2022 Practice + Design Conference Keynote Reflections

Not all of us could attend the 2022 Practice + Design Conference at Keynote, but thankfully a few AIA Colorado members are able to give us a glimpse into what it was like to attend three of the keynote presentations.

Keynote: “Catalyzing Connection: How Architecture Can Combat Loneliness,” Erin Peavey AIA

We’re Back! What a great feeling it is to engage with other Architecture professionals in one place! This is something that has been lacking the past few years and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how hard these past few years have been. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed so much in our lives and has taken an extreme toll on all of us. None of us will get through this unchanged.

That’s why I was drawn to Erin’s presentation and was excited to hear what Erin Peavey had to say on the topic of loneliness. Erin has been featured in numerous notable publications, including Psychology Today, and she also hosts her own podcast “Shared Space” where she explores how our lives shape and are shaped by the designs around us. 

One of the key take-aways from her talk was that “Design is never neutral; It either supports health or hinders it”. Those are powerful words to keep in mind when sitting down in front of your computer screen every day. We must remember that Architects are public health workers.

Studies show that ½ of all Americans feel lonely. While there’s a difference between social isolation (measured by actual number of contacts with others) and loneliness (a subjective feeling of being alone) proof exists that both are extremely bad for your health. Loneliness has become a national epidemic. The good news is that we can combat this with social connection, which reduces death by 50%…ahem… in person conferences!

We dove into a few interactive case studies that allowed us to review what works best at “Third Places”, or informal public settings such as your local coffee shop, city parks, street blocks, etc. We were asked to grade these based on accessibility, activation, choice, nature, human scale, and sense of place. Using these criteria, it was easy to understand what works for spaces around us and why other open spaces may fail at becoming activated.

Much of what we learned over the past few years is that we are social creatures and whether we are introverted or extroverted we all need human connection. It’s important for us, as Architects, to remember that our spaces must keep those who will be utilizing the space in mind. Additionally, we need to keep fully inclusive designs in mind. 

We all come from different sizes, abilities, cultures, and desires and our designs should always incorporate these aspects. Erin’s presentation was a timely reminder that as we emerge from this pandemic, we still, cautiously sometimes, crave human connection. The spaces we design should encourage more honest and sincere human connection.

Caitlin Witte, AIA, NCARB

AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Co-Chair

Project Architect, Hord Coplan Macht

Keynote: “Testing Biophilic Design,” Kelley Tapia AIA, Samskara Studio

Prior to the Conference, I was unaware of the work by keynote speaker Kelley Tapia, from Samskara Studio. Her approach and discussion about getting back to nature and imagining a brighter world for the future was inspiring and allowed for opportunities to get to know one another in our two different breakout discussions.

I was able to meet my neighbor and understand their “Why” for the importance of sustainability and in turn they recognized my “Why.” If you haven’t watched Annie Leonard’s video “Story of Stuff” it will give you a “Why” if you do not have one.

In our second break-out session we were put into groups of 5, to discuss our “Why” and to recognize the patterns amongst us. We were challenged to come up with a way for our group to change our routine in a way that will help sustain our world for a brighter future and assist the group’s “Why.” In doing so, we realized that you must give something else up to achieve this. For instance, if you bike to work, you need adjust your schedule. If you take the bus, you need to get up earlier. If you go to a farmer’s market over the conventional grocery store, you give up convenience, but in doing so you provide opportunities for small businesses, for locally sourced and in season produce, and less waste from overly packaged products.

I left thinking of the possibilities and the opportunity for regenerative design and the inspiration of working together, learning from the resilience of nature. I now have 5 additional reasons for my “Why” and learned that what was important to one of us, had commonalties between all of us.

Amanda Gonzales

Job Captain, Neenan Archistruction

Keynote: “The Architecture of Healthy Communities,” Katie Swenson, MASS Design Group

I am familiar with MASS Design Group’s work and general design approach from some years ago when I was in school but am not familiar with the speaker directly or any of their recent work. It was great to get reacquainted with their work and their message and I was quite surprised to see them on the schedule for the conference. Have always loved the way they approach design, generating design solutions from a very moral ground, aimed at directly aiding humanity through design. 

Katie spoke about acting as a Community Architect. Referencing her books “Design with Love: At Home in America” and “In Bohemia: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Kindness”, she focused on the power of shelter and the great comfort and healing that can come from having a home, having one’s own space for the people and the things that they love and cherish, as well as having a space that can protect and comfort us when we grieve.  

Elaborating, she discussed how developers, municipalities, and architects typically approach Affordable Housing projects and how a subtle change in our definition of these projects, calling them “homes” instead of “housing”, can make a huge impact on the trajectory of the project. Not making the switch could be considered “the first step toward inequity”. It’s such a simple move to make that can really alter the direction of the project. 

She implored us to think of other similar moves that are easy to make, ones that would help us start from a far more just and equitable place for all with minimal effort, knowing that these distinctions are much harder to insert retroactively on most projects.

I really appreciated her comment toward architecture as a whole (and I may be paraphrasing slightly), “It always hurts, or it helps. Architecture is never neutral.” This was quite a strong statement for me, and I will definitely be reminding myself of this in my own work. 

She also suggested that “Design is fundamentally optimistic,” reminding us that we entered the profession for similar reasons: to do good.  I am currently working on an affordable housing project, so all of this resonated quite strongly. We all want to do the most amount of good. There are often limitations and constraints that prevent us from doing this, which can be frustrating, but some good is still better than no good. Her statements were strong and resonated as a call to action for architects to “do better”. Not a bad way to start the first session of the day at 8AM! I was motivated and inspired for the rest of the day. It was a great session. 

The need for architects was also discussed. Talking a bit about why are we necessary when a developer or builder can come along and create nearly similar work, likely for less cost. Possibly compounding that argument, architecture can often be viewed as a currency for the affluent. It can easily create more divide and injustice if we are not careful about how we design and how we uphold and project our design when we speak of it.  

She then reminded us of our “fundamental optimism”, to remember the good that we can do, our potential, and how architecture and design can also so easily heal if wielded appropriately.  She concluded with the affirmation that “we are needed, but we need to be better.” As most of our work is produced for affluent clientele, this hit close to home for me. 

Zach Wilson, AIA, LFA

CCY Architects

Keynote: Inspired Design Keynote, Christopher McAnneny AIA, Heatherwick Studio

We were given a deep dive into the human-driven design of Google Bay View. One repeated theme for project success was collaboration. “The concept we developed, we couldn’t have done by ourselves”. Within the project, they had to collaborate with the solar roof tile manufacturer to create a new product specific to their needs. In the field, they utilized the contracting team to help develop innovative solutions for issues that arose during construction. And within the plan, they provided different experiences for different types of collaboration.

For the design, there was already a language in the area of long span structures and it became clear that is what the client needed. A canopy to house human scale, while bringing nature up to and into the building. By harnessing water runoff, they were able to create new natural habitat areas within the site. The building is a 100% fresh air system with geothermal used for the cooling loads.

The plan breaks the program down to house teams or a collection of teams on staggered plates that create different zones and keep connections to views of nature. Within the floorplan, different moments are designed to provide interest, intimacy and warmth. Human scale is achieved using different materials to denote different program elements of the building, and materials have two or three purposes to their selections.

Mark Bever, AIA, NCARB


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