Acknowledging “Thank Your Mentor Day” (held on January 21st, 2016)

In case you missed it, January 21st, 2016 was “Thank Your Mentor Day; ” an initiative of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a part of the School’s “National Mentoring Month Campaign.”  On this day, Americans are urged to “thank or honor those individuals who encouraged and guided them, and had a lasting, positive impact on their lives.”

Perhaps overshadowed by social media’s warm embrace of “National Popcorn Day” on January 19th, I found out about this initiative through my sister, whom after navigating the world of tech and development for a few years co-founded a growing company, Glassbreakers, aimed at easily connecting mentees with mentors (and vice versa) through a digital mentorship platform.

Mentorship is something that I’ve thought a lot about as my career continues to evolve.

Perhaps this is because I’ve basked in the warm glow of a mentor’s support, teaching, and guidance, and have also experienced the contrasting feelings of vulnerability, crippling stress, and elated excitement in the absence of a mentor and in full possession of my decisions and actions (not to mention their related outcomes.)

As we learned the second (if not the first) day of architecture school, there are no right decisions. Sans “right” or “wrong,” we are left with options that can be explored infinitesimally.  From those options or ideas, a few contenders seem to consistently rise to the top, whether through preference, intuition, and/or analysis (usually a combination of all three.)

Working with a confident mentor that generated concepts and realized work that, while not adhering to the terms “right” or”wrong,”) felt manifestly important and thoughtfully justified, has been one of the more invaluable first experiences of my professional life.  While many people enjoy the challenge of immediately being thrown into the deep end and figuring out their voice through independent trial and error, I found it helpful to have someone more experienced in their career help create distance between me and the challenging  client-related, managerial, and administrative tasks of an architectural office.   Instead, for a brief time, I was given the chance to simply  learn, to make, to explore, and to imagine.

On the “National Mentoring Month” webpage, we are asked to acknowledge “Thank Your Mentor Day,” by doing one of the following activities:

 Contact your mentor directly to express your appreciation;

Express your gratitude on social media.

Pass on what you received by becoming a mentor to a young person in your community;

Make a financial contribution to a local mentoring program in your mentor’s honor; and,

Write a tribute to your mentor for posting on the Who Mentored You?

All valid ideas of ways of expressing “thanks” to the people that invest their time and energy into our well-being, this list only begins to scratch the surface of ways in which mentees might acknowledge the personal time and investment an individual has put forth to watch them grow and, by widely-interpreted definition, succeed.

 

In Dialogue in Dever: “The Art of Access”

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When we think of the term “accessibility” of space, depending on your profession, this term might conjure up diverse definitions and perceptions.

As an architect, accessibility is often quickly taken from broad considerations of public networks, access, and inclusive user experience to the minute details dictated by Chapter 11 of the International Building Code.  It is through the lens of Chapter 11 that parameters associated with accessible dimensions, heights, clearances, slopes, circulation paths, and restroom counts (among many other important building features and considerations) are outlined for incorporation into building designs.

For an emerging professional, Chapter 11 can be a bit intimidating at times, as it feels as if only time, professional experience, and repeat exposure to code reviews, discussions, and resulting interpretations might help young professionals form a more holistic understanding of creating code-compliant, “accessible” space.

Despite my accumulating years of time and experience with Chapter 11, I recently attended and participated in an event in Denver, “The Art of Access,” that radically changed the way I think about the term “accessibility,” as it relates to public space and the built environment.

Organized by the inspiring, passionate Executive Director at VSA Colorado/Access Gallery, Damon McLeese, and supported by Imagine 2020: Denver’s Cultural Plan, the event was prefaced with the following description:

“[The Art of Access] is a day long dialogue about access, inclusion and community.  Fifty-six million people, nearly 20% of the American population, have some form of disability.  While much has changed since the 1990 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, deficits remain concerning inclusion and access in the arts.  This day long symposium is designed to bring educators, administrators, architects, designers, artists and concerned citizens together to how best to ensure full participation and engagement in the arts and culture for persons with disabilities.”

Sessions included moderated discussions, panels, and interactive workshops related to Access and Architecture, Communication of Inclusion, Low Sensory Program, Art and Creative Aging, Audio Description, and Tactile Tours.

Perhaps what was most surprising is that this forward-thinking event was the first of its kind in Denver.

The 100+ attendees represented a broad range of professional and personal backgrounds and experiences.  Everyone in the room was tangibly excited by the opportunity to learn and participate in a candid dialogue regarding engagement in arts and culture-related organizations for persons with disabilities.

Despite the many different perspectives represented at the event, what was amazing was the shared enthusiasm, importance, and consistency in the themes of the conference.  My biggest take-away was the reinforcement of the inherent idea that access is not about codes, regulations, or special treatment.   It is about creating understanding and a sense of empathy for various individuals’ needs, and responding with designs, programming, and opportunities that are built on the foundation of universal inclusion.

As a participant in a panel regarding access as it relates to public art and space, I spoke from the perspective of an architect, public art committee member, and cultural advocate invested in Denver’s continued development of culturally-rich, universally-accessible public space.

My talk focused on how public spaces, as physical extensions of public artwork, have the potential to become celebrated markers within the fabric of a city, woven together with culture and a sense of shared, inclusive identity.

Giving this talk was a great opportunity to delve deeper into research regarding contemporary “inclusive urban design” methods, as well as the growing practice of applying the process of design-thinking through empathetic design to generate design solutions that consider both the macro (the urban scale) as well as the equally as important micro (individual user experience.)

A small part of a much broader and more important discussion, events like these continue to fuel my sense of excitement and optimism for Denver’s future. It’s hard to truly portray how rich the conversations were, and how dynamic and thought-provoking the talks by various Denver-based organizations were.  From the RedLine Gallery’s “Reach Studio” that provides art classes and entrepreneurial opportunities for Denver’s past and present homeless population to Djamila Ricciardi’s “Tactile Tours” of Denver, in which she provides public art tours that are based on senses other than sight, people are doing amazing things to broaden the definition of inclusive design and programming.

Creating civic, inclusive space and programming in a rapidly-urbanizing city is no small feat, and this event demonstrated the need and enthusiasm for various constituent groups to be provided with opportunities for increased dialogue and education with and from persons with disabilities, with hopes of generating more inclusive and thoughtful design solutions as well as cultural and professional opportunities.

Studio and the Seat

Having spent my first several years in practice immersed in workplace design, I bore witness to the changing paradigms of what might be considered a “modern” work environment.

Despite the range of industry types (ranging from advertising agencies to biotech to executive search firms to a multi-tenant non-profit center), relevant dialogues and design thinking related to wellness, flexibility, choice, and culture became central to the process and outcomes of the resultant environments.

As employers continue to adopt mobility programs, champion shrinking physical footprints, and invest in collaborative and shared amenity spaces, I remain somewhat ambivalent about the future of the architectural studio/office; a workplace typology that feels rightfully caught between the past and the future, between rich and evolving traditions paired with the uncertainty of the unknown.

Why the confusion?

Because, after many discussions with industry colleagues and peers, I’m still not sure if an architectural studio (a space type presumably based on daily team collaboration paired with explorations, iterations, and discussions of physical models, pinned-up drawings, and digital media) can translate as productively within the confines of remote-work and online sharing as it can by spinning my chair around at work and asking a teammate what they think of a sketch I’m working on.

Unlike professions that thrive with a high concentration of individual contributors, the team-like structure and iterative nature of design work seems to lend itself to the benefits of face-to-face communication as a means of problem-solving, constructive critique, and ultimately, team-based decision-making.

If I’ve dated myself with this previous statement or made the reader sigh with contempt, I don’t apologize, but rather ask you to share what’s working; that is, if you’ve found solutions for your office or firm that empower the employee to be more mobile and flexible without suffering from a sense of absenteeism or lack of energy in the studio/workplace, what have been the tools for your success?

While the transition from desktops to laptops and creating robust online-collaboration and communication capabilities are obvious first steps to facilitating workplace mobility, I am curious about the broader implications of an architecture studio that thrives on virtual presenteeism and collaboration, or, alternatively, an “alone together” approach in which people are encouraged to engage in individual work and to come together for less spontaneous, less frequent but theoretically more “productive” collaboration time (along the lines of this recent discourse: https://hbr.org/2014/03/why-you-should-stop-brainstorming/ or http://www.fastcompany.com/3033567/agendas/brainstorming-doesnt-work-try-this-technique-instead)

I welcome, as always, any discussion on the topic as a response to this blog post.

CREJ Interior Design and Architecture Conference; WELL-ness, Choice, and the Next Gen…

“Next Generation Designers” panel featuring Drew Marlow, Leah Romero, Rick Sommerfeld, and MIke Sudolsky, moderated by Beth Mosenthal

This past Tuesday I attended and participated in the annual Colorado Real Estate Journal Commercial Interior Design and Architecture Conference.

This event, a mixture of panels and presentations by industry leaders and professionals both nationally and locally has proven to be a helpful snapshot of the trends, issues, and wide range of perspectives informing Denver’s interior commercial architecture in any given year. Topics covered ranged from workplace trends to sustainability and wellness to how to design for trauma and what it means to find “authenticity” in design.

In a quick Friday post, here are my take-aways from the conference, with some links to additional information should you find yourself interested in a specific topic or area of thought leadership.

1 – MOVE OVER LEED, DELOS WELL CERTIFICATION IS HERE… 

In a panel of Denver-based sustainability specialists, including a developer initiating a WELL-certified development in Denver, Brian Levitt from NAVA Real Estate, Tom Hootman, AIA and Performance and Design Innovation Lead at MKK Consulting led a discussion regarding the relevance of the “WELL” building movement, and how WELL Certification differs from the LEED rating system.  To quickly summarize, the WELL Building Standard (WELL) “is the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness. It marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research – harnessing the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and wellbeing.”

From monitoring the quality and taste of building’s drinking water to the incorporation of antimicrobial materials in workplace cafeterias, WELL aims to go beyond a consideration of the environmental impact of a building to focus on the health of the occupant in the building, related to air quality, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and the mind. Championed by health-industry gurus such as Deepak Chopra and supported by the Clinton Global Initiative, many developers and companies are becoming interested in pursuing “WELL” in favor of, or in tandem with LEED.

For further reading: http://delos.com/about/well-building-standard/

2—COMMERCIAL INTERIORS; CHOICE + FLEXIBILITY ARE KEY

We all know the struggle is real; the multigenerational workplace continues to test the comfort level of the 9-5, one-person-one-desk paradigm.

This panel, featuring workplace leaders in various firms in Denver including Gensler, Acquilano Leslie, Page, Kieding, Elsy Studios, and Interior Architects, focused on major trends in commercial interiors.

Moderated by Joy Spatz, head of Studio Collaborative, a consistent theme in the panel was that a successful workplace in today’s world is highly contingent on providing choice, flexibility, and a supportive, informal workplace-culture to employees.  The liberation of the worker as an individual with different needs, family structures, and preferences for working (whether it be posture, location, or productive hours of the day) continues to prove itself as an important tool for worker recruitment and retention, not to mention an important acknowledgement that providing choice to employees to incorporate work into life in a way that works best for an individual (within certain parameters) provides a modern adoption of generational preferences and realities.

Some further reading: http://workplaceflexibility.bc.edu/need/need_employeeshttp://www.inc.com/laura-montini/infographic/workplace-flexibility-attracts-and-retains-top-talent.html ; http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2013/08/18/5-reasons-why-workplace-flexibility-is-smart-talent-strategy/

3- THE NEXT GENERATION OF DESIGNERS ARE DIGITAL NATIVES INTERESTED IN THE DIGITAL AND ANALOG

At the conference, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to moderate a dialogue regarding what I defined as “issues and interests informing the next generation of designers.”

In this panel, I moderated a discussion with four “next generation” designers at different stages of their emerging professional careers. The lively discussion tackled difficult questions and varied perspectives related to issues that will become increasingly relevant for the next generation of designers to address. From more stringent sustainable design approaches, to adapting and adopting new technology and an integrated design process, to an anticipated change in general workplace attitude and mindset with the on-set of Generation Z in the workforce, this discussion provided a glimpse into the evolving issues that will continue to emerge amongst a newly-defined multigenerational workforce as well as a society with limited resources and a need for smart growth and design solutions.

Rick Sommerfeld, Assistant Professor and Director of Colorado Building Workshop, the design build program at the University of Colorado Denver, provided important insight into how students are working in both digital and analog, to create complex, quick design solutions and iterations to a myriad of different design problems. Mike Sudolsky, a designer at Gensler, talked about his fascinating perspective as someone interested and fluent in video game visualization and software, and how this will continue to impact the field of design visualization and user experience.  Drew Marlow, AIA and Principal at Acquilano Leslie spoke of the skill sets that are relevant for recent graduates and new designers when looking to join a firm, as well as the pros and cons of being a “jack of all trades” in the industry vs highly specialized.  Leah Romero, a workplace leader at OZ Architecture spoke to the invaluable necessity of mentorship in the effort to recruit and retain the next generation of workers, that have already expressed a preference to switch jobs every 3-5 years.

For further reading: http://www.knoll.com/knollnewsdetail/what-comes-after-y-generation-z-arriving-to-the-office-soon ,

Overall, the conference was thought-provoking and familiar; I recommend it to anyone that is interested in connecting with their peers in the industry while contributing to dialogues that will hopefully continue to push Denver’s design thinking and solutions further.

Adventures in Real Estate; An Update from Meg Hohnholt, AIA Colorado EP Blog Founder

Hohnholt recently made the leap from architecture to real estate

Hohnholt recently made the leap from architecture to real estate

And I Jumped Right In. 

It was a year ago this week that I stopped staring at the edge of uncertainty and I jumped right in. Initially, the experience was exhilarating and liberating. Now it’s turned into an adventure that’s exciting yet uncomfortable, clear yet frustrating, constant yet evolving.

Hello again AIA EP Blog community! It’s Meg Hohnholt. I’ve missed you.

What’s this jump you ask? A year ago I left the traditional practice of architecture and began my journey of a career change. And now I am a business owner doing residential real estate brokerage.

How I got started:

So why real estate?

I was looking for a career path that would be a great fit for my personal strengths, utilize on my architecture knowledge, and have great potential to capitalize on those assets. So far real estate has fit the bill beautifully.

What was the process to get started in real estate?

I attended Armbrust Real Estate Institute full time for a month to get the amount of education required by the State of Colorado DORA. Then I sat for the state and national real estate brokerage exams, which I would say combined were comparable to one ARE test. After I passed the exams (first try Baby!), I had to select a brokerage firm to “hang my license at”.

In the State of Colorado, new agents are required to be with a brokerage firm for their first two years before they can go on their own at start their own firm.

After all the the necessary paperwork and fees were paid then it was time to build my business plan, develop my marketing and get some clients!

So what business do you own?

All real estate agents are independent contractors for their brokerage firms, so technically real estate agents are all small business owners.

What I’ve learned (so far): 

Marketing is constant – from the clothes I wear, to my Facebook posts (both on my personal and my business page), to the events I go to – I am always on. This doesn’t mean I’m all business & no fun – I met two of my clients at a party where we played Cards Against Humanity together. But I am always ready to share my knowledge about real estate and architecture, and help people with excellent service.

Life Balance is more like a Life ‘Counter-balance’. Life is rarely balanced…I’m learning it’s more like a seesaw where you’re standing above the center fulcrum. When I start feeling like I’m dipping too much into the work side of life, I need to put more energy on the life side of life to get things counter balance, and vice versa.

Where you can find me: 

Here’s where you can find me at should you want to know more about what it was like to take on a career change, how architects are positioned to be awesome in real estate, or generally what I’m up to next!

I’m still blogging now at www.vividdenver.com where I write about the downtown Denver lifestyle, architecture, and real estate.

Want to say ‘Hi’? Shoot me an email at meg@vividdenver.com

My company’s website is www.vivid.properties & we are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram too.

Take Care! -Meg