If Something Isn’t Challenging, It’s Probably Not Worth Doing…

So a quick update regarding the Architectural Registration Exam, and perhaps some dialogue around it, too.

Since my last ARE-related post, I find myself 4 tests in (past the halfway mark!) and have rescheduled my fifth several times now, but have vowed to take it on a secret date that is fast approaching (towards the end of October.) Why such a long pause, after passing 4 exams in the span of 4 months last spring?

Because I took the summer off. I was mentally exhausted between work and studying, and felt like I was unwilling to give up the luxuries of long days, warm weather, and the chance to be consistently outdoors, even for one season. Life is short, as they say.

But here I am, watching the leaves change from my perch at a local cafe as I dig into yet another study manual and take another sip of tea, pondering the exam process, and the common practice of welcoming rigor and discipline into our lives when it didn’t ask to be invited, pushing ourselves to do things that may seem unpleasant but in retrospect feel rewarding.

Casually my mind wanders to the idea that architecture is not the only profession that requires rigor and discipline.

Infact, this usually serves as a comforting reminder to me– that in many rewarding professions, the initial effort required (and often sustained effort) remains very high. My yoga teacher once said, “If it isn’t challenging, it’s probably not worth doing,” in regards to our dialogue around my progress on the long road to licensure. If I were training to be a doctor, I would be taking my boards (which must be taken every several years, opposed to the ARE’s continuing education) and likely be getting even less sleep. I should also note that my exhaustion might put more at stake than a sloppy detail or an uninspired section than a day yawning at an operating table. And then there is law. By now I would have taken the bar,  a concept I appreciate because the timing aligns more closely to academia and a regular “study” mentality.

Despite the highs and lows of the testing journey, I’m trying to rev up for the next few months with great hopes of finally passing this hurdle and reclaiming my weekends– and life– one test at a time!

If you have some tips that got you across the finish line, please share… !



This week Joseph Vigil tells us about the creation and journey of Workshop 8…

In the fall of 2009 the small firm (VaST architecture) I started with my wife (Brandy) in 2000, was hurting. Work had steadily been declining for the last two years and we were trying to either sell or rent our house, sell our second car, and sell or rent our commercial building. Life was pretty scary. The custom home market was dead, and who was going to hire a mom & pop shop to work on anything other than smaller projects? Especially when everyone else was vying for the same work.

That October we attended the AIA Colorado annual conference because I was on the North Chapter Board and was required to. If I hadn’t been on the Board, there is no way we would have spent the money for such a luxury. It turned out being a very influential and informative couple of days.  I attended a presentation about the amount of work being performed by large architectural firms versus small firms, and how the percentage was increasing for large firms and decreasing for small firms. This was pretty scary stuff for a small firm on the brink of bankruptcy. However, the presenter went on to talk about joint-ventures and collaborations. As we re-capped this presentation, Brandy and I started talking about how we could survive given this trend.

The birth a new architecture firm

We started contacting other sole proprietors and small firms about the possibility of collaborations or joint-ventures, and maybe even merging. Our original concept was to talk to as many disciplines within the field of architecture as possible and try to create a diverse pool of professionals. We talked to interior designers, landscape architects, energy consultants, LEED consultants, general contractors, graphic designers, architects and even structural engineers.

The first person we pitched the idea to was an interior designer we had previously shared office space with. We were surprised how readily and enthusiastically she joined up! That gave us the motivation to contact others and by the end of 2009 we had a small group of people who were meeting on a weekly basis, talking through what this new entity might look like, and how we might operate. In March of 2010, Brandy found a national design competition and pitched it to the group.I recall sitting around the table when Brandy made the pitch and the room kind of lit up. None of us had anything better to do, so we eagerly agreed to enter, mostly as an exercise to see how well we worked together. The next few weeks were a complete blur. There was a lot of pent-up energy and an excitement that was palpable. We were trying to create a good design, but more importantly, we were trying to impress each other, and forge a longer term working relationship. Not all of the original participants stayed with the group, the people who left had good reasons to do so, they definitely thought we were crazy for putting the amount time into the initial design that we did.

The name WORKSHOP8 was generated at some point between midnight and 2:00 AM, over a flurry of emails without a lot of debate. We needed to incorporate and present a somewhat professional front.

Getting Pregnant on your first date

To make a long story short, we won! We beat out other national caliber and highly qualified firms. Our first thought was pure joy, quickly followed by complete panic! We were just a group of designers, we didn’t have a common work location, no insurance, no past working relations, no operating agreement, no graphic standards, and no common software/hardware.

The project had a very tight deadline, as the client had received an ARRA grant (American Recovery and Reconstruction Act) and the funds needed to be spent in a short timeframe to help jumpstart the economy. We needed to have our 100% construction documents completed by mid-September, less than four months away. It was an incredible process, from the crazy start, to the surreal start of construction, and finally the joyous inhabitation of the structures. The process changed us all forever, it will be a pivotal point in all of our lives and one we talk about in our retirement.


Spoiler alert, stop here if you want the Cinderella ending.

The original WORKSHOP8 partnership lasted about four years. Ultimately we did not give enough forethought, nor put in enough ground work into the business entity. We operated without any sort of working agreement and only a generic set of bylaws. If, from the outset, we had put a little more effort into the legal/business entity of WORKSHOP8, I believe it may have survived in its original form.

In the early Spring of 2014, WORKSHOP8 Inc. bought out three of the partners. So, it is back to Brandy and me. We are planning on bringing additional partners on board, we are definitely not a mom & pop shop anymore!

Well, actually, we kind of still are.

C. Joseph Vigil, AIA


Denver Startup Week- “If you build it, they will come…”

Gensler Denver's panel discussion regarding "the Creative Office," featuring Alden Globe, Miguel Buenrostro, Ken Pinnock,  Michelle Liebling, Robert Reich, and Sandy Vanderstoep, moderated by Joy Spatz

Gensler Denver’s panel discussion regarding “the Creative Office,” featuring Alden Globe, Miguel Buenrostro, Ken Pinnock, Michelle Liebling, Robert Reich, and Sandy Vanderstoep, moderated by Joy Spatz

For those who might have been hiding from the twittersphere, 16th Street Mall, or Downtown Denver Partnership newsletters and e-mail blasts, last week was a week I’ve started to look forward to each September—Denver Startup Week.

Started in 2012, the event has grown from about 30 sessions taught by varied industry professionals to an event that draws over 8,000 people (both locally, nationally, and this year, internationally) and boasts about 300 free sessions of content, making this not the biggest Startup event in Colorado, but—wait for it—the largest Startup week in North America.

Not bad Denver, not bad.

Having known I wanted to get involved after attending several sessions last year related to design and.. well… socializing in interesting spaces and places with creative people, I worked with the Design-track organizers, Justin Martinez and Castle Searcy, to submit and work with my co-workers to create a panel of extremely different, seasoned perspectives on the do’s and don’ts of creative office space—an on-going conversation that will only continue as floor plans transition from closed to open, wellness at work becomes a priority, and headphones continue to become what Robert Reich (one of our speakers and the founder of Boulder New Tech) and the dev shop Made Movement has coined “the new corner office.”

What I’ve learned through my initial participation in Startup week is that why it is so progressive is that it is not just for people involved in the tech industry or startup organizations. Instead, Denver Startup Week whole-heartedly embraces the idea of “all things entrepreneurial.”

When considering how most fortune 500 companies have started (take the ever-popular Apple, for example,) we must consider the process and challenges of the guys tinkering in their garage, and embrace the many phases of business models, experiences, growing pains, and life lessons the company, its founders, VC’s, employees, etc. have taken to arrive at the Norman Foster-designed campus/office park/lifestyle in California Apple currently resides in today.

Denver Startup week embraces this idea of evolution and adaptability of the entrepreneur (whether a lone entity or a major conglomerate) by featuring talks, workshops, panels, presentations, networking and social events that fall into “tracks” – this year featured Business, Design, Tech, and Manufacturing (in addition to what the Colorado Technology Association and their partners consider “Headline Events,” “Social Events,” and the amazing concept of “Basecamp,”—a homebase on the 16th Street Mall in which attendees of Startup week can stop in any time to meet with mentors and mentees, network, plug-in, or learn more about information about Startup week’s many opportunities, partners, and sponsors.)

Having unfortunately only a select amount of time to attend sessions, I signed up for several evening events including a PechaKucha held @ the event venue City Hall this past Thursday. For anyone who appreciates quick presentations with snazzy visuals and a concise message, this presentation format of 20 slides/20 seconds is an ideal medium to share ideas, humor, and messages of inspiration – all content that came out of the Denver Startup Week PechaKucha featuring speakers that included Creative Director Max Goodwin, Steve Nash from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Miguel Buenrostro from Tijuana, and many more.

My takeaway from the highly varied presentations and content was the overarching message of the night to pursue your passion – regardless of risk, comfort zone, or initial funding. For an architecture audience, I would relate this idea to “if you build it, they will come” (with “it” being an idea or a proposal that might ignite a spark for action, a kickstarter campaign, or a design for people to rally around and fundraise for…) Designers and social entrepreneurs Justin Martinez and Miguel Buenrostro spoke to this idea by providing insight into reactivating spaces that had been blighted and turning them into places for community, co-working, and resources for communities. Virginia McAllister, CEO of Iron Horse Architects, spoke to the challenges and triumphs she’s faced as the owner of an architecture firm, most importantly exemplified by her ability to create “legacy” through creating opportunities for her employees to learn and grow as professionals that are helping contribute to their city’s development and legacy.

I left feeling inspired and ready for action, and am hoping Denver Startup Week’s energy and enthusiasm for the city’s development, design, and discourse will continue to manifest itself through the collaborative and innovative design and decisions the city will continue to make to cultivate creative industry and community.

Teaching Up; Learning from our Summer Interns

Just yesterday, our summer interns gave a final presentation regarding a Denver-specific research project they have been working on in tandem with project work for the entirety of the summer.

 Upon first initiating the project, our intern committee’s hope was that the research might be used as a vehicle for collaboration as well as a chance to become acquainted with one another and the city of Denver.

 After the presentation, and hearing the interns talk about their experience, it seems the research exceeded our expectations. Serving as a vehicle for sharing ideas and skill sets, the project became an important opportunity to merge and acknowledge different work styles, processes, and modes of thinking amongst students from different disciplines including architecture, interior architecture, interior design, and illustration/environmental graphic design.

 Not to get too warm and fuzzy, but the interns smiled as they described their experience working together on a shared project as transitioning from “difficult” to their new team description—“four hearts and one mind.”   This Captain-planet combining of forces, skills, and viewpoints led to a cumulative design that articulately blended their different ideas and disciplines into one cohesive design—a feat I wasn’t entirely sure could be pulled off in the brief interlude of summer, but is now under consideration for potential realization.

 Watching them present was a refreshing reminder of the importance of teamwork, and the beauty of the multidisciplinary approach to design. When asked how the interns combined their work, they talked about looking for “the most important aspect” of their preliminary designs, and finding ways to prioritize the inclusion of these ideas while formulating a cohesive design. As my coworker mentioned, this provided a design solution based on the importance of function, rather than aesthetics.

This reminder of approaching group work as a chance to extract the most salient design ideas of individuals, and bring them together as a group to solve a problem was both refreshing and reaffirming.

While most of us have been taught to work in partners, groups, or teams since college or graduate school, I have found professional practice to be the ultimate litmus test for collaboration. Whether a project is a month or two years, the changing nature of project teams, the delegation of roles and responsibilities, as well as the mixture of different personalities often feels like experiencing one sea change after another.

I am always excited when a new project starts, as working with different people and clients is an inherent opportunity for growth and exposure to new work styles and ways of thinking. With that said, the nature of professional practice at times can lend itself to efficiently living within the confines of certain roles and responsibilities—a navigable but at times stifling way of working. What excites me about the intern presentation is that it reinforces that the best idea should, and must win, regardless of source or origin.

 Today is the interns’ last day—we are sad to see them go, but happy that they have “taught up” in providing a stellar example of what productive collaboration can yield- both in terms of building relationships as well as creating amazing work.



Architect Barbie, and Other Important Advancements in Architectural Practice

2-0011I recently stumbled across an article titled, “ Building on the Past; A History of Women in Architecture,” by SUNY Buffalo Architectural History Professor and PhD, Despina Stratigakos. In her account of women’s advancements in the field of architecture, she begins the article by recounting Architect Barbie’s debut at the 2011 AIA Convention in New Orleans.  Flanked by booths of materials, technology, and a polarizing ratio of 78% male conference attendees, the pink-and-white Mattel booth was both an anomaly and bright spot on the convention floor.  Serving as an educational area to introduce concepts of architectural design to young women (and by young, I mean as early as 5 or 6 years old,) this booth provided clever programming as a means of possibly diversifying the profession’s current gender disparity.

Three years later to the day (the 2014 AIA National Convention is happening right now in Chicago–a city that is an architectural masterpiece in its own right), Architect Barbie seems to be a mere foreshadowing of an undeniably exciting time for women architects.

One only needs to look at Jeanne Gang’s “Aqua Tower,” the leadership of the AIA’s 90th President, Helene Combs Dreiling, or take note of the 2014 AIA Gold Medal Award given to Julia Morgan (only sixty years after her death!) to see that women are gaining recognition, dynamic commissions, and interesting leadership positions, all the while transcending any makeshift glass ceilings that may have previously existed.

Furthermore, current data reinforces women’s growth both in numbers and leadership within the profession of architecture. This past May, the Architect’s Journal reported an increase in the proportion of women to men in top practices in from 22.7 to 27.5%.

As a young woman in architecture, I find this information to be exciting for a few reasons:

(1) This may mean that many architecture firms are and will continue to become more balanced in terms of women and men leaders/mentors for the next generation of architects,

(2) Architecture’s former reputation as an “old boys’ club” may be lifting to build a more balanced workplace,

(3) Women who have been practicing will hopefully continue to receive the recognition they deserve. An example would be a designer such as Charlotte Perriand, whose genius was cloaked by male counterparts like Corbusier until only recently.

(4) The sky might just be the limit for what type of work and opportunities my female co-workers, friends, and former classmates might want to pursue in the future within and outside the boundaries of our profession.

While there is no race to be won or any concrete, gender-balanced targets for architecture offices to meet (I still believe an office must be comprised of the best talent, and how this shakes out gender-wise is subjective,) I hope to convey this information only to share the message that for women who in early stages of practicing architecture, there will likely be more women with shared experiences to guide them in partnership with male counterparts.

While 27.5% is not a staggering number, interesting statistics such as Stratigakos’ mention that in 1900 there were 39 licensed women architects, and today, 30,000 makes me feel thankful for being born in the 1980’s as opposed to the 1880’s..

What a difference a century makes!


For more information, I highly recommend a read through Stratigakos’ article.

And please note: This article does not aim to touch upon the challenges of motherhood, the Lean In phenomenon, etc.  Another discussion for another time!  Just looking at the rise of women in the profession from a global perspective!