elizabeth Dickinson. Three architects were interviewed for their perspectives on the topic; Julia Murphy, AIA an Associate of SOM in New York City, Kelley Howell, AIA a newly named Partner of Pivot Architecture in Eugene, Oregon  and Janet Tam, AIA founding Principal of Noll and Tam in San Francisco.

While the first comment to the article sparked a slurry of conversation, it highlighted that implicit bias is still deeply rooted in Architecture. The writer's comment highlights what still remains in professional practice; a pervasive "take it or leave it" attitude towards the "tradition" to endure long hours and low pay while disregarding the fact that those tropes are driving talent away from Architectural practice.

Discussion comments to Architect Magazine article by Elizabeth Dickinson

Concurrently, there was a twitter chat suggesting that we continue the conversation started by the Architect Magazine article with a broader spectrum of viewpoints within the profession. Let's get to the heart of the challenges in Architecture from the members of the profession that are rarely heard. In a similar spirit of spontaneity to the idea of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture.  Follow #EQxDGetReal on Twitter this week to share all the stories.


Found: The Missing 32%

by Melissa Daniel 

Former AIA Diversity and Inclusion Council member, Melissa Daniel is passionate about changing the culture of the architecture profession. She spent the past three years as chair of the Women in Architecture Series serving AIA|DC, DCNOMA and AIA|NOVA WIA Committee. She was selected in 2012 for the Emerging Architect Award by AIA|DC, 2013 Young Architect of the year by DCCEAS and 2014 Leading Women under 40 by Maryland’s The Daily Record. 

Search until you find your Yes!

by LaShae A. Ferguson, Assoc. AIA

LaShae is the owner of L.A. Design Collective, LLC, An Architectural Design & Drawing Co., and graduate of the University of the District of Columbia. LaShae has co-managed design-construction projects worth over $8 million total. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and traveling.

Control less, Celebrate more, shall we? 

by Katie E. Ray

Katie is an emerging professional who currently lives in Arlington, VA and is an APM for a firm just outside of Washington DC. Her projects currently range from restaurants, bars, spas, and country clubs. She is a mother and yogi; on the weekend she loves spending time building lighting and furniture from salvaged materials.

Is the world ready for real talk?

by Karen E. Williams AIA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB 

Karen E. Williams is consistently working to educate people about the inner benefits of the architecture community. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Oregon where she teaches Revit and Professional Practice. As a means to be professional example, Karen is on the AIA-SWO board and supports STAnDD a local student group. She joined PIVOT Architecture in 2014 as a Project Architect after practicing on the east coast for 9 years.

The Long and Winding Road

by Tara Imani, AIA 

Tara Imani Designs, LLC is a premier full-service architecture and interiors solo practice, founded and led by Tara Imani, AIA. Ms. Imani is a licensed Architect in the State of Texas and a graduate of The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Architecture. Ms. Imani is also an active voice on social media and advocate for Equity in Architecture.







INSPIRE% Best Practice: Architecture Firms Champion Equity

by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Despite historically high numbers of women entering the profession, it is no secret that the top positions are still dominated by men and a culture of long hours and low pay threaten talent retention. The American Institute of Architects reports that only 19 percent of its roughly 81,000 members were women as of June, up from 11 percent in 1994. And only 12 percent of women architects serve as supervisors or licensed employers in architecture firms.

Equity in Architecture Survey Infographic by Atelier Cho Thompson

While there is a whale-list of challenges we currently face in achieving equity, we will rigorously seek out best practices and explore actionable solutions to overcome the disparities; implicit bias and in-group favoritism in hiring and promotion, women's salaries on average consistently less than men, and the negative impact of taking a leave of absence or working reduced hours (often resulting in reduced opportunities for leadership roles and meaningful work). 

The NY Times article “To Rescue Economy, Japan Turns to Supermom” by Jonathan Soble explores Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s national pledge to equity. His policies optimistically attempt to ease the way for women with more state-funded child care and other measures to foster “a society where all women shine” in spite of the country’s entrenched patriarchal societal and corporate norms. Soble also highlights that some private companies are initiating changes to work culture in hopes of jumpstarting economic recovery. In Obama's state of the union address this week, he canonized the need to adopt similar policies in the US. It is essential that each and every one of us advocate for these changes in the coming year. The most glaring example is that currently the US is the only developed nation that does NOT have government subsidized family leave.

There is a new movement emerging: beyond quotas and affirmative action backed by extensive studies that affirm the business case for equity, diversity and collaborative teams. The NY Time Article, Why Some Teams are Smarter than Others, discusses the positive outcomes of having teams with more diversity, empathy and social intelligence. The book Gender Intelligence by Barbara Annis and Keith Merron, a new mindset and effective approach to equity, is globally altering the workplace culture of major corporations. In addition to exposing the forces behind current gender inequality, they introduce game-changing principles that are inspiring a refreshing shift in thinking. The book highlights organizations that have made the transformation from a fixation on a quota-like mentality of "gender equality" towards a focus on gender equity; a philosophy that leverages the natural strengths, differences and potential of each gender to ultimately produce greater economic value and talent retention for the companies that integrate equity and diversity in their business model.

Drawing by Paul Inka

Drawing by Paul Inka

At a time when the American Institute of Architects recognizes the need for repositioning, providing greater impact and communicating value to the public we serve, we have a unique opportunity to be innovators. What can we learn from these new principles, research and case studies? How can we apply examples of best practices to innovate our often antiquated profession? We are at a point where many face an unsustainable business model and workplace culture directly attributed to the "Beaux-Arts" practice of charrette; the expectation of working long hours and up to the very last minute before a deadline.  

Today, we are pleased to feature the first 4 Architecture firms that champion equity and share their insights to inspire best practices; Shepley Bulfinch, Architecture Plus, JG Johnson Architects and PIVOT Architecture.

Shepley Bulfinch's rich legacy of leadership in design innovation dates back to its 1874 founding by H.H. Richardson in Boston. Since its early years, an emphasis on teamwork characterized the firm's work style. Its cadre of loyal and experienced staff worked together to produce the quality buildings for which it had become known. In that spirit, work was usually attributed to teams, rather than to individuals, a tradition that became stronger with the firm's transition from family business to partnership, and its incorporation in 1972.

It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that the firm promoted a woman to Principal. Today the demographic is dramatically different; of the 150 employees, 75 are women and of the 10 Principals, 5 are women. Office locations are in Boston and Pheonix. In 2004, Carole Wedge, FAIA became the first woman president in the firm's history. Since her election, Carole has championed the firm's commitment to sustainable design and a collaborative working environment that values its talent. In 2009, AIArchitect interviewed Carole about her inspirations for pursuing a career in architecture and her tenure at Shepley, which started as a clerk in the mailroom. Carole talks about the firm’s approach and policies that support equitable practice, including work-life flexibility. "The most important thing for us has been to give people flexibility to tell us what they need, and I think architecture is a field where it's pretty easy to give flexibility".

Denver-based JG Johnson Architects is an award winning hospitality and urban housing design firm that's also walking the walk. Of the 31 employees, 58 percent are women, 77 percent are licensed architects and 62 percent are in leadership positions. Nicole Nathan is part owner of JG Johnson Architects and is a licensed architect in Colorado and Texas. As Design Principal, Nathan ensures high-quality project design for both architecture and integrated interior design. Ms. Nathan shares that the firm supports a life-work balance that, if absent, would stall women in their middle careers. “The understanding that you can have a family and maintain your identity and value as an architect is what sets our firm apart,” Nathan said.

The firm’s culture encourages all its employees to keep up with their peers who are earning their licenses. “It’s motivating to watch others in the office go through it, and you’ve seen them be promoted and receive elevated roles in their projects,” said Anne Warner, an associate with the firm. “Women are driven to keep up with each other.” Heather Vasquez, another associate with the firm, agrees with that sentiment and notes that younger women often are promoted to management positions. “The leadership and management across the board is younger than at other firms I’ve worked at,” Vasquez said. “It brings new ideas and creative thinking that other firms lack.”

Jim Johnson, the firm’s founding principal, says the firm encourages the advancement of all employees based on merit. “We have been very fortunate to recruit and promote such a large percentage of highly talented and qualified female architects,” Johnson said.

Architecture Plus in Troy, New York is also a leader of design excellence and equitable practice with an employee focused, flexible work culture. When he started the firm with his partner Joseph Lomonaco 30 years ago, Frank Pitts, FAIA shares that (and AIA National 2nd Vice President for 2015) 3 of the first 4 people to join them were women. Frank believes that this, an early model of a transparent workplace with relatively flat hierarchy, a unique way of managing workloads, and their personal commitment to have a family life resulted in the supportive, flexible work/life culture that is baked in to the DNA of what the firm is today. "We've always had summer hours, flexible start and end times, comp time and technologies that allow folks to work from home." says Frank.

Of the 30 employees today, the majority of the architectural staff are women. In terms of leadership, 2 out of 7 Principals are women and 1 out of 3 Associates. Within the next 3 to 4 years, there is a scenario where the practice could be majority women owned and directed.  Most enviable is the firms open support of taking a personal or medical leave and transitions (on and off ramping) back to full time employment without jeopardizing advancement opportunities or meaningful work of good design projects. Newly promoted Principal Mary Kate Young, AIA shares her own experience about the progressive culture. 

"A flex work/life arrangement can be negotiated for almost anyone if it is desirable for the firm and the individual.  We have had older principals make arrangements for shorter work weeks as they transition to retirement. So folks work offsite regularly or as needed if they have a sick child or a personal thing to take care of that requires working from home for a day.  Mothers of small children have worked part-time.  I worked part-time for 5 years and then worked full time but was not required to come to the office on Fridays while my children were younger." 

Frank further reveals that this employee focused flexibility has resulted in a high retention rate AND a profitable design focused architectural practice with exceptional buildings and spaces for academic, healthcare and community clients. Many of these projects have received local, state, and national design awards.

Eugene, Oregon based PIVOT Architecture, was established in 1956 and is an award winning interdisciplinary practice that recently achieved LEED Platinum certification for Commercial Interiors for the firm's new office space. Of the 32 employees, 18 are women, including 10 architects and designers and 3 Associates. Among the 7 Principals, 3 are women including the recent promotion of Kelley Howell, AIA and Kari Turner, AIA as the newest Principals.

Kelley Howell has been instrumental in PIVOT landing a number of large projects including some in the higher education field. “I couldn’t have imagined a better group of people to take this next step with. I’m very excited about our work, our clients and our office. Ownership of course comes with additional responsibilities, but it also comes with the opportunity to shape and guide our future,” Kelley said. “PIVOT has always been a place where creativity and inspiration is nourished.”

A key component of PIVOT's success has been its work with transit agencies. Kari Turner as become an expert on transit architecture speaking at national conferences including Rail-Volution. Kari began her career at PIVOT prior to graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Oregon. She started as a part-time administrative assistant in 1995 while she pursued her architecture degree and joined the firm as a full time designer after graduation. She was promoted to associate in 2007. “I feel like I have grown up with PIVOT,” Kari said. “I started working here in 1995 and have been mentored and guided by all the people who have worked in the firm from the beginning. I feel lucky to have found a place that has allowed me to grow professionally and as an individual for nearly 20 years. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if it didn’t involve PIVOT.”

Have an INSPIRE% Best Practice or Firm "Equity Champion" to share? Contact us!



A Journey to Principled Design

By Jaya Kader, AIA 

Last December, during the week of Art Basel, Design Miami and numerous other Art fairs and events in the Sunshine City, I helped Caroline James put together a panel of women who practice architecture, titled “Principled Design”.  Sponsored by the AIA Miami, Miami Center for Architecture & Design, Women in Architecture Miami, and Harvard GSD Women in Design, the event was successful in weaving into an already established Harvard Alumni Program Weekend. 

The panel delved into a lively discussion on the various life experiences that architects bring into their practices and addressed such concepts as “principles, aesthetic aspirations, social concerns, joint creativity, range and structures of practice, and forms of collaboration.”   I was touched by the deep conversations that ensued as Caroline probed the panelists’ minds with questions such as:

  • What values do you bring into the design process, such as beauty or social concern?
  • Are there moral principles in design practice? 
  • Are there ways that those values translate into how you practice, such as the acknowledgment of joint creativity and collaboration?

 Bohlin Cywinski Jackson 
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   Principled Design participants: (Front Row, L to R): Louise Braverman, Lourdes Solera, Marilys Nepomechie, and Caroline James. (Middle Row): Nati Soto, Elizabeth Camargo, and Jaya Kader. (Back Row): Carie Penabad and Arielle Assouline-Lichten&nbsp;

Principled Design participants: (Front Row, L to R): Louise Braverman, Lourdes Solera, Marilys Nepomechie, and Caroline James. (Middle Row): Nati Soto, Elizabeth Camargo, and Jaya Kader. (Back Row): Carie Penabad and Arielle Assouline-Lichten 

Personally, the panel was a culmination of a two-year journey that helped me transition from being a sole practitioner in a home office, to opening a studio that is now an architectural practice of seven and growing.  There were many stations visited during this journey, and in hindsight, it is not surprising that most of them had to do with gender issues.  It is interesting that this personal/professional transformation coincided with significant events that have revealed and addressed the glaring gender issues in our profession and society at large.  For the first time since I graduated architecture school in 1988, I am finally able to weave the two most integral and essential components of my life; being a mother of four and an architect (indeed an “Archimom”) into one conversation.  For years I juggled these two roles, always downplaying one while I was engaged in the other, without clarity or synthesis.


Although I did not meet Caroline James until September 2014, I had reached out to her since I learned about the petition to the Pritzker Prize on behalf of Denise Scott Brown.  Caroline, along with Arielle Assouline-Lichten had spearheaded the petition in March of 2013, while they were students at the GSD and members of Women in Design. Understanding the implications of the petition and its subsequent refusal from the Pritzker Jury was my first call to action as a woman architect.   Up until that time, I, as well as other women architects of my generation with whom I have had these conversations, have operated with what I now call “blinders”; happy and grateful to do the work whenever it was possible, overlooking any distractions that would put our jobs in jeopardy.  But the events that followed made it impossible to continue to wear the “blinders.”

Credit: Julia Morgan Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University

Credit: Julia Morgan Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University

Last year, Julia Morgan became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal posthumously, honoring her prolific practice that spanned several decades during the first half of the 20th Century.  I had never heard of Julia Morgan, despite years of education at top institutions of higher learning.  I was privileged to attend the AIA Convention in Chicago and witness Beverly Willis' passionate speech following the Gold medal award.  For those not familiar with Beverly Willis, she established the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) in 2002 with the mission of, “changing the culture of the building industry so that women’s work, whether in contemporary practices or historical narratives, is acknowledged, respected and valued”.  An audience of thousands gave her a standing ovation at the convention, as she stated some hard truths regarding gender in architecture.

Beverly Willis delivering her speech in honor of Julia Morgan.

Beverly Willis delivering her speech in honor of Julia Morgan.

Outside our profession there have been parallel conversations that affect women in all fields.  Recent publications such as Sheryl Sandberg's “Lean In”, Debora L. Spar's “Wonder Women” and Anne Mary Slaughter's famed article “Why Women Can't Have it All” in the Atlantic, have changed the landscape of gender issues across professional and leadership fields.  And still there were those with whom I tried to engage in needed conversations around equity and inclusion, who dismissed my concerns as “problems of women from my generation.”  “The new generation of women (the so called ‘millennials’) just don't have your issues”, I was told by some.  So I wondered...  But shortly thereafter, there was Emma Watson's HeForShe 2014 campaign speech at the UN, one that clarified for everyone not only that the gender issues are ever present in 21st century western society--for women of all generations--but also highlighted a certain urgency to address them.

The last event that confirmed my call to action was my attendance at the third sold out symposium hosted by The Missing 32% Project titled "Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action!" in San Francisco last October.

Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action on October 18, 2014.&nbsp;

Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action on October 18, 2014. 

The conference was a transformative experience. As I heard speakers and witnessed the data from the early findings of the Equity in Architecture Survey first hand, I finally understood how difficult the system is set up for women to succeed in our profession.  I was most captivated by the keynote speaker, Stewart Friedman, a Wharton Professor, whose research and scholarship have contributed a new framework for the work/life balance conundrum. His work is helping us imagine a world beyond any preconceived notions of gender roles. Speaking about principles, the subject of our Miami “Principled Design” Panel, Friedman contends that AUTHENTICITY, INTEGRITY AND INNOVATION are the essential tenets to lead a life of purpose--the kind of life we all want.  Authenticity, he explains, demands that we stay true to our values which help clarify our vision.  Integrity allows us to respect the whole person, our environments and those around us. And innovation allows us to continuously search for new and creative ways to approach the work that we do. With these tools at hand, we should then map a future vision where our personal goals are in-sync with making significant contributions to our community, society and world. “Whatever your passions are”, he said, “CONVERT THEM TO SOCIAL VALUE”.  Which brings me back to the Women in Architecture Panel, the subject of this blog, “Principled Design.”

And it was no coincidence that “Principled Design” took place during a week of art and design “explosion” in Miami.  For it is clear that design matters, and architecture is a powerful tool to transform and enhance the human experience.  What we build has the potential to grace and contribute to our lives as well as our precious environments.  Long after we are gone, our contributions as architects will bear witness to our values.  There are all kinds of ways to practice architecture and both men and women that engage in practices across the spectrum.  I do sense however a shift in the profession from the emphasis on the hero designer and “starchitect” to a collaborative and service minded approach. 

So to all of us women who are part of this wondrous profession in 2015, I would like to encourage you to “lean in” and not give up on this profession. Do not become part of the Missing 32%.  Our society is in need of our contributions, and we happen to be a privileged generation.  We no longer have to remain silent, or with “blinders”, or in the background.  We are humbled with gratitude, and admiration for all the women pioneers that paved our path in a most hostile landscape, such as Julia Morgan, Denise Scott Brown and Beverly Willis. We can learn from them to be empowered through our knowledge and contributions but we need not be intimidated by obsolete norms of status quo.  We can be authentic.  We can sit at the table and have these conversations whose object is to figure out how we can work together towards an inclusive and diverse profession that recognizes and values all of its constituents.


To learn about Jaya Kader's amazing INSPIRE% journey click HERE