The IMPACT of Storytelling

aia atlantaI have been lucky enough to attend the AIA Convention for three years in a row now. Every Convention has a different theme with a general goal of improving, bettering and furthering the profession.

This year’s theme was IMPACT. We heard from President Bill Clinton on his work with the Clinton Global Initiative and the impact that architecture can have in developing innovative solutions. We also heard from Julie Dixon on the art of telling a story. This message resonated with me in a way that few messages have before. Not only is it important to tell a story when presenting a project or understanding a client’s needs and they way they use a building, but I see a place for storytelling in spreading the message about the value of architecture and how we get the public to understand what it is we do as architects.

ps_family_james-shanks-artspaceThe impact of how a house or a place is influences (positively or negatively) someone is much more effective than describing a “moment of two materials joining” or the “innovative structure” used to reduce impact. Julie Dixon describes storytelling as this:

“A vibrant storytelling culture means the difference between whether your organization has a living, breathing portfolio of different stories, from different perspectives, that share its impact—or just a single, somewhat stagnant story. It’s the difference between having one person in the organization dedicated to storytelling (whether that’s the CEO, development director, or head of communications) and everyone in the organization having compelling stories at their fingertips. And for many organizations, it’s the difference between investing in telling the organization’s story in a more compelling way—or not investing.”

jackson flatsStorytelling is much more than creative ways to share a project or an idea. Storytelling gets to the core of why we design great places in a way that everyone understands. For instance, Confluence Denver just wrote an article title “Three Ways to Keep Housing Affordable for Artists” The article describes a couple who has small children and needs a place to work on their art. They have found a great home in a live/work building, Artspace Jackson Flats. The article goes on to explain why the space is so great for the family and the work they do as well as the impact of the physical space. This article is not an architect speaking to the effectiveness of the design or the decisions that influenced the final parti. It is real human issues connected to a family that many people can relate to and just so happens to explain why they enjoy their home so much. And as we all know, they enjoy it because of the architecture and the care the architect took in designing this home.

jackson-flats_artspaceThe key is this: whom are you targeting for your message? We know our conversations are often insulated and difficult to understand. Today, try and think of one story and how you would share this with your mother or your best friend (assuming they are not in the profession). Speak to the importance of good architecture but relate it emotionally to your audience. It doesn’t need to be about changing the conversation, but about directing and connecting it to the right people.

Finally, go ahead and share your story! We have to be the ambassadors of the architecture story.

The Year of the Advocate

If you haven’t noticed, the AIA has rolled out a new campaign titled the “Year of the Advocate”. (I can hardly blame you if you haven’t IMG_3774noticed). We receive multiple emails a day from National AIA, Advocacy AIA, I Look Up AIA, AIA Colorado, and various others depending on which lists you are subscribed to. However, I feel that this specific email regarding Advocacy is more important than the others. The mission of the campaign is to get AIA members involved in advocacy efforts and hopefully donate to ArchiPAC. Before you write this post off, bear with me. I want to explain why Advocacy is so vitally important to our profession. It is arguably one of the greatest benefits of the AIA membership. If you aren’t sure why advocacy is important or why ArchiPAC needs your money, I hope to help explain that.

Three Reasons Advocacy is Important

  1. Advocacy affects you (all of you!) It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do or where you work. The Advocacy branch of the AIA helps to reach out to elected officials (national works at a national level, states work at state legislature levels) and support those politicians that support architecture. If you own your company, if you care about the high cost of student loans or if you design energy efficient buildings, Advocacy should be a priority.
  2. Advocacy efforts and ArchiPAC are bi-partisan. If you are anything like me, you have followed the news closely and it seems that America may be more partisan than ever as well as the politicians that represent us. This is not true for ArchiPAC. ArchiPAC donates an equal amount to each party and its candidates. It is not about Republican, Democrat or Independent. The support goes to candidates whose views align with the legislative agenda of architects.

Wait… What is ArchiPAC? ArchiPAC is the federal Political Action Committee of the AIA. Fundraising occurs every year and then the money is dispersed to support leaders who support architects. It is important that we have a PAC because that is how support and awareness is raised in the Hill in DC. AIA is not allowed to donate to campaigns so ArchiPAC is funded solely through its members.

  1. Influence = Ability to Shape Our Profession. There has been one President that has been an architect. AIA Advocates aren’t asking all of us to run in the next presidential election, but sitting on community and local boards helps to create architectural influence within our communities. Architects should be sitting on Planning Boards, Infrastructure Committees; whatever it may be in your community. We are experts in our field and have a responsibility to share this expertise with the rest of our community. Not only does the community benefit when we share our expertise but architecture as a profession benefits when we are recognized as valuable and relevant. This is easily done when architects get involved in the community and helps the community to understand what it is we do.

Like most efforts, this takes a grassroots approach. Not everyone can donate a lot of money. Not everyone has the desire to serve on a local committee. The first step is figure out what you personally feel is important and advocate for that. When we all step up and advocate for the profession together, we are a stronger profession.

Speaking Numbers 

We all know money speaks. As of November 30, 2014, ArchiPAC raised $276,142.70 with a total of 1,610 contributors. ( There are 85,500 members in the AIA. Imagine if we all just donated one dollar? Even more than the dollar amount increase, can you imagine how much awareness would grow if every member donated a minimal amount? Influence comes in many forms. Money helps. But recognition is where the influence lies.

If you are now feeling inspired to support the future of the architecture profession, please make a contribution to ArchiPAC today.

If you aren’t sold yet, feel free to reach out and ask me about your doubts.

Advocacy is important. Donating and volunteering may not be your thing. But I challenge you to reach out to one person today that may not know anything about an architect and ask them why they think architecture is important. You might just be pleasantly surprised in their answer, if they don’t have an answer take a moment an explain it to them. Just by spreading the word, you have supported the “Year of the Advocate”.

Information from and

Disclaimer: Under federal election law, all contributions must be from U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Contributions to ArchiPAC are not tax deductible. Federal law requires political committees to use best efforts to collect and report the name, address, employer and occupation of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year. Amounts are suggestions only. Contributions are strictly voluntary and do not affect AIA membership status. Corporate contributions are prohibited by law. 


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


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

AEF Traveling Scholarship

For the last 53 years, the Architectural Education Foundation (AEF) has administered one of the coolest traveling grant programs this side of the Mississippi. More than 250 students, architects and faculty have received over $1 million in scholarships, grants and other awards. What do they do with these dollars? Travel. That’s right—they get PAID to travel. The caveat? Recipients must experience architecture (and meet a few other criteria). The deadline for applications (plural—there’s more than just one grant) is Monday, March 10, at 4 p.m., so that gives you the WHOLE weekend to churn it out. Let’s be real, you were going to wait until the last minute anyway. Free up that Sunday night and start applying! Download the Call for Submittals. 

Throughout the year, we’ll be featuring grant recipients to get folks excited about these amazing and accessible opportunities. Grab a glass of wine (or latte since it’s still early) and enjoy our first post by 2013 AEF grant recipient and Italian nomad Cynthia Fishman, AIA.

Last year I was the fortunate recipient of the Architectural Education Foundation’s Arthur A. Fisher, AIA, and Florence G. Fisher Traveling Scholarship I, which allowed me to travel to Italy for 11 days.  It was a life changing experience, as I had never been to Italy and had never traveled to a foreign country by myself.  I chose Italy since I was specifically interested in seeing how a place so rich with history had evolved over time, using architecture as the backdrop.  Italy is home to the Classical style from the Age of Augustus, the Rational style from the time of Mussolini as well as modern buildings of today.  Italy had seemed to reinvent itself, using architecture as a tool to portray a message, whether it was unification or logic or innovation.  I had planned to study how these messages came through and how I could develop my own style so that my designs could also have a message.  My trip was more than I ever could have imagined.  I was able to visit Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Venice where I saw first-hand the details, textures, beauty and humor of this amazing country.  It was breath taking to see how seamlessly the past and present were both layered and combined.  It is one thing to study these cities in a two-dimensional way, but architecture is meant to be experienced.  Being a recipient of a traveling scholarship gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in fabulous spaces, food and culture; there is no substitute for the real thing.  Becoming an architect is a process that goes way beyond going to school and passing exams.  It is a way a life.  Going to Italy helped me on my path to figuring out who I am and the impact I would like to have on the built environment in a way that has forever changed me.


Pompeii, sculpture of Diana amongst temple ruins

Pompeii, sculpture of Diana amongst temple ruins

 Rome, Pantheon ceiling at dusk

Rome, Pantheon ceiling at dusk

 Rome, Ara Pacis Museum by Richard Meier

Rome, Ara Pacis Museum by Richard Meier

Florence, Stained glass light fixture detail

Florence, Stained glass light fixture detail

Florence, local graffiti on signage

Florence, local graffiti on signage

Cynthia Fishman, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Young Architects Forum Co-Chair, AIA Colorado

Board of Directors, Architecture for Humanity – Denver