Young Architect Conference: Part 2, We Landed!

We woke up at 4:30am to take the earliest flight Thursday morning to the conference. It was five hours to San Fran, and I worked on finalizing my presentation most of that flight. I was still trying to fit the most information possible into the worlds shortest hour and a half!

Once our events started on Friday morning, I completely put my presentation out of my head! The first workshop was done by Mike, who welcomed everyone and spoke about entrepreneurship and architecture and his goals for the future of the profession. My three favorite points are the ones he always makes so well -

1. Every time you sit down to work, whether its for yourself or another company, you're trading your time for dollars.

2. If you have found a problem, can solve the problem, you can monetize your skills and effort in doing so. THIS is the foundation of your business plan.

3. Establishing multiple streams of income can help you regulate your income into something more steady than a "gig".

Under this umbrella of entrepreneurship, finding or creating the perfect job for you is a combination of the skills you learned in school and at your other jobs, weighing your values against the things you enjoy and hate to do, and tying all of those pieces together. It's both who you are and how you add value - because you won't get paid if you can't do the latter.

The second workshop of the day was public speaking. I think Cherise was one of my newest-found internet friends before the conference, and she certainly brought the gusto with her!! Meeting Cherise in person after stalking her twitter was a huge inspiration. I don't think that woman is afraid of anything anymore!! Her public speaking workshop was just the thing I needed to hear. So many wonderful tidbits - I tried to right down as many as I could - but the best part was really mulling them over within the context of what my plan was for the following day.

  • The people watching you want you to succeed.

  • What does the audience care about most?

  • If your goal is to connect with your audience, respond to their body language and voiced questions. Make eye contact and be honest.

  • Memorize the sequence of your content, NOT your slides.

  • It's OK to pause. Don't hide!!

  • Don't mention nerves or mistakes.

  • If you're excited, be excited! Authenticity wins the day.

Day one's motto was:

"Be yourself in service to the profession. Don't give up; face everything and rise!"

For me, the 2020's is going to be a decade of hard truths in the face of climate change, avoiding a mid-career meltdown, and being true to my values and commitment to social responsibility. The vision of success I have always stems from the values I relate to, and manifest in the execution of the project. You will have lots of issues outside of your control as you move through your career, but you CAN control what matters to you.

While at Virginia Tech, my values were shaped by those people and courses I was exposed to. Our motto - Ut Prosim, That I May Serve - calls me to consider the deeper promise I made when I registered to practice architecture. My leadership through service to the community and a growing desire to share my energy and passion for projects with others are what make my projects and clients successful. The first day of the YAC gave me the headspace I needed to give myself permission to aim higher and further than I have in a long time, and after that, I was ready for day 2!

Our opening keynote on Saturday was from a gentleman I had never even heard of before the conference, but made a huge impression on my experience there in Portland. Wandile Mthiyane grew up in Durban, South Africa. In the beginning his keynote, he explained how when he came to the US to study architecture, he was shocked at the odd nature that our schools spoke about the theory and history of architecture. For Wandile, architecture was a necessity in the form of shelter for your family and your business, and much less about when Corinthian columns were used, or which modern architects also designed Utopian master plans a la Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse. Our institutions are not the end-all-be-all of our learning.

In Wandile's experience, the local and regional methods of crafting and construction were suddenly not "real" architecture, even though as children they were building structures that would remain standing for years. In living the practice of architecture after graduating and moving back to South Africa, it was the community and their needs that spurred the larger conversation about social inequity and the accessibility of fundamental human needs and rights. Wandile's architecture in practice is representative of his desire to make what has always been institutionalized and selective and inaccessible, available and human. It is about understanding how laws make lifestyles illegal, and how communities that play a zero-sum game lose the most. Long term impact is actively NOT zero sum, if you're doing architecture the way Wandile sees architecture.

"Ubuntu" means I am because you are. We are a collective when we see each other for who we are as people within a collective community, not commodities. Wandile's company supports communities through designing, funding, and building dignified homes that encourage productive economic spaces and create tight-knit communities. In fact, you should just go peruse every page of his website to get a better feel for what Wandile and UDG are capable of.

The other keynote that truly spoke to me on Day 2 was the keynote by Mariela Bravo - an architect from Puerto Rico and a person who introduced us to a thoughtful and passionate discussion about how we care for our communities when something unexpectedly bad happens. Mariela is dedicated to building the conversation around what a true investment for her community meant. In the face of climate change, we must be real and honest about the impacts to our societies and what we are willing to do to learn and fix them. Nature is claiming back her space, and our attitudes around sustainability and resiliency must be collectively reestablished. We as architects must be stronger in educating our clients based on our experiences and knowledge. We must be honest and real about the priority of these design considerations.

Our societies can and should protect us during emergencies. Loss of power, contamination of water, lack of food, and other huge and serious threats to our survival can be countered by the way we design our buildings and shape our societies. Access to medical services, fuel, and safe facilities are huge services that many communities experiencing natural disasters go without for days or weeks at a time. First responders are typically overwhelmed in the cases that include surprises like in the last minute path change of a hurricane, or the abruptness of an earthquake. We can help to mitigate these problems, and Mariela shared thoughtful and sincere ways to adapt to help solve these needs. Her presentation is free and available on Facebook as photos so that the YAC community could continue to discuss how the strategies she emphasizes can be creatively employed in our communities as well.

We can be encouraging our neighbors to care for each other - to make community-wide plans based around support. Inclusion of resiliency as a design tenant can be centered around our social, economic, and environmental health.We can be talking to our local officials, working to support zoning and flood map updates, as well as employing new technologies and building strategies to create more resilient and adaptive communities. They will be different for all of us as we face the world to come, but I'd much rather face it together than alone.

Day two's motto was:

Architecture is a mirror of a communities' values and successes and failures. We are here to evaluate how we contribute, and to do so wisely and purposefully.

**The story continues in Part 3**

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