Session 2: Entrepreneurship & Management

Date: November 03, 2017
Location: Knoll Inc – 1050 K Street, NW 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20001
Led by: Ethan Walker and Teri Coates, AIA
Session Sponsor: Microdesk
Venue Sponsor: Knoll

Ethan Walker and Teri Coates organized the second session of the year focused on entrepreneurship and management, held at the Knoll showroom. There was a specific emphasis on how these ideas look outside of the practice of architecture. Our first speaker, Marc Steren, spoke about the process of idea generation and consumer research required to create a successful and profitable product. Bill Spauling then discussed the variety of social styles that likely make up an office setting and how to work together in a successful way despite these differences. Our third speaker, Ben Miller, introduced his company, Fundrise, and the regulatory challenges that come along with creating a different type of investing business. Brad Bauer of Bluecadet then walked the group through the different skill sets that have contributed to his company’s success. We finished the day with the challenge of creating a two minute pitch to be presented to the group, utilizing Jeff Reid’s “6 steps to a Successful Pitch”.

Presentation #1 – Systems and Frameworks for Entrepreneurialism
Marc Steren of Georgetown University kicked us off with an introduction to the process of entrepreneurship. His presentation centered on the ability to pivot during the creative process while finding and identifying problems to solve. Marc discussed his Business Model Canvas and the steps to creating. The first step he identified was to create a value proposition. This proposition helps to identify the problem, build out the need for a solution, create a social connection, and determine the jobs that can be done. Once the value proposition is identified, Marc talked about the importance of identifying the appropriate client through customer interviews and open ended questions. He finished his presentation by walking the group through his process with his latest product, its testing, and its adoption by a major buyer.

Presentation #2 – Knowledge Management
Bill Spaulding of Bergmeyer began the second presentation by providing a thorough review of the group’s survey results. Scholars were asked to take a survey prior to the session to help identify social styles including: Analytical, Drive, Amiable, and Expressive. People of each social style communicate to others in a variety of different ways, in both a leadership position and when working as a member of supporting staff. Bill walked us through ways to resolve conflict with others that might have different social styles than our own by presenting a variety of scenarios to the group. He also introduced us to ways in which Bergmeyer tries to stay in touch with its employees through their internal intranet. Bill finished his presentation by discussing knowledge management, supported by sharing knowledge, a critical knowledge of specific information, and the ability to surround yourself with a knowledge community.

Presentation #3 – Office Culture and Entrepreneurialism
Ben Miller from Fundrise discussed his own entrepreneurial experiences. Fundrise serves as an online investment platform that believes in delivering a simpler, smarter, and more reliable way to invest money. Ben spoke on local investment in the DC market and the overall strategy in the startup process. He described the ins and outs of recognizing both valuable opportunities and the signs that something is not working. A key point of discussion was the ‘speed of change’ and how the desire for linear growth may not always be realistic. Actual growth may meander in a variety of ways, but with a good idea and persistence the target growth can still be reached.

Presentation #4 – Entrepreneurial Habits
For the final speaker of the day, Brad Baer from Bluecadet, broke down the personal styles and positions within their company and how it has led to success for them. By focusing on the roles and players within their office, it showed the importance of each person in the overall success. Brad shared knowledge behind the process of many unique projects such as the Museum of the American Revolution, Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, and Hoover-Mason Trestle. Bluecadet brought a unique focus described as “the Process is the Project.”

Activity #1 – Mini Pitch Competition
The culminating activity of the day involved scholars testing their own entrepreneurial creativity with a mini “shark tank” style pitch competition. Scholars were paired off and given the objective to quickly and concisely sell an idea that would benefit their firm using knowledge gathered from the various topics of the day. Pitch ideas ranged from new food programs for the office, technological advancements, mentoring programs, reward systems, and even an umbrella exchange. Each team gave an enthusiastic pitch as they tried to beat the clock and concisely sell their idea. The pitches followed  Jeff Reid’s “Six Steps to a Successful Pitch”, which include:

-Define the problem
-Describe your solution
-Explain the business model
-Make the ask


Session 1: Working Together

Date: October 6, 2017
Location: District Center Roof Terrace, 555 12th Street, Washington, DC 20004
Led by: Alison Pavilonis and Adam Davie
Sponsors: HITT Contractors and MetLife


Alison Pavilonis and Adam Davie organized Session #1, “Working Together,” which was held at the District Center Roof Terrace. Adam gave a brief project history of the District Center building and its current renovation. The three presentations focused on multiple pathways to enable self-awareness through personality traits, diffusing and resolving conflicts within a team, and realizing potential pitfalls when trying to get a group consensus.  Prior to the session, the team was given the OCEANs-Big 5 Personality Survey and Tolerance for Ambiguity, which was analyzed by our first speaker, Julie Broad. Small group sessions with panelists Christian Zazzali, Matt Robinson, Jim Landau, and Scott Silveste, who represented stakeholder views from the owner, contractor, and consultant perspective, provided the opportunity to share and learn from each other’s personal experiences. Finally, the group learned how powerful transparency and a dollar can be through a real-time negotiation exercise led by Holly Ellis and Ali Fernandez.

Presentation #1 – Psychological Capital

Julie Broad, the founder of Organizational Sciences, LLC, and The Positive Organizational Behavior Institute, led an engaging conversation that defined untapped Psychological Capital (PC). Through her work with DHS and FEMA, she demonstrated the benefits of building up PC in order to increase resilience, self-awareness, and health and well-being. Ms. Broad stressed the importance of understanding ourselves both as an individual and as part of a team. She also outlined the HERO model:

  • H: Hope -Build hope by setting and maintaining goals using multiple pathways
  • E: Efficacy -Build efficacy (confidence) by going with natural passion
  • R: Resilience -Increase resilience by identifying creative pathways; reflect on assets vs. risks
  • O: Optimism – Increase optimism by positive self-talk and emotions

The group further learned about individual and team member traits by taking the OCEANs Big 5 Personality and Tolerance for Ambiguity survey.  Every personality has a place and a time, in a team.

Presentation/Activity #1 Photo

Presentation #2 – Round Table Discussion – The Architect’s Role: Working together with team members and stakeholders

Four professionals representing the viewpoints of a building owner, a contractor, and a consultant, discussed the architect’s role in facilitating conflict resolutions. Christian Zazzali, Vice President at HITT Contracting, discussed examples of finding paths to compromise and reaching solutions as a team, in lieu of leaving details to means and methods. Scott Silvester, Associate Principal at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., has dealt with complex structural designs and echoed Mr. Zazzali’s sentiment. Mr. Silvester shared a personal experience where honesty and acknowledging his own mistake eliminated the blame game and enabled the project team to come up with a quick solution.  Matt Robinson, Principal at MRP Realty, highlighted the process of getting to the root of a problem.  With his experience in the real estate industry and multi-family residential, Mr. Robinson shared a case study of how multiple floods in a building were resolved swiftly. Jim Landau, Director at MetLife Real Estate, added that good communication and collaboration leads to strong relationships that continue over multiple projects. The conversation continued through rotating small group discussions with each presenter. The conclusion, not everything drawn is buildable, but by working together towards a solution and showing kindness, one can establish a long-lasting relationship for the future.

[Presentation/Activity #2 Photo]

Presentation #3 – Activity: System in a Room

The last activity of the day, called “System in a Room,” was led by Holly Ellis and Alejandra Fernandez, both Senior Associates at Jones Lang LaSalle. Ms. Ellis and Ms. Fernandez have conducted this activity for various clients including businesses and other CKLDP classes. The goal of “System in a Room” is to challenge one’s ideals, pre-conceptions, and problem-solving skills. Participants each contributed $1 and were given pieces of paper with numbers or letters written on them. The four people (“management”) with letters were told to leave the room and were given instructions behind closed doors. If they got the remaining people “workers” to get in sequential order, then everyone would get $1.50. If they should fail, everyone would lose their money. The “workers” were given specific instructions as well: stay in their seats and keep their number.  If not, they would lose their dollars.  After re-entering the room and revealing the instructions given to them, “management” used transparency and honesty to win over the “workers” after a long, back and forth discussion. With five minutes remaining, the “workers” agreed to move and get in sequential order.  Ms. Ellis then mentioned that less than 5% of groups have success in getting the “workers” to move, which prompted a thoughtful Q & A. Despite culture, history, and pre-conceptions, this particular group succeeded through immediate, open communication and persistent transparency.

[Presentation/Activity #3 Photo]

Session 8: Developing Your Future With-in The Practice

Date: May 5, 2017
Location: District Architecture Center
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00pm
Led by: Carrie Parker, AIA LEED AP BD+C & Mary-Margaret Stacy, AIA LEED Green Assoc.

Session 8 (Full PDF)
Session 8 Agenda
Session 8 Speakers

When the profession is more inclusive, our clients and communities benefit. A talented group of speakers shared their experiences in working toward a more balanced gender, socio-economic, and culturally diverse profession.

Kathryn Prigmore encouraged scholars to push for more diversity in practice and in leadership roles. Prigmore shared the story of the Reeves Municipal Center designed after the area sat vacant for two decades following the riots of 1968. The design process of the Reeves Municipal Center engaged the community and still hosts vibrant community activity today. “Communities are revitalized when you embrace diversity,” says Prigmore. She highlighted opportunities through the Women in Architecture series, and the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit.

Randy Steiner shared her experience defying coworker expectations working as a female architect in a time when that was rather uncommon. She encouraged scholars to look past our preconceived notions and stereotypes when looking to hire young designers. Steiner has a passion for teaching, a perfect combination of design and psychology. She founded to Coalition of Community College Architecture Programs and advocates for the diverse strengths and passions that community college students bring to the profession.

Dr. Whitney Austin Gray brought the unique perspective of a public health expert studying the effects of buildings on people’s wellbeing. Gray encouraged scholars to get comfortable in spaces where they don’t know the answers, and to push themselves to ask questions of those with varied backgrounds. Gray outlined the importance of prioritizing diversity of thought. She encouraged designers to create buildings that are welcoming to all, stating, “when you design for the minority it benefits everyone.” Gray sees health and wellness as an architecture topic that’s here to stay. She recommended investigating the WELL professional certification as a way to gain more insight on the topic.

Jason Winters shared his innovative approach to practice. As an young architect, he was once told that he’d need to choose between the firm, and family. In an attempt to create a better balance, he started Kezlo group. Kezlo Group sees the firm as including not only its employees, but the families of its employees as well. The firm encourages working remotely and prioritizes work life balance. Winters’ ideas about the changing practice are outlined in the article “Balancing Act: How Firms are Adapting to the Modern Employee.” As adjunct faculty at University of Maryland School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, and the Architecture and Interior Design Department at Anne Arundel Community College, Jason teaches his approach to design process. He enjoys teaching at University of Maryland as a creative outlet, and sees teaching as a great balance to project work in the office. In both school and practice, Winters helps foster a strong diversity of design ideas as well as a diversity of design platforms.

The Internet of Things, and a multitude of apps are combining to automate technical processes in many fields. Brad Lukanic discussed ways this will impact how we practice. Perhaps in the future, applications will calculate code compliance and provide layouts for things like bathrooms and stairs. He encouraged scholars to examine new typologies as workplace and housing models shift. Lukanic recommended that scholars find workplaces willing to let them take on large amounts of responsibility, and take the leap and move on if they weren’t getting what they needed from their current offices.

Carl Elefante, the 2018 AIA President, closed the session with an inspiring discussion on the future of the profession. He encouraged scholars to recognize that it’s design impact that matters, not just the design itself. We must show the value of our designs, and we must value our environment. Life cycle assessment tools are making it easier to evaluate the carbon impact of our proposed buildings and renovations. We must show empathy and work to create healthy built environments for all.

Thank you to CertainTeed Ceilings and Mosa for sponsoring the session.


Session 7: Research and Practice

Date: April 7, 2017
Location: Milken Institute School of Public Health
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00pm
Led by: Marisa Allen, AIA, LEED AP ID+C and Lance Eubanks, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Session 7 (Full PDF)
Session 7 Agenda
Session 7 Speakers


Research and education are rapidly becoming two of the most crucial differentiators in the hyper-competitive practice of architecture. Firms that successfully integrate research into their practice advance their value to the community and provide a greater value proposition to the clients they serve. These are the core issues explored by Lance Eubanks and Marisa Allen, and furthered by their speakers who discussed strategies for incorporating research into their firm profile, education as a means of maintaining professional relevancy, and the positive social impact of incorporating both research and education to further our collective understanding of the health and wellness of the people who inhabit the built environment.

The first speaker of the afternoon was Michele Russo, the senior director of research at the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Michele’s current work at the AIA focuses on developing and fostering practice-relevant research “to amplify and make more accessible the knowledge and research available from AIA members, universities, and other building industry institutions.” The key tool for this is what the AIA refers to as Building Research Information Knowledgebase, or BRIK. BRIK was developed in 2014 to enable and support the building research knowledgebase, and to act as a central repository for non-biased, professionally reviewed and trusted content. Michele feels strongly that the AIA’s role is to act as facilitators of knowledge and education to increase research literacy with practicing professionals. The AIA accomplishes this by providing research based lectures at the annual Conference on Architecture, it’s web learning portal AIAU, and by forming partnerships with practicing professionals and firms actively engaged in research. Additionally, the AIA has heeded the call from firms to involve the next generation of professionals within the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). To accomplish this the AIA has introduced a new program to bridge the gap between professionals and students called CRIT Scholars, which is a mentorship where students partner with firms to work on a research project

Immediately following Michele was Andrea Love, who is the Director of Building Science and Associate Principal at Payette in Boston. As a prerequisite to her presentation, Marisa and Lance invited the scholars to watch an AIAU webinar entitled Three Firms’ Approach to Integrating Research in Practice, which featured speakers from Sasaki Associates, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, and Payette. The webinar was valuable with respect to providing a thematic framework for the session’s key topics.

Andrea began by describing Payette as a “dynamic, inquisitive studio environment,” where research is led by the Building Science Group and is heavily integrated into the firm’s culture. Payette’s research motivation, or business case is predicated on their desire to be thought leaders in the narrow healthcare architecture market, to provide staff with education and career development opportunities, to design better performing buildings, and to provide a culture where staff is afforded the time and ability to answer recurring questions that come up during design. The research process at Payette creates “partnerships between people that have hair and those who don’t have hair; people who maybe have a lot of knowledge but not a lot of time, with those that have more time but maybe not as much knowledge.”

Currently, Andrea estimates that about 69 of the 140 people, or roughly 40% of the staff are working on research projects, where employees explore a variety of topics, with the majority focusing on energy and building performance issues. The research process at Payette provides employees with billable time and concrete deadlines to foster research when there is a lull on a project. This is reinforced with meetings at predetermined intervals to encourage employees to make progress on their research projects. Key to their research is to target “sharing of findings internally and externally” by speaking at conferences, writing blog posts, and maintaining a robust research page on their website where they can share their findings. Andreas outlined a few examples of research projects on the Payette website, which includes their research on thermal bridging, which was funded by winning the Upjohn Grant in 2012. Other notable projects focused on natural ventilation in healthcare and their 2016 AIA Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP) Innovation award winning research on glazing and thermal comfort which produced a glazing and winter comfort tool available on their website.

After Andrea spoke, Michele was invited back to the front of the room for a brief question and answer session. Scholars solicited advice from Andrea regarding effective strategies for convincing firm leaders that there is value in research. Andrea indicated that research has yielded value by way of branding and providing a competitive advantage, creating business development opportunities by speaking at conferences, maintaining client relationships, and increasing the quality of work. Liability was raised as a possible issue regarding sharing information; however, Andrea indicated that they classified their published web-based research under the umbrella of the AIA’s definition of “standard of care” and a legal disclaimer which mitigates their risk.

After the panel, the group was addressed by Stephen Chung, who is an architect and principal of his firm, Stephen Chung, Architect, and the creator of the public television series entitled “Cool Spaces! The Best New Architecture.” Stephen opened by positing the following question: “how [can] we as architects… provide value to the community?” This query was born out of his personal journey after the 2007 economic downturn- a drastic rescission that saw about 30% of architects, including Stephen, lose their jobs between 2007-2011. His curiosity led him to investigate how the public perceives architects, what we do, and ultimately to discover how shocking the lack of connection to architects truly is. The architect, Stephen argued, is most often portrayed in popular culture as the “Starchitect,” an elitist professional that’s not in touch with mainstream culture and represents a small fraction of the overall design community. It’s because of this inaccurate portrayal, and the general lack of respect that the profession was receiving, that Stephen found his key message: “architects solve everyday problems.” He made it his mission to educate the public by exploring new vehicles and ultimately discovered that creating a television show would be the best platform to convey his message. After attending acting school and appearing in a few small roles, Stephen pitched various networks and learned that a simple core message, packaged in a repeatable platform was how Cool Spaces! would eventually get on the air with PBS. He ended with the following takeaway: much like the design of a building, “any production is the result of collaboration.”

The scholars were then invited to take a self-guided tour of the venue, the Miliken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University. The building’s meandering main atrium afforded the scholars and speakers the ideal time to enjoy the building and engage in additional conversations that related to the material presented thus far.

After the tour, the scholars had the opportunity to engage in a presentation and a panel discussion comprised of three professionals- Abigail Brown, Susan Piedmont-Palladino, and Karl Feldman. All three are currently involved in a range of research endeavors within the practice of architecture.

Abi, who currently works at Hickok Cole Architects, presented on her firm’s approach to integrated research incubator, iLab. iLab is a program at Hickok Cole Architects that provides “microgrants” to employees who are passionate about pursing research topics outside their normal project workload. Receiving an iLab microgrant involves a rigorous proposal process, whereby the firms’ leadership awards employees billable time to investigate a compelling research topic. Abi was one of the first participants in the program in 2014, when she was awarded the opportunity to study an interest of hers, modular multi-family housing in D.C. This led her to several speaking engagements and opportunities to present her ideas to other like-minded design professionals.

Susan Piedmont-Palladino, who is an architect and the director of Virginia Tech’s Washington/Alexandria Architecture Consortium (WAAC), addressed the group next. Her interest at the WAAC, which is a highly international, globally connected graduate program, is in forms of communication. Specifically, Susan is focused on how we communicate- both in terms of our natural language (speech), and graphical language, which is acquired. Representation and communication is her obsession, and through her research she has found two main types of graphical communication styles, “drawings that draw from the world” and “drawings that draw to the world.” The former, Susan argues, is indicative- and requires an allegiance to truth. The latter, which speaks to the effectiveness of architectural renderings, has an assumed understanding and can make the world different by “enrolling someone in our wishes.”

The last speaker of the afternoon was Karl Feldman of Hinge, who is involved in research in the architectural practice, and more specifically how research can help you grow. Karl contends that research plays an important role in helping answer the questions that are holding you back, and that “even bad news is good news.” By understanding your target audience, a firm that engages in frequent research can act on an objective basis, help focus efforts and resources to be in better alignment with your firm’s niche market. Ultimately this strategy is fundamental to understanding your target audience and building engagement with potential clients by repurposing content to a variety of platforms.

Lastly, the speakers were all invited back to the front of the room for a brief question and answer session. The panelists all agreed that when you’re communicating, whether it’s graphically or verbally, figuring out exactly what you’re trying to say is paramount and requires focus, thought, and discipline. The panelists were then asked about how to build interdisciplinary research efforts within a firm, a concern for many young architects who tend to become “siloed.” Abi was adamant that putting yourself out there and pushing yourself was the key to breaking out of the silo. Related to Abi’s suggestion, Susan left us with perhaps the most compelling take-away of the day, and her area of focus at the WAAC; “we are not training people, we want to educate people to be internally resilient.”