Array Architects' Blog

Innovative Practices: An Emerging Professional’s Outlook on Firm Culture

Posted by Jennifer Matthews on Jul 08, 2016 at 12:30 PM

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Featured in the Fall 2016 issue of The American Institute of Architecture Students' CRIT Magazine.

During the 2016 AIA Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to serve as a panelist for seminar EV206 "Sitting Down with the Future: Student View on the Profession." As one of four panelists, I represented recent graduates who currently work full-time in architecture firms and provided my perspectives as a Legacy Member of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) (2013-2014 National Vice President).

Featured panel members were Sarah Walgren (AIAS National President-Elect); Rachel Law (AIAS Vice President-Elect); Joel Pominville (Current AIAS Vice President), and panel moderator Danielle Mitchell (Current AIAS President).

ArrayArchitects_AIACon16.jpgAfter the initial introductory period about the AIAS and its initiatives, President Mitchell asked the panel to address the topic of studio culture, firm culture, work-life balance, mentor-mentee relationships, maximizing the skills of emerging professionals and creating a healthy learning environment for mentors and mentees. Since I represented the full-time employee on the panel, I was able to provide extensive responses about Array’s culture, innovation in design, mentorship and community engagementAmong my highlights were the encouragement to participate in community engagement experiences like college career fairs, shadowing, the AIA Convention Park(let) Competition, and speaking opportunities to name a few.

This ultimately led to questions regarding mentorship in the firm. I shared my enjoyment of observing seasoned professionals, such as Adrian Hagerty’s leadership style or Laura Jensen’s diligence and exceptional knowledge of healthcare design or Jennifer Tinsley’s collaboration between architecture and interiors or Tony Caputo’s overwhelming, yet brilliant design techniques. There are so many firms where the tunnel vision of deadlines, egos and personal goal achievement traps employees, but not Array. There's always someone willing and ready to share information, and it makes the firm an “Intern-Friendly Firm” in my opinion. Assuming this was too good to be true, many in attendance began to raise their hand to ask if what they were doing was right/wrong or if the architectural designers in Array were just that outspoken and proactive.

The answer was yes and no. Yes and no, firm leaders could be potentially doing something right or wrong; and yes and no, the architectural designers are outspoken. The answer is not that simple. In any effective firm, employees must be willing to encourage engagement, be open to new ideas and support one another in their efforts to bring life into the office. No firm leader can expect an emerging professional to make suggestions if the suggestions are met with opposition, strange looks and reservations without consideration. Similarly, an emerging professional cannot expect change and an interactive, learning environment without speaking up, asking questions and making suggestions. These components go hand-in-hand, and in any given case where one is lacking, firms are bound to face obstacles.

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The words of one emerging professional in attendance, “We are not brainless tools you take out of the shed when projects need to be done completely.” As a rebuttal a firm leader stated, “Emerging professionals must speak up and make suggestions. Minds cannot be read."

Both are 100% right, and as previously mentioned, these aligning components must coexist to maintain an effective environment. I was proud that Array could serve as a showcase for what firms should seek to accomplish.

After the panel was over, many of the firm owners and principals approached the panelists on a job well done and to hear more about the possible initiatives they could take back to their firm. The panel discussion was an amazing opportunity to bring emerging professionals and firm leaders together for meaningful dialogue and debate.

During the Convention, I also served as an AIA Convention Volunteer, participating in the Park(let) Competition setup, and attending the Women in Design Dinner. Not only did Array's Park(let) submission win judge's choice, but the AIA also selected it to remain on display at the Center of Architecture and other community-led facilities until the fall. I'm so proud of the Park(let) team and their ability to fully execute the design intent of socialize - meditate - play. As I walked the halls and expo floor of the Convention, I heard many talking about the Park(let)s and the one that EVERYONE should go see - Array's!

To top off my Convention experience, I received my first PASS of the seven-part Architecture Registration Exam, for the Schematic Design section.

Topics: mentor, firm culture