Five Years Out: advice to my past self from my current self

Over the last month or so, I have seen numerous pictures and heartfelt posts from recent graduates flooding the social media channels. It made me think back fondly of when I graduated from architecture school five years ago and even, as shocking as it may seem, made me think fondly of being in architecture school (I guess it’s true: time does heal all wounds).

This past week has proven more taxing than most as I was reminded that I still have a long ways to go in figuring out the whole “being an architect” thing and what that entails. It brought me back to my post-graduation days of thinking that I had a firm grasp on what I was supposed to be doing and how much I actually knew about architecture. This has led me here: to the ever cliché format of “what advice would I give my younger self?” So, without further ado: here are a handful of tidbits that “five years out of architecture school and recently licensed Drew” would give “just graduated and trying to figure it out Drew”.

  • It’s okay to not be working on your dream projects. Architecture school is, more or less, built around the idea of teaching us to THINK like architects, while professional practice is where we figure out all the other aspects that make up actually being an architect. It’s hard to go from dreaming up grandiose projects in school with no client and no budget and then move into the realm of construction budgets and numerous outside sources trying to influence the project with their own priorities in mind. It takes time to wrap your head around even the simplest building projects. Be patient and try to absorb the lessons that will come at you daily.
  • You won’t know how to do everything that people ask you to do. That’s okay. People are (usually) willing to help you out because they remember how it felt to be in your situation and they would rather spend the time showing you the right way to do things than have to tell you to fix them later. I spent a lot of time afraid to ask questions because I didn’t want to bother people because everyone seemed so busy. However, once I decided to take the initiative and speak up, the amount of things that I learned on a daily basis skyrocketed (and continues to grow every day).
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from thing that are not the right fit for you. We often find ourselves in circumstances, be it jobs, workplaces, project teams, or just life situations, where we know that it’s not going to work out. If you are able to walk away from these things and better your circumstances and your own mental health, do it. Change can be frightening, but it’s even more frightening to think back on times that you wasted in situations that made you unhappy.
  • Get licensed ASAP. Seriously. You probably have as few responsibilities right now as you will ever have. Find a method of studying that works for you and stick to it. Find a person or group of people that you can lean on for support and pick their brains as much as you can. Don’t waste time thinking about getting licensed. Just go for it and don’t stop until you get to the end.
  • It will take time before people to take you seriously. It won’t matter how much prior knowledge you have on a subject, people will see that you are recently out of school and immediately assume that you know less than you do and treat you as such. It will be frustrating and at times cause you great angst, but do your best to let it roll off your back. It takes time to build up a working relationship with your project teams and clients before they trust you, so just give it time and try to take things in stride.
    • Side note: I am a white male, so if it’s this way for me, there are many others that will experience this same thing ten times over and, potentially, for much longer.

These points probably seem obvious to many if not most. However, that doesn’t make them less true. I wish someone had sat me down five years ago and vehemently made these points. On top of that, these are all things that I continually have to remind myself of even today. The learning curve is ever bending and all we can do is to try to keep things in perspective and continually grow with it.

Hopefully I won’t be writing the same thing in five more years about my current self. If so, with any luck we will have time machines by then.

Emerging Professionals’ 2014 Exhibition .. Getting Your Work Out There

Donahue, Cheng, and Lemke's accepted 2014 submission

Donahue, Cheng, and Lemke’s accepted 2014 submission

Just a quick post to highlight  work currently on exhibit in Washington, D.C. featuring Emerging Architectural Professional’s design work.   I’d recommend architects/architectural interns in the Colorado area check out the exceptional work their peers across the country are designing, researching, and building, with potential hopes of inspiring future submittals for next year’s 2015 exhibition…

The exhibition is described by the AIA as the following: “The American Institute of Architects, Center for Emerging Professionals sponsors an annual exhibition of architectural work, art, and designs of emerging architectural professionals across North America. This annual exhibition promotes the compelling work of the rising generation of architects and designers and inspires professionals to continue to mentor and engage the many talented and motivated emerging professionals across the country.”

This year, Colorado’s own Katie Donahue, Assoc. AIA, Yandy Cheng and Mason Limke are featured for the “Pulp Wall” they designed and fabricated while at UC Denver.  The 2013 exhibition featured an impressive (2x) accepted submissions from Brad Tomecek, AIA.

A submission typically consists of project boards (2d or 3d) as well as a submittal form and a release for imagery to be waived.  Stay tuned on the AIA’s website for 2015 submission dates if this peaks your interest…

MOST RECENT PORTFOLIO Katie Donahue Page 006


ARE Study Seminars & Trivia Nights

 If you were looking for more motivation to get your AREs finished and your license in hand, 2013 has turned out to be a banner year for news that affects Associate Members. Towards the end of 2012, AIA Denver managed a significant re-work to their ARE study seminars, bringing in new instructors and aligning the class offerings to the current divisional realities of the exam.  With a successful first run of the program completed in June of 2013, a second session is being offered starting in July.  The attached schedule outlines the dates, but we will begin on July 13th with a 4 hour general test taking and strategy session as well as a 4 hour Site Planning and Design (SPD) Session.  In subsequent months, we will cover the remaining divisions, taking advantage of synergies between divisions and the compounding nature of the tests.  With over 100 participants during the first run, we saw impressive pass rates and received extremely positive feedback on the quality and value of the program.  For our second series of sessions, we are offering the same seminar options as the previous term with the added benefits of monthly trivia nights and optional study groups for the seminars beginning in July.

Why is this important to you?  Because the ARE is changing (please read the link below for preliminary information).  If you are considering taking the AREs within the next 18 months, it is important to take advantage of these programs now because the days of the current version 4.0 are numbered.  NCARB has announced a transition to version 5.0, and at this time, there is little information about what changes we can expect.  However, what we do know is that the programs, knowledge, and experience we are able to offer now will be significantly impacted by this new version.  As we have seen with previous transitions, there will be a significant period of time during which we will need to re-learn the specifics of the test divisions significantly affecting our ability to offer the same quality of education that we are currently able to provide. 

In addition, legislation at the state level has increased the value of licensure (SB13-161).  The word “architect” has essentially become a protected title.  Candidates are required to carry a license in the State of Colorado in order to use the term architect or to use any derivative of that term when referring to their businesses or the services that said businesses provide.  An exception has been provided for interns, allowing certain individuals to identify as Architectural Intern. For more information visit the follow link

It is important for all Associate Members to understand that as a State, Colorado now supports concurrency.  Essentially, this allows candidates that have an NAAB accredited degree and a minimal amount of professional experience to sit for their exams while working through their IDP requirements.  For more information on this, please contact Meg Kullerd Hohnholt, AIA, at

Download the ARE Seminar registration form  –

For more information on the upcoming ARE Seminar sessions please contact Nathan Gulash at or Jenna Cather at

And we are live – ARCHITECT LIVE!

Good Morning Everyone!!!

Your AIACO_EP bloggers were busy representing at the 2013 AIA National Convention! We gave our presentation “Do You Know Your Emerging Professionals?” on Saturday morning. You know it’s a hit when over half the audience stays after the presentation to talk to the presenters. Just saying.

Then we had breakfast (or in Nathan’s case, Second Breakfast) and scooted off the Architect LIVE studio on the Expo floor. Click HERE for the link to our Architect LIVE video. 

Below are a few photos from our experience.

Thanks for all the love and support! We couldn’t have done this without our great mentors, friends & families. Enjoy!


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The Ego and the Architect

apex-helping-hand-610grA few weeks ago, I witnessed an interaction that I imagine most people in the design industry experience numerous times both in school AND professional life.  What transpired was this: a few junior architects were pinning up carefully composed drawings, renderings, and sketches for a client meeting.  Under a tight budget and time constraint, the amount of thought, options, and exploration on the wall felt vital and impressive. As the last drawing was being pinned, a visiting architect from a different office briefly stepped into the room, looked at the wall for about thirty seconds, and quickly claimed “Oh, I built this building in the 90’s…”

As the wind was quickly taken out of sails, the last pin was pushed in with a slight hesitation rather than the initial confidence and momentum of the previously installed drawings.

A few months ago, Heather wrote an extremely relevant blog post about the importance of mentorship in architectural offices today.  Rather than follow the traditional, antiquated approach of “Master” and “apprentice,” she explored the notion of the mentor being an omnipresent “Yoda” type that is able to support, critique, and affirm junior architects in their many stages of professional development.

As a follow-up to this discussion, I’d like to briefly touch on the idea of “leadership” in an architectural office.  For all of their good, idealistic, altruistic traits and stereotypes, architects have also (on occasion) been stereotyped to have relatively large egos.  While I will refrain from going into semantics or arguing for or against this stereotype (I plead the fifth!) the anecdote I mentioned above suggests that at times, voiced opinions that support the ego rather than the effort can prove futile rather than productive.

When I think about the people I would consider “leaders”  in my office, they don’t just include the people with the highest-ranking title or the most experience.  They are the people who send out design inspiration emails, events, and tips to keep us involved and aware.  They are the people who will put down their pens and walk over to your screen to guide you through an issue that is perhaps their expertise or passion. Their willingness to share that knowledge becomes a great resource to the entire office.

Leaders are the people who understand that the work we do extends beyond our desks and find themselves leading community and service-related efforts in their personal and professional lives. Furthermore, they look at the work that’s been produced and consider the source, the thinking, the project parameters, and then voice their opinions in a way that both challenges and guides the ship forward, rather than sinking the vessel in midstream.

I am impressed by the bravery of the many young architects I’ve met as of late, in their ability to begin to define what seems to be a changing paradigm of architect from egotistical to humanitarian.  While architects have always wanted to help improve society in small and large ways, the increased collaborative nature of offices, use of integrated design and delivery models, and the steady re-emergence of a celebrated creative class are all phenomenon that are requiring us to brand ourselves in ways that defy and transcend the definition of the stereotypical “master” builder or craftsmen.

As you approach your academic or professional workweek, I challenge you to consider your personal definition of leadership, and in some small way, aim to acknowledge or act in a manner that reinforces this.  While young architects need continued mentorship, they also need to be bold in working towards breaking old stereotypes and replacing them with definitions that reinforce both the importance and impact of architects’ contributions to helping shape the design and experience of the places we work, live, and enjoy.