October Thesis Feature #2

Today we feature our second blog post highlighting one of the projects from this year’s thesis showcase winners. Great insight for those in the middle of this type of project!

3 Lessons from My Architectural Thesis

Pedro Sanchez

Much of my experience during my thesis project holds true in the professional world. It all seems different at first, but it is all about how you approach each challenge you face. Most of what you learn in school is actually independent of scale and topic. With that in mind, it seems that for most people, the thesis project carries the most pressure. A wise friend and colleague once said that the thesis does not define you. It does not have to be the best project you’ve ever seen. Putting too much pressure on yourself can leave you paralyzed. This is true for every project, and the thesis is just another test.

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My thesis, titled “Recovering Civic Space”, looks at the role that freeway and rail infrastructure plays as it relates to the city. It is about taking an area of uninhabitable and divisive infrastructure and elevating it to something civic. It accepts the premises that the presence of, and the need for, that infrastructure will remain. Just south of the Capitol Building, I’m proposing a master plan that makes use of valuable land, reconnects neighborhoods, and connects a place experienced through a series of civic spaces.

1. Sometimes the Topic Chooses You

You might be interested in everything, which if you are like me, makes it difficult to pick a topic for your thesis. The main thing to do is to not panic. Surround yourself with images and texts revolving around topics that you find interesting. If the project is going to choose you, then all you have to do is facilitate. Have conversations with your colleagues, professors, and even just with yourself. At this point you are well versed in the studio culture, and you know that sometimes you just have to try something and get feedback.

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This thesis project began with a conversation with my thesis chair, landing the project in a broad area of Washington D.C. Although I did not have a topic yet, I had the start. We knew that the selected area had many problems, and the topic emerged from studying those problems. The whole project felt like a discovery.

2. When Time is Scarce

Try to be realistic about what you can produce, while considering time and resources. One must accept the fact that you won’t solve everything. The process of figuring out what your thesis will cover, or what type of story it will tell, is one of discovery. As you study, iterate, and work through challenges and ideas, you begin to understand the problem – or the thesis. I would ask myself – When I am done producing my drawings, what big picture problem will I be addressing? I think this helps to not get stuck on the small stuff.

Time is something I had very little of. I was blessed enough to participate in the 2017 ULI Hines Competition which I devoted an entire month to. I was also blessed to have a Teaching Assistant position, teaching first year architectural studio, which took time and brain power. Meanwhile, a large portion of my time was spent struggling to understand what kind of project this was, and how I was going to present it.

You may have a perfect plan of how to execute your thesis, but remember, that you might get thrown off by your thesis committee, or even simply change your mind. As with any project, you might be forced to invent new ways to get things done. That is part of the beauty. You might even learn a few skills.

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As I found myself with one month left to go, and no images to show for my efforts, I was forced to MacGyver my way to the finish line. One and a half weeks of SketchUp modeling, and most of my urban design and buildings were done. Two days of Lumion and 2 days of Photoshop and I had 18 renderings that were unique and extremely well received. I even managed to create a 3-minute. Of course, it was a bit more complicated than that as it was a process of discovery.

3. When the Problem is Too Big

The size of the problem depends on how you approach it. You may find yourself with a very large project in the physical sense, such as an urban design project. This can be stressful, as you try to incorporate architecture and design of spaces. As we know time is very limited. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. You don’t have to be creative in every single aspect of your project. Your strategy will have more value than the uniqueness of the product. Use your creativity when approaching the problem, instead of trying to be creative with the solution. If you have a unique view of the problem, then the solution will naturally follow.

Your project might seem to be asking too much of you, and sometimes all it needs is an answer, not the most creative or unique answer. In architecture we look at precedents to learn about topics, and for inspiration. We can also look at precedents as pieces of the puzzle that you can place, remove, and move around your project. Especially with a large urban design project. In fact, placing precedents in your project as test fits can help you farther understand the problem.

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My thesis project had several large areas that needed design, including streets, urban spaces, and the buildings that created them. Although I had ideas of what I wanted those spaces to be, precedents were especially helpful in executing the idea when time was very limited. They also helped others understand the quality of space, and proved that it was all possible. The selected precedents did not come out of thin air and were not hard to find. They were consistent with the ideas I stood for and the vision I hoped to create.

You may notice that there is not much that is new in your thesis project. You have learned all the skills and critical thinking to complete it. The things that are new will naturally come from you. Give yourself a pat in the back, relax, and remember that there is life after thesis.

 

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5 Favorites Friday

1. If the state of the nation makes you want to do something (but you just don’t know what):

 

METORING WORKSHOP 5_BANNER

Our fourth mentoring workshop is coming up next week! Aimee Custis, deputy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, will be joining us to discuss real-world examples from her work in advocacy. Aimee will break down the steps you can take to reach the right audience and effectively use your resources to create the change you’d like to see at the local, regional, and national levels. Register today!


2. Hurricane season has you really concerned about Latin America but you don’t know how to give back.


3. Because talking to structural engineers gets you really excited! (Really!)

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Image from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners/Hickok Cole Architects

We are planning our second joint construction tour of the new International Spy Museum with the structural engineering young members group (SEAMW-YMG)! The tour is scheduled for Tuesday, October 17th and they always sell out fast! Make sure to register early for this one!


4. If you need a little bit of inspo to get to work on a Friday:

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea’.”

-Chuck Close, American artist who achieved fame as a photorealist through massive-scale portraits


5. You’re feeling like you should be volunteering more often in general…

Join Teass Warren Architects and the Washington Architectural Foundation at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to celebrate National Public Lands Day! Volunteers will assist with the removal of cut lotus from the park’s ponds as well as a variety of other park improvement projects including transplanting perennials, removing invasive species, and picking up litter.

5 Questions for Brian Kelly

THESIS SHOWCASE SPLASH

This week we sat down with Brian Kelly, Professor and Director of the Architecture Program at the University of Maryland, to discuss what he sees as opportunities and challenges for recent graduates in anticipation of our Fourth Annual Thesis Showcase next Tuesday! You can register here.

  1. Are there specific themes that you have been seeing in recent thesis projects (i.e. sustainability, robotics, etc.)?

    In the past few years theses have increasingly focused on the big issues of our time. Students regularly probe issues of sustainability and resilience. For some students this is the central theme of their thesis investigation, but for nearly all students, theses tend to intersect these topics and students develop insightful responses to our current predicament. More and more thesis projects are taking up the problems of cities. This is particularly relevant as we see increased interest in living in compact, walkable, transit-oriented environments, like Washington, DC. Similarly, there are consistently groups of students who explore the social, economic, cultural, and environmental problems of places like Baltimore where there are drastic shifts in populations, deteriorated housing stock, de-densification, and gentrification in many areas. We also see trends to bring in experts from allied disciplines in the context of thesis.

    It is not unusual to have faculty members from Planning, Preservation, or Real Estate Development sitting on committees and students diving deep into these issues as they impact architectural thinking. Likewise, students are increasingly reaching outside of the allied disciplines in order to do deep dives into thesis topics, NASA scientists on campus, urban agriculture experts, and mentors in visualization all come to mind as additional resources rallied by students in the completion of their thesis work.

  2. Has your program made any changes to align with recent efforts to prepare students to take exams earlier?

    We are a NCARB approved iPAL provider, but we have yet to bring the program online due to a series of campus-wide approvals that need to be in place. We encourage students to engage AXP and are open to the idea of earlier engagement of the ARE, but there have been no structural changes in this arena.

  3. What do you believe is the biggest challenge for recent grads transitioning into the work place?

    Time management is the biggest skill that I think students don’t fully appreciate. School allows lots of flexibility, while in the workplace you need to perform efficiently and reliably. I think that some of our most successful graduates transition well because they have developed the ability to manage time. I also think that understanding that every project needs leadership at all levels is another important challenge. If you want to succeed, you need to convince your colleagues that you are capable of leadership even if you are relegated to the task of working out details for a fire stair or toilet room.

  4. What skills do you think recent grads can bring to a new office that might not be realized/utilized currently?

    I feel that students today care deeply about the environment and social conditions. They are well-versed in bringing knowledge into the equation beyond just that of the formal/technical dimensions of architecture. Unlike my generation that was preoccupied with issues of style and content, this generation understands that the solutions to the pressing problems that face them requires deep knowledge of the discipline of architecture and a broad knowledge of other disciplines that can inform what we do.

  5. Has the approach to teaching design thinking evolved/changed because of the millennial culture?

    Many millennials don’t know how to use their hands. Unlike students from a decade or two ago, the tradition of drawing, model making, even free-play, seem to have been pushed to the wayside in favor of a digital world. We believe that mastery of digital skills is necessary, but architects build real things in the real world, and thus need to draw and make models. Drawing offers insights into architecture and design thinking that digital media cannot replicate. I am reminded of how Louis Kahn always started design projects with charcoal and soft clay because the ideas were ill-formed at the beginning of the design process and thus needed media that could be forgiving and permit interpretation.

There’s still time to register for tonight’s event! Come with more questions!

5 Favorites Friday

1. If you feel like you could use a bit of creative inspiration:

THESIS SHOWCASE SPLASH

The fourth annual Thesis Showcase will take place on September 12th! Come check out a curated selection of thesis projects and take advantage of the opportunity for practitioners to view a sample of the work emerging from architecture schools. Register here!


2. You know that it’s about time to start to give back and helping to solve world hunger appeals to you.


3. Because you would love the opportunity to take over this blog:

August Meeting

Our September meeting is scheduled for Wednesday the 6th, which is important to note because it’s a week earlier than usual! Come help us brain storm about what 2018 should look like with the EAC!


4. You didn’t get enough time to socialize at our event because you were so excited about the food…

USGBC National Capital Region’s Emerging Professionals is hosting an end of summer social on September 18th! Come join a host of other professionals interested in sustainability and take advantage of the Wunder Garten’s awesome beer selection!


5. Because we’re feeling a little nostalgic about that rooftop last week…

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Thanks again to everyone who was able to attend our Summer Networking Bash! We’re looking forward to more events like it in the future!

5 Favorites Friday

1. If that last peer review has you thinking about starting your own firm:

MENTORING WORKSHOP 3_BANNER

Our third mentoring session of the #ArchitectUp series will be kicking off Tuesday July 25th! This month we are featuring a panel of three architects that are heavily involved in the business side of things to help get you thinking about the business know-how the architecture world requires. Register today!


2. If you want to spend some time looking up this weekend.


3. If you’d like to stop hearing people remind you to network and finally DO SOMETHING about it:

Banner w location

We’re hosting the second annual Summer Networking Bash on the Dock 79 rooftop, just behind Nats stadium, on August 17th! Come chat with other young leaders from the real estate, development, and architecture industries. Plenty of food and beer to break the ice! Registration is now open!


4. You find large installation art intriguing, but BBQ even more intriguing.


5. If you’re looking for some professional advice:

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Big take away from our monthly meeting: take the AREs as soon as possible!

5 Questions for WeWork

In anticipation of our upcoming mentoring session at WeWork Crystal City, we asked the community manager Alissa Avilov a few questions about the atmosphere and how she achieves balance between work and life.

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Common Area at WeWork Crystal City

1. You are Community Manager at WeWork/WeLive, and also live in the community. For those unfamiliar with the concept, what is your elevator pitch for WeWork/WeLive, in fifty words or less?

WeWork/WeLive is a space that is all about fostering community and collaboration through programming and design. We have offices or apartments combined with communal spaces like pantries, conference rooms, media lounges, chefs kitchens, libraries and yoga studios.

2. This mentoring workshop is focused on work/life balance, a concept architects have been known to struggle with, both in academia and in the profession. What tips do you have for maintaining a healthy balance between one’s work life and one’s home life?

Taking time to do things that will clear your mind – for me that is cooking or taking a walk outside. Also, I’ve learned to be ok with leaving work with a to do list. At first this was a challenge, but I had to realize that I just can’t always get everything done. Accepting this did wonders for me being able to enjoy life when I was not at work (but I still check my phone a lot).

3. By putting one’s workplace and their living space in one building, the WeWork/WeLive model uses the built environment to blur the physical boundary that typically exists between our work lives and our home lives. From a time management standpoint, what are the advantages and disadvantages of living where you work?

The blessing/curse is the commute. Yes, you are saving time but you are also missing out on things like sunlight, me time, and feeling like you are leaving your house and coming to work. What I love is that I can have a long night at work and take 4 seconds to get home, this is really convenient. For me, thinking about things like packing a lunch before coming to work help me manage my time more effectively, but that might not be the case for others.

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Work space at WeWork Crystal City

4. WeWork/WeLive also uses the built environment to encourage interaction via shared spaces: communal kitchens, lounge areas, and workspaces where you may work alongside people in completely unrelated fields. This is also a concept being rolled out in open office settings, including many architecture firms. Overall, what type of feedback has this “unsiloing” yielded at WeWork/WeLive?

This is what we are all about. I think it’s especially interesting with WeLive because we’ve shifted so far away from this in our tech fueled lives. To encourage people to look up from their phones and say hi to a neighbor, or come to a wine tasting with people they don’t know in their building, has actually yielded pretty special results. People are often hesitant when they move in, and then they end up connecting with others and being grateful for the space.

5. Final question, for the architects in attendance: what is the one design takeaway from the WeWork/WeLive community you would like to see used more widely in workplace or residential design?

The open design that allows people to flow through the space without ever having to run into an awkward corner or anything like that.

For more info on the WeWork community, come check out the tour this Tuesday the 25th at the Crystal City location!

5 Tips for Your First AIA Conference

So, you’re heading to Orlando next week for the newly rebranded AIA Conference and figure maybe you should try to get the most out of the trip professionally and not just take advantage of a springtime trip to Florida.  Well, if you’re a first timer – or a conference vet looking for a few new tips – check out our suggestions below!

1. Sign up for your seminars early.

Back in the day, you used to be able to get away with showing up the first day of the convention conference, flipping through the guide, and popping in and out of sessions like a teenager turning a single movie ticket into a theater-hopping marathon.  Nowadays, though, you need to come with a plan.  Why is that?  Well, for one reason, because you sort of have to or you can’t actually get into the sessions (at least not if you want the associated CEUs).   More importantly, there is way too much to try and figure out on the fly. With over 500 seminars, tours, events, and workshops, it’s simply too big to try and get away without a little up front planning. Trust me on this one; take a little time and figure out where you’re going to be heading.

2. Also, diversify your schedule.

Speaking of all those choices – try not to pick three days’ worth of just [insert literally any topic here].  Just because your firm works on mixed-use urban development projects, don’t think you’re doing them – or yourself – any favors by soaking up 24 hours of just that topic.  Seriously, take the opportunity to engage in something new. There are so many different speakers to hear discussing emerging technologies, starting your own firm, healthcare design, accessibility concerns, sustainable design, mentorship… I could keep going, but you get the point.  I’m not saying don’t sign up for sessions that directly relate to what you’re doing today – that would just be silly. But think about what will relate to what you’re doing tomorrow and further down the road.

3. Download the Conference App. And use it!

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If you didn’t know, AIA has an app that you can download that will sync with your schedule, give you vendor locations at the expo, and even allow you to chat real time with presenters during the sessions.  This is probably my favorite evolution from the first convention I went to back in 2006 – makes your life much much easier as you’re wandering around the convention center trying to figure out where your next session is.  The website doesn’t appear to have an updated link yet, but I already found it on Google Play with my sessions synced!

4. Go to the Emerging Professionals Party!

Thursday night for $30 – the food, drink, and networking is most definitely worth the price of admission! Seriously this is a great event, so grab a friend and go make some new ones! Speaking of…

5. Do some legitimate networking.

Yes, it’s always more comfortable to stick around your group of friends or coworkers – especially at an event that draws thousands of students, architects and exhibitors.  But, if you’re not making an effort to talk to new people at your seminars and expand your network then you’re missing out on one of the biggest benefits of attending the conference.  Granted, you may not see the person sitting next to you in a lecture at any other point during the conference – then again, they could be your next boss, partner, or client.  You have no way of knowing for sure, so why take the chance? Make an effort to get outside your comfort zone and meet someone new.

BONUS: Check out the Expo, but be smart about it!

At my first AIA convention I made the rookie mistake of picking up every piece of literature at the Expo and nearly had to buy another piece of luggage to get it all home – where it sat at my desk until I cleaned house the following spring. Don’t do that.  Engage with the exhibitors and leave your card if you really do want to follow up with someone, but do yourself a favor and leave all the papers and trinkets where they lay.  We’re in a digital age where you can sign up for emails or visit websites that have whatever information you want.  There is literally no reason to get hard copies of anything, and I’m willing to bet you don’t need another canvass tote or foam stress ball with a logo blazoned on it.  Just don’t do it!

What the *bleep* is an Architect?!

 

Architecture Uncensored is one of the most thought-provoking events the EAC organizes. Each year has a new theme, exploring topics that no one really discusses openly at work. Our discussions have been known to spur some gentle debate, but are always highly productive and very educational. The panel setup really encourages architects (and others!) to think about important issues from multiple perspectives.

This year, given the ever-evolving role of the profession with titles ranging from “master-builder” to “thought leader”, we are exploring what it means to be an architect in current times through the eyes of three groups: Architect / Client / Public. The theme: “What the *bleep* is an Architect?!” (Ironically, the title of Architecture Uncensored this year is, in fact, censored.. we can’t just say these things).

Our first discussion coming up on February 28th is called “What the *bleep* is an Architect?! In the Eyes of an Architect?” While planning, we thought finding panelists for this would be the easiest because “Hey, we know a lot of architects!”. The reality is it’s extremely difficult to determine what an architect IS because there are so many options. Architects really do SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS. The goal of this first lecture is to try and define what it is that we DO. Selecting architects from firms throughout the area as well as the academic world should give us a great conversation and kick-off to the series.

I always leave these panel discussions feeling renewed and refreshed – they really confirm why I got into architecture and just how passionate our colleagues are about people and the environments we design. We’re pumped to have great panelists locked down for the first session and we’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Registration is live here via AIA|DC.

Mark your calendars with the dates!
• February 28 : “What the *bleep* is an Architect?! In the Eyes of an Architect?”
• March 28 : “What the *bleep* is an Architect?! In the Eyes of an Client?”
• April 25 : “What the *bleep* is an Architect?! In the Eyes of the Public?”

5 Things to Know About the EAC to Kick Off 2017!

1. Our members are as diverse as the profession.

So… Who exactly is the EAC?

The AIA|DC Emerging Architect Committee is a group of young professionals who seek to learn from one another and grow within the Architectural Industry. There are no membership fees, and you do not have to be an AIA member to be active in the committee. The only requirement is that you have not been licensed for 10 years or more.

To be actively involved in the committee you can be part of our amazing core team or simply join our incredible events throughout the year! Core team members strategically plan and organize our programs, while forming lasting relationship across the profession.

2. We have 4 main areas of focus:

We believe that incredible opportunities come from within our own industry, and that sharing knowledge and collaborating with one-another is the best way to succeed as a profession. Our four main areas of focus are:

  • ADVOCATE for emerging architects
  • PROVOKE and talk about the future of the profession
  • MENTOR the next generation of architects
  • OUTREACH to the community, other AIA members, and the public

3. We all join for similar reasons, but we come with different perspectives…

The majority of our members will say the same thing when you ask: “Why did you join the EAC?” They will tell you that they were new to DC. Or that they were interested in growing their professional network. Or that they believe in a larger message to shape the profession.

The perspectives and backgrounds of our members and our program participants however, are far and farther between. Our members are architects, engineers, product reps, and consultants.  Our education and backgrounds span from coast to coast. Some are licensed and others never plan to be. And we each practice in very different ways.

Come share your story at the next committee meeting!

4. We meet to plan, and we plan to meet!

Our monthly committee meetings occur on the 2nd Wednesday of the month at Gensler (2020 K Street NW). Our various events however, happen throughout the year, typically on weekdays from 630-8pm, and range in locations all across the city.

Upcoming events are posted to the AIA|DC calendar one month in advance. If you are interested in learning more about events for the year, feel free to reach out to one of our executive committee members listed on the EAC webpage.

5. Events for everyone…

Our 20+ events over the course of the year are designed to connect people across all levels of experience in the profession, because lets be honest –  in architecture – there is always more to learn! From our Portfolio and Resume Building Workshops, to our Architecture Uncensored Series, to our joint Construction Tours with the Structural Engineers Association – the EAC program list is filled with exciting and educational events for all levels of experience.

We hope to see you at our next one!

Follow us on social media, #AIAdcEAC

 

Last EAC Meeting of the year at @HickokCole tomorrow, Dec. 14

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, Dec. 14) will be the last monthly meeting of the Emerging Architects Committee for 2016.  The meeting will be held at 6.30 pm at the offices of Hickok Cole Architects. We’ll wrap up the year and talk about what’s to come (new officers, new members, and new plans) for 2017.

WHEN: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 6.30-8.00pm
WHERE: Hickok Cole Architects, 1023 31st Street NW, Washington, DC 20007