Colorado Architecture News | 03.15.23


We’re excited to share that AIA Colorado has a new mission statement:

“Elevating the architecture profession to design a more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful Colorado.”

New AIA Colorado Mission Statement

We’re looking forward what this revised statement can mean for the organization’s present and future. Follow the link to learn more about the process and why each of these words were chosen.


2023 Design Awards: Call for Entries Now Open!

The annual AIA Colorado Design + Honor Awards recognize the most outstanding work of AIA Colorado members and their firms, reinforce the value of great architecture, and highlight members’ positive contributions to the community. The 2023 Design Awards call for entries is now open! Learn more about submission requirements at the link below. 

The 2023 Honor Awards will open for submissions March 29th. The deadline to enter for both the Design + Honor Awards is May 19.

Save the Date: 2023’s Design + Honor Awards Celebration will be at Mile High Station September 19th.


An Update on the Marshall Fire Recovery Efforts

On March 2nd, the AIA Colorado Board of Directors heard from Kim Sanchez, Boulder County Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning, and were updated on the ongoing rebuilding efforts in Boulder County following the Marshall Fire of December 2021. Editorial Committee member Anna Friedrich was also in attendance and shares what she learned.


Join the West Section for an Architectural Open House Event in Eagle on April 27

Join members from the West on April 27th at Alan-Bradley Window & Doors in Eagle for Continuing Education courses followed by a social happy hour. Choose 2 courses of Continuing Education from a variety offered. Please RSVP and sign up for courses in advance.


Considering AIA Fellowship?

Fellowship is the highest recognition, other than the gold medal award, given to architects recognizing their work, their service, and volunteerism. It is not an award for longevity in the profession, but for merit and effort. As we engage 2023 and evaluate professional goals for the coming year, we invite you to learn more about and consider AIA Fellowship. Preliminary submittals for the nominating committee to review as they assist our members interested in Fellowship are due by March 27th.


Anderson Hallas has a new location, just a short walk from their old office in Golden.

News to Share? Does your firm have news that you’d like to share with the AIA Colorado community? If so, please send to for consideration and inclusion.


University of Colorado’s Design Review Board Seeks A Licensed Architect and a Professional Landscape Architect 

The mission of the University of Colorado DRB is to provide review and advice to parties charged with the design and development of capital projects at all campus properties under the control of the Board of Regents. Posting will be live through March 24th. Apply here.

CAP Lecture Series: Geostories with Rania Ghosn

How does the architectural imagination make sense of the Earth at a moment in which the planet is presented in crisis? In Geostories: Another Architecture for the Environment, DESIGN EARTH deploys the speculative project to make visible and public the climate crisis. The talk is organized into three parts—terrarium, aquarium, planetarium—each of which revisits a media device—respectively expounded through drawing, model, and material archive— to reassemble publics around representations of the Earth. This lecture is free and open to the public and will also be livestreamed and recorded. Learn more and RSVP to attend.


Share Your Story. How Has the Rolling Clock Impacted You?

The American Institute of Architects celebrates the recent decision and encourages you to share your story of how you have been affected by the rolling clock on your journey to licensure. Share Your Story.

AIA Announces recipients for 2023 Awards

While we’re still celebrating Tryba’s national award for Denver’s GoSpotCheck Headquarters, AIA has announced the following awards:

January 2023 Architectural Billings Index Released

Architectural firm billings decline at slower pace. Read more.

A’23 in San Francisco

A’23 – AIA Conference on Architecture is heading to the Bay Area June 7-10, 2023. Registration is now open! Visit the Conference Website for more info.

AIA Colorado Updates Mission Statement

“Elevating the architecture profession to design a more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful Colorado.”

New AIA Colorado Mission Statement

Here’s a breakdown of why each word was selected:

‘Elevating’ is our action, the verb of the organization—what we are here to do. It is also a subtle nod to our place in the world as the home of the greatest mountain ranges in America.

‘the architecture profession’ is our membership and our audience encompassing every career stage—who we serve. 

‘to design’ is what our members do, what sets them apart from others and is the core function of their work. 

‘a more’ says wherever we stand today is not where we plan to stay. Always moving forward and raising the bar. 

‘equitable, sustainable, and beautiful’ is what society can expect as the result of everyone’s efforts. Better practitioners make better communities. And the order matters because unless what we do is equitable and sustainable, it won’t matter how beautiful. 

Finally, ‘Colorado’ is home and our place to do what we do.

Mike Waldinger, AIA Colorado CEO, worked with board members to refine the organization’s mission and vision statement, to craft language that more accurately and succinctly describes AIA Colorado’s purpose. So, he put pen to paper after undergoing the task of learning from other industries, associations, and organizations about the their own mission statements, what has worked, what hasn’t, and how to ensure that any statement would be unique to AIA Colorado.

Mike shared these thoughts with members of the AIA Colorado Board of Directors:

“The inspiration for this actually came from our recent visit to Washington DC. While we were on Capitol Hill, a work of art caught our eye in a Congressional office. It was a visual rendition of America the Beautiful. Originally written from the vantage point of Pikes Peak—our state and our ideals. 

The rest is informed by working with words professionally over my career and seeing missions come and go plus the desire to more succinctly capture our purpose in one phrase versus four levels of statements.”

Recently adopted at the March 2nd Board Meeting in Boulder, we’re looking forward what this revised mission and vision can mean for the organization’s present and future. 

American Institute of Architects (AIA) Elevates Three Colorado Architects to the College of Fellows

Three outstanding architects from Colorado have been newly elevated to the College of Fellows, one of the highest honors bestowed by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)

Ron Abo, FAIA, Principal at The Abo Group, Victor Olgyay, FAIA, Principal at Rocky Mountain Instutute, and Brad Tomecek, FAIA, Principal at Tomecek Studio Architecture were recognized for their contributions to the architecture profession, and their dedication to advancing the built environment. Only 3 percent of AIA’s 95,000 members hold this distinction and only 76 new fellows were inducted this year, a historically small number. Even in a historically small group of inductees, Colorado had the largest class of new Fellows in five years! 

Prospective candidates must have at least 10 years of AIA architect membership and demonstrated influence in at least one of the following areas:

  • Promoted the aesthetic, scientific, and practical ef?ciency of the profession. 
  • Advanced the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of practice. 
  • Coordinated the building industry, and the profession of architecture. 
  • Ensured the advancement of the living standards of people through their improved environment. 
  • Made the profession of ever-increasing service to society. 
  • Advanced the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of architectural education and training.

Each of the newly elevated Fellows had prepared a preliminary submittal for the AIA Colorado Fellows Nominating Committee (FNC) to review and provide comments and each were sponsored by a previously elevated Fellow themselves. After receiving a full endorsement from the Committee, their nominations were ratified by the AIA Colorado Board. The Committee is now soliciting submittals for 2023, which are due by Wednesday, March 29th

Ron Abo, FAIA, Principal at The Abo Group, has developed a reputation for designing innovative, sustainable, and efficient buildings that enrich the communities in which they are located. Abo is also actively involved in the community as a founding board member of NOMA Colorado and has served on the boards of several more non-profit organizations, including AIA Colorado, the Denver Architectural Foundation, the Downtown Denver Partnership, and the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts.

“I plan to retire at the end of 2023, so being elected to the College of Fellows caps a rewarding, satisfying and wonderful 50-year career as an architect.”

— Ron Abo, FAIA

“There was a perception that fellowship was reserved for signature design architects. It is a breath of fresh air that the profession is finally recognizing exceptional talent and accomplishments in the community and in support for diversity equity and inclusion. Ron has had a distinguished career enriching the lives of the Asian American community giving his time to underserved populations in our society. I was so pleased to see Fellowship given as recognition of these and other accomplishments of architects in improving the quality of life of our communities.”

— Rich Von Luhrte, FAIA

Victor Olgyay, FAIA, Principal at Rocky Mountain Institute is an architect, educator, and researcher where he is leading an initiative to encourage widespread adoption of comprehensive building energy retrofits resulting in energy savings of at least 50 percent. Olgyay is known for his groundbreaking research focused on ecological restoration and on ecosystem services as criteria for green building assessment. Recently Victor’s research has expanded into building tool application, especially for demonstrating the reduction of carbon, water, and ecological footprints.

“I am honored to have supported Victor Olgyay’s elevation to FAIA. His entire career in architecture has exhibited resolute progress and achievements toward a more climate responsible future for the built environment. The influence of his work is evident in finished projects, research, teaching, writings, lectures and in advocacy for low carbon architecture and the promotion of fundamental bioclimatic design.”

— Cheri Gerou, FAIA

Brad Tomecek, FAIA, is the Founder and Principal of the architecture firm Tomecek Studio Architecture, where he has focused on creating beautiful, sustainable, and functional designs for residential and commercial projects. Tomecek is a leader in the Denver architecture community, and has received numerous awards for his work, including the AIA Colorado Young Architect of the Year Award in 2015 and AIA Colorado Architect of the Year in 2022

“I found it insightful to take the time to critically examine a thread, within a body of work, to better understand where we have been, where we are now, and most importantly, where are we headed.”

— Brad Tomecek, FAIA

Please join us in congratulating Ron Abo, FAIA, Victor Olgyay, FAIA, and Brad Tomecek, FAIA on their elevation to the AIA College of Fellows. Their dedication to excellence in architecture and commitment to sustainability and innovation are an inspiration to us all.

One Question Series: Part 5, Examples of Equity

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the fifth and final installment of the monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Give us an example of how your current or previous workplace has prioritized equity and inclusion in the firm’s culture and/or projects.

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Associate Project Architect at The Abo Group
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“There has been a humbling and hopeful shift within architectural firms in our community. We have been included in that shift toward making J.E.D.I. a priority. With the death of George Floyd and the constraints of a pandemic, issues concerning J.E.D.I. could no longer be ignored. We found ourselves in a twilight zone that allowed it to become a priority, many firms and organizations created safe spaces for BIPOC individuals and their allies through various forms of J.E.D.I. committees. We were finally given space to collect and voice our thoughts but not enough power to enact change.

We have not seen enough examples of J.E.D.I. prioritized through projects yet. Yes, project teams are becoming diversified or winning projects through diverse hires. But where are the stories of the project team matching the diversity of their client or the project community? We should be providing architectural services that consider equitable solutions for the client and the project community. Few examples exist, especially when compared to how much we prioritize sustainability, accessibility, or energy conservation over equity and inclusion.

We have committees, employee resources groups, and many POC being promoted to diversity chair roles, white little at the high-level has changed. POC, especially black people, are not seeing the fruits of having J.E.D.I. committees in place or being promoted to higher levels of leadership. Firms should continue to have these support groups not only as a resource to employees, but as a catalyst for leaders to enact change. Without this level of prioritization, we will continue to have the uneasy feeling that the hype around J.E.D.I. is fading.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Our firm is committed to equity and inclusion in our culture and career development. We understand that each team member is unique and has varying access to resources and privileges. By providing fair opportunities for all team members based on their individual needs, we foster an environment where people can bring their whole selves to the work, have open collaboration, transparency and understanding. Part of my leadership role is working with the individual and the team to identify where more support may be needed to help each team member feel comfortable, confident, and safe. I believe that this approach to our culture results in better design, impactful projects and more fun!

At the core of equity and inclusion at R+B is operating with transparency. First, we conduct semi-annual wellness surveys and share the results with our team. We openly invite team members to participate in firm committees, including J.E.D.I. and Sustainability Committees. Through both surveys and committees, we elicit feedback from the entire team and make recommended changes. Part of our transparency is demystifying the profession and supporting each team member through a workforce education program. This includes weekly “lunch and learns” for professional growth, a professional development program, and robust mentorship program. The AIA Colorado Practice and Design Conference is back in person this year and we are excited to invite and sponsor all 40 of our team members to participate. Lastly, by making our role descriptions accessible to all, both on our server and on our website, it encourages team members to discuss and create goals for career advancements and leadership positions, reviewed semi-annually.

Everyone on our team contributes and makes us whole. Our firm’s diverse cross-level representation is important to our success. Our team is 46% female and 50% of our executive team is female. We believe in elevating from within and all promotions are listed internally first before being posted. Wage equity is prioritized and is achieved through pay equity analysis, strategic salary banding for fair hiring practices and merit increases and listing salaries on job postings. Benefits are inclusive and accessible to all team members, including family health insurance and spousal health for all types of couples. Two years ago, through the recommendation of our J.E.D.I. Committee, we implemented a floating holiday to celebrate diverse holidays.

I am proud that our firm’s commitment to equity and inclusion was recognized with the Just Label in 2022. We have done a lot in our 19 years of firm life to create a supportive culture and continue to listen, learn and grow each year. I am humbled by our team and everyone’s deep care for each other and willingness to openly participate. We work hard and play hard together!”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“The biggest cultural change for equity and inclusion at my workplace was the formulation of a J.E.D.I. committee in the wake of the 2020 social justice movement. I witnessed a shift in focus to align with projects and clients that prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion. There was also more emphasis in partnering with diverse and minority consultants. Before 2020 there were boilerplate statements referencing the fair employment act as a standard for DEI. Any company can claim allyship in this way by simply following the law. Allyship can be empathetic and passive while an agent brings the action. In these 2 years since, I’ve observed a movement away from allyship and towards agency by making a commitment to uphold equitable and unbiased practices.

An institution or company’s commitment to DEI is not outlined purely in a policy, statement, or action plan. It’s repacking the values of empathy, representation, and support. Measuring diversity and inclusion is complex and nonlinear; actions speak louder than metrics. It takes building critical consciousness by seeking to diversify multicultural perspective and analysis. A successful tool was creating a connection point that increased the avenues for voices to be heard. Our internal forum provided a means to instigate dialog via sharing tips, educational books/podcasts, and strategies. There is an emphasis on connecting the links between big societal problems in everyday actions. Our group added Juneteenth as an official work holiday to align with a holistic view brought on by the impact of the social justice movement. In some way we’ve created a catalog to identify plans to take real action, as well as nurture and execute reform through opportunities for everyone involved to get educated.

There is a huge importance of learning from educators; DEI is no exception in this regard. The program takes budget, executive buy-in, and integration at all levels. We’ve consistently invited DEI consultants and specialists to educate our group in wholesome narratives. This speaks to an investment in training/coaching and developing cultural competence. There’s also championing of pay equity, advancement opportunities, and occasions to find diverse candidates through networking and actively recruiting at HBCUs. I’m fortunate to have a CEO that values and supports people doing the work of these initiatives.

Prioritizing equity and inclusion takes a range of traits, experiences, and backgrounds at different levels. It’s more than diverse leadership and filling a quota. We ignore embodied experiences and we miss important somatic and qualitative data when we quantify diversity by metrics only. Awakening a collective feeling where different voices are valued, accepted and supported cultivates a sense of belonging and pride in the work culture.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“In what I have seen, some firms have developed better frameworks than others on how to think critically when it comes to engaging equity and inclusion in the firm’s culture. I think one of the better ways of incorporating this type of work has been through establishing internal J.E.D.I. committees. This demonstrates a firm’s acknowledgment of inequality throughout the profession and their action to possibly do something about it. One of the major things a committee like this can provide is their retention rates in regards to BIPOC folk and how they set up those individuals towards licensure. This is the tiniest of seeds that need to be planted throughout all firms that truly want to see their culture shift towards a more inclusive one.

As J.E.D.I. committees become successful internally within firms, I believe that If we truly want to see a shift and change in the diversity of this profession there needs to be a standard set for everyone to follow and a sense of accountability. In doing so these internal J.E.D.I. committees established throughout firms can host a series of goals and report back their efforts to entities like AIA and NOMA. This would not only benefit the profession as a whole, but also the world around us by becoming more inclusive, sustainable, accessible, and equitable. We can’t let the movement that the summer of 2020 created fade, there needs to be a constant refueling and calibration of what we are trying to accomplish.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“I believe wholeheartedly that our work as architects is strengthened by the diversity, experiences, differing backgrounds and values of those with whom we work and collaborate. I also believe the uniqueness of individuals with whom we work directly influences a firm’s culture and quality of design. Regarding our firm, which is and has historically been a woman owned small business, we believe that we can achieve better design and project outcomes for our clients by facilitating open design discussions that are fully inclusive of all staff. We regularly hold firm-wide design dialogues and specific project charrette meetings, as well as design critiques, welcoming any and all input from the collective team. It is from these discussions that some of our most successful project design concepts and outcomes have emerged. I believe strongly that this approach has also directly contributed to enhancing our firm’s culture, specifically because of the diversity, differing perspectives and personal points of view that each of our team members bring to our firm and these discussions. Another important result of this approach is increased trust and respect among those on our team, resulting in prioritized equity and inclusion by all.

Our firm focuses almost exclusively on projects in the public sector, and those projects that aim to provide services and experiences which enhance the communities they serve. We immensely value and embrace the opportunities these projects provide to engage directly with community members and clients of all backgrounds, as so much of our work includes broader community outreach. Through these opportunities and the interactions that they provide, we collectively feel as though we are contributing to a greater good. This ultimately feeds our collective passion as a firm, respect for one another and defines our firm’s culture.”

We invite you to read or revisit previous questions in this series:

Question #1: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

Question #2: “How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?”

Question #3: “Tell us about a time when you were not able to bring your full identity into your work.”

Question #4: “Recall a moment when you witnessed unjust behavior. How did you act then and how might you act differently today?”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. This series will culminate in a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

One Question Series: Part 4, Being a Bystander

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the fourth installment of the monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Recall a moment when you witnessed unjust behavior. How did you act then and how might you act differently today?

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“I only recall a few instances early in my career of witnessing unjust behavior. Since then, I have been fortunate with regard to the character and integrity of those whom I work with most closely and feel the injustices witnessed years ago were actions of long-standing stereotypes throughout the history of our profession that we are actively working to break down today. These examples relate mostly to internal corporate power struggles but also perceptions of gender bias.

In retrospect, it is frustrating that there was not the awareness that there is today with regard to J.E.D.I. initiatives, and that those in the positions with the power to implement positive change did not recognize or prioritize this need. I have learned to express my concerns about this realization much more strongly, but at the time it wasn’t something that was as clearly in focus as it is today (at least for me personally as someone just starting my own career following graduation). Fortunately, my more recent professional experiences have included much greater diversity and equality. This, along with our collective introspection as a profession as it relates to justice within the workplace, has heightened my (and hopefully our collective) awareness, where I am now significantly more conditioned to consciously look for any instances of inequity or inappropriateness, not just within the workplace but also as it relates to prospective clients or broader team members with whom we may collaborate.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“If you were to ask me this question when I started my career in Architecture I wouldn’t be able to jump into conversation about a specific experience. At that time, I had enough emotional intelligence to be uncomfortable or upset, but not enough to identify the injustice itself. Fast forward to today and I can pinpoint several injustices that I have experienced, and I can recall the various ways I had to address them. Understanding what unjust behavior is and being able to identify it can feel similar to subconscious bias. However hard it may be to see, it is very real for the receiving person.

Most recently, the leadership within NOMA Colorado have heard far too many stories of unjust behavior from our emerging professionals and recent graduates. In response to these reports we have been able to engage in raw, straightforward communication with those responsible to address the behaviors directly. While we are addressing the unjust behavior, we are also thinking ahead, thinking about prevention. NOMA Colorado truly cares about making our organizations a safe and empowering place for our local professionals. We will not ignore the stories we hear from our members. We’re standing our ground and will not promote firms that disregard injustices within their communities.

We all have come a long way in terms of witnessing injustices and being able to do something about it. However, there is more work to be done, the era of complacency is gone, and we all have the responsibility to react appropriately. It’s 2022, if “you see something, you say something”.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“My circle of influence has been crystallizing and I continue to understand my voice and advocate within our profession for a better tomorrow. As a firm leader, along with my partners, we are laser focused on running an equitable firm based on just practices. We are a proponent of the Equal Pay For Equal Work Act mandating visibility with pay and opportunities. Our firm lists salaries with all job postings and provides strategic and equitable compensation amongst the team positions. Equal pay for equal work is paramount and is our backbone, creating balance and equity. We internally and externally post all promotional opportunities available within the firm and the transparency has resulted in talented yet unexpected team members rising to the top. I am vocal about our policies with other leaders and have witnessed their organizations making a change to be a more just workplace.

Valuing our work with clients is a just behavior we continue to defend. Over the last nineteen years, we have been asked multiple times in RFPs and interviews to perform services for reduced fees or for free. This is unjust and when agreed to erodes the equity for our team and our profession. Agreeing to undervalue our work results in unsustainable internal work demands to make up for the unbilled time.

Recently, we were asked to participate in a RFP for an exciting project we had been following for months. Part of the request included presenting design ideas at the interview. This is old behavior that must change. In our response of regret, we took advantage of the opportunity to educate the client about why it is an unjust policy and a disservice to the profession to ask for free work. We used our voice to speak up and make change. Our response gave a message to our team and to our client that together we can shape a different future.

Professional and personally, I try to always recognize and correct my own biases or unjust behavior. Our workplace has evolved, and my behavior also has. For example, I used to rely on nearby teammates to help with unexpected requests. This action does not give equal opportunity to the entire team and I am now purposeful about reaching out to someone I don’t “see” often and engage them to work together. I encourage the entire team to acknowledge and respect each others’ skills and strive to give equal opportunities to members at every level. I hope to foster a culture of openness and opportunity, where there is no room for unjust actions.”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“Injustice may be seen in all aspects of our society, and it is ingrained in our attitudes toward diversity and inclusion. These intersections form the fabric of our work/life dynamic, while in the background is a culture that fosters complicity in sustaining the status quo. As a BIPOC living and working in the United States, I’ve witnessed injustice in various forms, involving philosophy and/or overt prejudice. The safest approach was often to endure it or leave, but dealing with these difficulties in real time necessitates personal honesty and accountability, gained by experience.

Microaggressions are an interwoven part of our society. Unfortunately, implicit bias and stereotypes are commonplace when speaking from a position of comfort. “You’re articulate for a black person,” “You’re the exception because xyz,” or even a comment about my hair texture are examples of slights in conversations. This type of comfort makes it convenient to invalidate and refuse to acknowledge experiences. The emotional labor frequently falls on the marginalized group, so through introspection, I’ve learnt to pick my battles. There is an unsettling feeling of self-doubt when unpacking those comments. Is it because of my age/race/gender or is it because I’m not excelling at my tasks? How do I react in a way that doesn’t play into stereotypes? Changing people’s mind is not a sustainable objective but continuing a genuine narrative about accountability can be.

It’s ordinary to witness abuse of authority. It’s especially disheartening when there’s a sense of comfort in maintaining oblique narratives that establish a false sense of impartiality. In the year 2020, it became unacceptable to remain silent in the face of rampant police brutality. After 2020, many organizations recognized the value of forming a diversity committee and addressing injustice. In some cases, rather than encouraging actual progress, there was a diminishing value placed on authentic experiences, which undermined those initiatives. It’s promoting a “not all cops” mindset and refusing to support or engage with Black Lives Matter. From Emmett Teal to George Floyd, there has always been time for dialogue, but today there are true consequences for not participating in the effort to change.

There is no escape from the spectrum of racism; so, I emphasize the value of seeking places where differences are embraced and appreciated. I want to be associated with those who have the ability and desire to stand publicly against injustice. I recognize that my identity politics puts me on the front lines of navigating these events, but with every experience comes growth for the future.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“One of the unfortunate experiences I have witnessed was when some fellow students were hosting an exhibition on anti-racist spaces. Two professors who were not attached to the project caught my attention as they purposefully went into the exhibit space with an agenda. Their agenda was not to “debate” the content, but rather try to “disprove” the student’s methodology and overall work.

It was clear that the professors showed up to the exhibit without taking any time to read through the content and reflect upon the work that was displayed. Instead, they immediately jumped to the students and demanded they explain their work. It was obvious that these professors did not want to take the time to actually think through or try to understand the exhibition. The professors would jump in and out of the conversation, playing devil’s advocate.

Reflecting on this situation, I’m disappointed that I did not intervene and start asking the professors questions about the exhibit itself. I believe doing so would not only have helped them start thinking about the work, but also probably help them realize that their approach towards the students was not correct. Looking at this incident from an even bigger picture it is clear that there was an unconscious bias towards the students of color as they were approached by two white professors. Since then, I have lived with the regret of not doing anything and often think of the result had I intervened. I learned from this experience and now I abide by the motto: “doing something is better than doing nothing”.”

We invite you to read or revisit previous questions in this series:

Question #1: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

Question #2: “How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?”

Question #3: “Tell us about a time when you were not able to bring your full identity into your work.”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. Next month is our live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

AIA Colorado board members tour the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, CO

By Anna Friedrich, Assoc. AIA

When you are invited to drive up to Grand Lake on a late summer Friday, it’s hard to say no. In mid-August, I was fortunate enough to tag along on the AIA Colorado board retreat and water conservancy tour organized by Scott Munn, director of AIA Colorado West. Scott grew up spending his summers at a family cabin on the historic Grand Lake, and now calls the nearby community of Granby home, where he splits his time between his award-winning residential architectural practice and the many outdoor activities and attractions available for residents and visitors to Grand County.

Retreat attendees were President Wells Squier, President-Elect Sarah Broughton, Associate Director Kari Lawson, Denver Director Julianne Scherer, North Director Scott Rodwin and AIA Colorado CEO Mike Waldinger. The purpose of the tour was to learn more about the critical importance of water management and conservancy in Colorado. Although 80% of the Colorado population resides on the eastern side of the continental divide, 80% of our state’s water is collected on the western side. The result of this imbalance is decades of impressive engineering projects that have worked to divert water to Front Range cities.

(left to right) Scott Rodwin, Mike Waldinger, and Sarah Broughton learn about Colorado’s waterways at The Headwaters Center

We began the day with a private tour of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park. Opened to the public in 2019, the Headwaters Center is a 21,000 sq ft multipurpose building with event space and an innovative museum that aims to educate visitors on the history, wildlife, and conservation efforts of the Colorado river network. Clad in stunning reclaimed barn wood on a stone plinth, the building’s rustic exterior anchors the building to the natural beauty of its site on the banks of the Fraser River. It is designed to be completely off the grid, running off solar energy (stored in over 300 car batteries!) and natural gas backup generators. The Headwaters Center can host public or private events in its outdoor amphitheater, private terrace overlooking the Rocky Mountains, or the 4,400 sq ft “Barn,” a spacious banquet hall that showcases the same reclaimed barn wood as the exterior of the building.

After a quick peek at the event spaces, we gathered in the lowest level of the Headwaters Center to begin our private tour of the “River Journey.” The interactive exhibit, designed by ECOS Communications in Boulder, introduces visitors to the history and ecology of Colorado waterways, with an emphasis on the local Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado river. The exhibit emphasizes the importance of conservation and careful management of water in Colorado through captivating exhibits and video-based games that will engage any learner, young or old. My personal favorite was a trout survival video game, where visitors are tasked with helping a trout survive the dangerous trip upstream by navigating around various obstacles and dangers. (It was harder than it looked.) Throughout the tour, I was impressed with how the exhibit balanced moments of levity with moments of thoughtful reflection. The tour ended with a visit to the “Think Tank,” a meditative space in a full-scale water tank, centered around a pool of water that is continuously refilled by a slow drip of water from above. Scraps of droplet shaped paper cover the walls, filled with handwritten reflections and musings from visitors to the museum.

After the museum, our group drove to Grand Lake, the historic headwaters of the Colorado River and the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado. As a result of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, Grand Lake is now a part of the West Slope Collection System, which provides the Front Range with most of its water.  Under natural conditions, water from Grand Lake would flow west to the nearby Shadow Mountain Reservoir and then south to Lake Granby Reservoir. When water is needed on the Front Range, the Farr Pumping Plant, an impressive brutalist structure on the shores of Lake Granby that extends nearly 140 feet underground, reverses the flow so that water is pumped east out of Grand Lake through the Alva B. Adams tunnel, which runs underneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

The town of Grand Lake is primarily a summer community which retains a sense of nostalgic charm. The public access waterfront and marina were bustling with tourists and annual summer residents on the day we visited. During lunch, Scott educated us on the fascinating history of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, which claims to be the highest elevation yacht club in the world. It is also the custodian of a prestigious Lipton Cup, awarded annually during regatta week, that was donated by the flamboyant sportsman Sir Thomas Lipton in 1912 after the club’s founders took him out for drinks in Denver and greatly exaggerated the scale of their little yacht club. (They had a membership of four when they incorporated in 1902 and raced in rowboats with homemade sails.) By 1912 membership had increased enough to warrant the need for a clubhouse. The modest bark-clad structure was completed in 1913 and still stands today.

After lunch, it was finally time to get out on the water. With Scott as our captain and guide, our water conservancy tour culminated in a pontoon ride on Grand Lake. As we circled the beautiful alpine lake, Scott pointed out significant structures among the many beautiful homes that line the shores. The homes range from carefully preserved fisherman’s cabins from the early 20th century to mansions built by some of the most prominent families in the US. New structures on the lake are subject to strict zoning regulations to protect the integrity of the waterfront.

Many thanks to Scott for organizing this event. AIA Colorado board members were able to spend an afternoon learning about a critical Colorado resource and experience a part of the state that many had never had a chance to visit. If you are ever lucky enough to make it up to Grand County on a beautiful Friday afternoon (or any day of the week), make sure to take a moment to appreciate how this historic headwaters provide life and industry to so many across the site.

One Question Series: Part 3, Being a Bystander

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the third installment of the monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Tell us about a time when you were not able to bring your full identity into your work.

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“Throughout my experience in the practice of architecture I have found myself holding back from bringing my full identity into my work. As a Mexican queer professional, I believe the first barrier encountered is the draining biased standard of “professionalism”. The culture that has resulted from this so-called “professionalism” is rooted in white supremacy or the systemic, institutionalized centering of whiteness. In the practice and culture of architecture this may be seen as the belief that traditional standards and values are objective and unbiased. As a result, it has affected the way I present myself in the context of white and Western standards of dress, hairstyle, and overall communication.

I have stopped myself mid-sentence from speaking Spanish to my Spanish-speaking colleagues because of the uneasiness I’ve noticed in the facial expressions of those who don’t speak Spanish. How is a diverse professional expected to bring their full identity if the environment they are in is not suited to embrace their cultural difference? Language is a form of expression and allows a greater connection with a person who has a similar cultural background. On the other hand, speaking a different language that is not understood by the majority of those around and may come off as disrespectful. This perception of “disrespect” circles back to how there is a constant enforcement of a biased standard of “professionalism” in the workforce.

Once there is a greater conversation hosted around the problematic elements of how professionalism is defined, there can be a shift that allows other minorities to bring their authentic and rich backgrounds into their work. If there is not a greater analysis of the practice and its norms, there will continue to be the same shared unfortunate experiences for minorities.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“After much contemplation and introspection, I can’t recall any professional experience where I felt I could not bring my full identity to work. I recognize my alignment with the stereotypical image of what an architect might “look” like: a white male that wears eyeglasses. Also, as previously shared in the first article of the series, early exposure to the profession facilitated my career development path. Adding my ethnicity and gender to this equation, it is apparent to me how that greatly amplified my access to career advancing opportunities, while many had to navigate through roadblocks and prejudices.

This is a challenging profession, and like anyone who is passionate about our profession and the responsibility it demands, I have worked very hard to advance and shape the career that is most meaningful to me. That said, it is quite humbling to consider the additional challenges so many of our colleagues have had to endure to achieve similar advancement in their careers. The demands of the profession are challenging enough, even before considering what it would be like to also have to navigate through stereotypes, prejudices, and racial and gender inequality injustices.

I sincerely believe the work we do as architects is enhanced through greater diversity and perspectives of those in practice. To successfully address the current challenges we face in the realm of housing, justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and the environment, we need to embrace diversity more aggressively as a profession, and celebrate everyone’s sincere and full identity as humans and architects. It is our responsibility to mentor and help develop the next generation of leaders while being inclusive of all races, genders and identities. There is zero room in our profession for bias against diversity; we need to continue to rewrite the outdated and excluding stereotype that architecture is a white male profession. Wherever and however possible, those in our community with the ability to share knowledge, provide opportunities and open doors for those who have been historically underrepresented must do so. It is this diversity that will allow us as a profession to continue to be effective in leading the response to the many challenges we face as humans.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“For this third question, I cannot help but think about the stories of my fellow NOMA Colorado Members. Since starting our chapter and being part of leadership, we have heard so much from our minority members about the vast experiences and difficulties they have faced. Most of those experiences underline that as minorities, we have been victims of micro-aggressions or discrimination due to our true selves being unacceptable at work. When the majority finds shock, confusion, or even outrage from the very evidence that our diversity presents, we recede, we mask, and we hide the parts that don’t make the cut.

We are not coming to work with our full selves. Almost daily and since the moment we start in architecture, we have given up some piece of our identity to survive in this industry. If you are caught between needing a job in architecture and not being a white male, you have given up some essence of yourself to feel secure in that position. Historically and even currently, surviving has come at the cost of leaving some part of us — some piece of our culture, race, gender, age, or identity — at home. We have been hiding our accents, our hair, our food, and anything else; to relieve the majority from having to accept what it truly means to be diverse and inclusive.

Other shared experiences include most minorities sacrificing the correct pronunciations of their names to be more agreeable and not face unwanted situations. We avoid saying certain words because our unique accents are too thick and we frequently code-switch during conversations. We avoid eating our favorite salmon dish because it is just a faux pas in America, and we politely tuck in our tight coiled hair for fear of someone asking to touch it.

So was there a time we had to hide our true identity from coming to work? Yes, many.

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“I understand that as a privileged, professional white woman, I have more opportunity to bring my full identity to my work. I feel fortunate and aim to create approachability and openness to all in our profession and beyond. My identity is rooted in curiosity, big-heartedness, and a sincerely positive forward-looking outlook. Through reflection, processing, and action, I have developed strategies to temper situations where everyone, including myself, can be more at ease and bring personal identities.

I have a big personality, which is interpreted by some as too assertive or intense. In those and other situations where it feels I can’t bring my full-self, I identify and align with common core values so it is possible to establish understanding and flow so good work can be completed in a fun, positive, and collaborative manner. I focus on the aspects of the project where my professional view and ethos will make the biggest impact and let other things become less of a priority. It is not apathy or quiet quitting, but rather preserving integrity and joy in the work.

My identity continues to evolve as I grow and gain experience. Recognizing when I am going through transition allows me to better share who I am with my teams and clients through my actions. My hope is this openness gives permission to others to share where they are in their journey, creating deeper respect for each other’s identity. We become and put forth our best selves and the work excels when we can all be our true selves.”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“Bringing your “whole self” is now a major topic in the workplace and it’s an important part of bringing people together. I have witnessed that better synergies for collaborative work can be created by embracing authenticity and vulnerability. Fortunately, I’ve had many opportunities to express myself through my work in my professional career. I feel that it is one of my most valued assets and when my personal identity is supported it allows me to fully invoke my passions and strengths.

I’ve learnt several crucial insights when working on small project teams through the years. A particular lesson came from a project team based on personality types. As an INTP, I value information gathering and construction of a vision plan that moves from macro to micro and back again. The project was centered around a minority community with a desired solution that would be culturally sensitive, equitable, and engaging. If a cohesive vision is not established from the start, small project teams can be challenging. Almost immediately the team was split into factions and as the person with the least experience, my perspective was void. There was a breakdown in communication due to bruised egos and while the primary functions were addressed, there were three very different visual representations of the building. The result was a testament to brutalist architecture with an indifference to human scale, the complete opposite of the intended cultural hub.

Being a disruptor instead of being a wallflower would have saved us from a harsh critique. The teams were grouped in a way that an INTP should be invoking the spirit of “why?” and fostering that collaborative nature. By agreeing that my experience level was more important than my perspective and identity, I felt I failed in that task.

The lesson learnt was that my identity is a crucial distinctive component to creative problem solving. Ignoring my identity for the sake of others’ comfort will never result in an outcome that I am proud of. Growth occurs when you are learning to accomplish something you have never done before. Fully embracing my identity is part of that process of discovery, as is knowing that without that vital aspect, my work is just a job.”

We invite you to read or revisit previous questions in this series:

Question #1: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

Question #2: “How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the coming months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

The Case for Union Station Event Recap

On July 14th, the AIA Colorado Regional and Urban Design Knowledge Community hosted a panel event in reaction to the recent negative public discourse surrounding one of Denver’s most trafficked and iconic public spaces, Union Station. The event, called “The Effect of Public Policy Surrounding Design in Contested Public Space: The Case of Denver’s Union Station,” was engaging, insightful, and provided a valuable opportunity for design professionals to hear directly from stakeholders in Downtown Denver’s planning and transit communities.

Union Station is a sprawling entity, comprising the historic Great Hall, home to the Terminal Bar and Crawford Hotel, a train shed which serves as a hub for RTD light rail services, and an underground bus terminal, servicing both local and regional bus lines. The underground terminal in particular has been the subject of criticism in recent months, citing issues of safety and public drug use. RTD had to close the public restrooms in this section due to fears of Fentanyl contamination and has considered proposals to close the bus terminal to the public, only allowing ticket holders access.

The purpose of the panel discussion was to bring together public design and transit experts to help examine this issue through the lens of design. Can we as architects and designers propose a better solution for a more equitable transit-oriented public space?

Our panelists were four prominent Denver professionals with a passion for public transit. Ignacio Correa-Ortiz, chair of the R+UDKC and a senior architect and urban designer for RTD, opened the discussion with an overview of the history of Union Station and a summary of current design solutions proposed for the bus terminal. Debra A. Johnson, CEO of RTD-Denver, which owns Union Station, provided valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of public transit in Denver and RTD’s relationship with the communities it serves. Ken Schroeppel, Director of Urban Design at CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning, provided important context on the history of Urban Planning in Denver and the development of the modern Union Station. Andrew Iltis, Director of the Planning and Community Impact department at the Downtown Denver Partnership, expanded on the relationship between Denver tourism, the Business Improvement District, and Union Station.

The conversation began with a reflection on how the relationship between society and public space has been affected by the pandemic. Many news articles have cited the pandemic as the genesis of concerns over increasing levels of public drug use in the underground bus terminal, leading to fears that that the terminal is not safe for the average commuter. It is true that the during the pandemic, with stay-at-home orders in place, a void was created in our public spaces that was often filled by persons on the fringes of society. As Ignacio pointed out during the discussion, the spaces haven’t changed – the users of the space have. How do we diversify the users of public space while still providing an opportunity for prosperity to everyone?

Andrew was able to provide valuable data on how transit ridership dropped sharply in the wake of the pandemic and that the daily commuter traffic numbers have been picking up but not quite to pre-pandemic levels. However, tourism numbers in downtown are certainly back to pre-pandemic levels or higher as more and more people opt to engage in the various entertainments offered downtown. As Debra pointed out, “There is no such thing as a rush hour any longer.” Since so many people continue to work from home, we may not see the same peak hours that we have in the past, but that does not make the role of public transportation less critical. Transit isn’t dead, it just looks different.

As the discussion turned to solutions for the “problem,” panelists emphasized the balancing act RTD must navigate. Although their primary role is a provider of public transportation, Debra acknowledged that transportation is interwoven in the communities they serve, and they have a responsibility to engage the public when planning for the future. In Andrew’s experience, Denver is one of the most collaborative of cities between the public and private sector. One creative solution proposes the formation of a dedicated organization similar to the Times Square Alliance in NYC, which is a non-profit dedicated to maintaining Times Square as an engaging public space.

Of course, the question of who gets to use our public spaces will not be answered in a single panel discussion. It will require immense collaboration across organizations and disciplines. As designers, we must continue to engage in these discussions to provide our unique insight on how public space can be designed for equitable, enjoyable, and safe experiences for all members of society. Thank you again to all the panelists and AIA Colorado members who participated in our discussion!

One Question Series: Part 2, Breaking Down Barriers

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the second installment of the new monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“We can always improve our ability to empathize with people from different backgrounds. A passion for architecture can begin at any time with any one person, and it is critical to value that perspective. It is also necessary to recognize that architecture is an important humanistic undertaking that affects the destiny of all.

Architecture often feels elitist whereas the quality of a designer is determined by their schooling and their professional network. Not every person has the resources and guidance to make it all the way to the finish line and often this disadvantage falls onto minorities. Meeting people where they are and fostering encouraging environments is hugely important. This country has a strong foothold in systematic segregation practices which has major impacts on access to education. Developing robust institutional partnerships within minority communities can help bridge this gap. We can improve the accessibility of our profession by tailoring support to include reducing inequalities of participation, bolstering scholarships, and establishing visibility of equal representation. Mentorship can be as simple as a conversation and there is a strong need for access/investment. Volunteering our time and knowledge to these communities can change the demographics of the architecture profession profoundly.

Recruitment incentives and bias practices have also had an overwhelming impact on architecture. The unpaid or non-livable wage internship can be a barrier of access for minority communities without the appropriate support systems. Poor advising has also affected who can and who cannot be a part of this occupation. A diverse profession requires professionals to become more aware of how attitudes and beliefs may stigmatize others and impact recruitment. Being intentional and conscious about the words and phrases used on the daily are also an important factor for fostering a diverse environment.

Another obstacle to overcome is avoiding the glass cliff, but first we must lay the groundwork for success. We are approaching a moment beyond the glass ceiling where more diverse and minority candidates are entering the field. The glass cliff is when these candidates are more likely to be pressed into leadership roles with high risks for failure without a secure support system or foundation. Strategic hiring of minorities during a firm’s crisis can be interpreted as exploitation. High expectations can induce an exaggeration of error which places significantly underrepresented minorities at a larger disadvantage compared to their peers. A lack of achievement may manifest into further bias in the future hiring of minorities and could create —or exacerbate— a toxic culture. It is important to build equitable relationships to promote an inclusive workplace from within so that the strategy for positioning is well thought out and genuine.

I understand that there is no one solution to the complicated problem of integration within our profession. We can approach diversity improvement by examining the tiers of education, recruitment, and professional advancement. Improving representation in the industry will ultimately yield better access to design with a rise in innovative and unique perspectives.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“I believe that in order to start breaking down barriers for minorities in architecture we need to focus on education.

The first step in breaking down barriers for minorities in architecture is the acknowledgment and conversation of how systemic racism is present in the built environment and the profession. This step should be taken in the early phases of education and must be acknowledged throughout our architectural post-secondary education. Acknowledging how this issue is apparent in our industry helps provide some clarity on how systemic racism throughout architecture has affected minorities in the past and present. What this approach also accomplishes is a step towards combating the unconscious bias that transpires throughout professional practice towards minorities.

The issue of systemic racism and how it is apparent throughout architecture is not analyzed enough to make any progress towards a more inclusive profession. For that same reason it is the primary cause for why minorities in this profession continue to face the same barriers generation after generation. Having these difficult and uncomfortable conversations should not be looked over but be conducted in order to make any significant progress for minorities.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“It is my opinion that diversity of experiences and perspectives contributes to better design. As a profession we must encourage and support more diversity to help us all address and respond in meaningful and effective ways to the unique challenges we are facing with regard to climate action and societal inequities that persist. I believe for all of us who care about our profession and its ongoing legacy, the future we will continue to define must consciously think about how to break down barriers wherever and however possible. We need a movement of change, where we all recognize the problem, commit to actions we can control, and affect measurable improvement. I also recognize the challenges and ambiguity of this statement. I believe this will need to happen on many different levels and scales.

We need to continue to recognize and celebrate the achievements of minority architects and expose minority youth to these achievements. We need to tell the stories of minority architects like Paul Revere Williams, Loise Harris Brown, Philip Freelon, and many others who persevered to achieve success in our profession, despite the many obstacles and challenges they faced. We must inspire more youth to follow in these footsteps, while seeking out ways to instill from a young age that the pursuit of architecture is an achievable path for them. For me, along with many others in the Denver architecture community, this has included volunteer work with elementary school aged kids where we introduce them to the profession of architecture and help them realize that this is an achievable aspiration for them.

As I discussed in my response to last month’s question, I was inspired to pursue architecture from a young age due to exposure, and I never wavered in my own focus to achieve that goal. How can we collectively help inspire younger people who otherwise might not have the exposure to our profession from a young age? How do we create these opportunities for inspiration? I believe the answer (or at least a significant part of the answer) to this month’s question must include a broader discussion of how we as professionals can connect with minority youth to inspire, challenge, and support them from an early age. I also believe this is a responsibility of all of us who are passionate about our profession and who have the opportunity to open doors for others within our practices.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“As a profession, we break down barriers for minorities in architecture when we all, individually, engage in doing so. We as designers of the built environment need to stand up for what we believe is right, especially in the workplace where it is easy to hide behind company decisions. It takes consistent, persistent change to break down the barriers that have defined our practice and have held back minorities for so long. Yes, many barriers still exist and are being created, from systemic to targeted levels, and the individual can make those types of barriers thrive. We all have a voice, whether it is for this mission or inadvertently for something else, and we should employ it for the sake of others. We need allies who can remain honest to their dedication to change and to practicing the change that will allow minorities to overcome. We cannot waiver when our commitment to making equitable spaces is tested. We cannot waiver when a new policy in our office only works for the majority, when a POC interviewing for a new position does not make “the culture fit,” or when we forget our colleague’s pronouns again. If we all follow through with the subtle, delicate parts of breaking these barriers down, we will change the profession of architecture for everyone.

On a firm level, there are many things we can do. We can commit to creating transparent promotion processes, sponsor minorities financially for career-building opportunities outside of our minority networks, and actually pay our employees for the time needed to participate in initiatives being put in place to change this profession. When it comes time to support your community through outreach, like NOMA’s Project Pipeline, play an active role in organizing, and be there to patch the holes in the pipeline. As a profession, we can be accountable to our organizations when we are following through or not, no matter what level of leadership or years of experience.

We will break down barriers when we stop putting them up. It is easy to be complacent and comfortable continuing the way we practice and accepting the current conditions challenging our minorities within the profession. We should continue to question the structure of this industry and the motivations around our traditional work cultures. The profession should not seek to forget the past; it should remain woke to what it has learned from listening to and believing our BIPOC community. To continue breaking down barriers, we should remember that everyone has a place in architecture. We must never forget architecture is for everyone; we all have a relationship with the built environment, and there are barriers architects should never design to build.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Barriers for minorities in architecture can be broken down by increasing exposure to what architecture is starting very early. Our firm is involved with the CAL Program (Cleworth Architectural Legacy Project) in Denver that exposes diverse dual language and minority K-8 classrooms to architecture education, inspiring learners to think critically about our built environment. This early hands-on experience fosters possibilities and dreams. The exposure must continue and the curtain be pulled back, casting a wide net into our communities and populations. I remember as a senior in high school, I approached my calculus teacher with a list of professions. He took the time to listen to me and understand my aptitudes and suggested that architecture was a good fit. How can we partner with high schools to make architecture well known and a profession that is viable and meaningful to their students? How do we partner with community programs to embrace diversity and expose the greater population to architecture? One example is the work my firm does with the Aspen Art Museum on a series of workshops on architecture that are open to all community members and give visibility to our profession.

A huge barrier to our profession is the cost of education. We need to continue to hire and write our job descriptions to allow for bachelor’s degrees and on the job training as the prerequisite for advancement. Too often, I speak with emerging professionals who think that the path to licensing and a career in architecture is through more education (and often suffocating debt). We need to be open to various paths, openly discuss them, and provide multiple examples of how to achieve success as an architect.

We as a profession need to continue to be open and collaborative. Architecture is about people and problem solving. By increasing visibility of what we do and how we do it, it will inspire dreams and continue to encourage architects to remain in the profession. We need to give permission to participate and ask questions. We need to refrain from preaching what it was like when we started in the profession (times have changed, that is inevitable). We need to encourage multiple viewpoints and paths to a fulfilling architectural career. We need to be generous with our mentoring and telling our story, because our journeys are diverse and hopefully your journey inspires the next architect to jump in!”

We invite you to read or revisit Question #1 of the series: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the next four months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

J.E.D.I. Resource Share: A’22 Conference Recap

This month, the resources team of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee caught up with our committee co-chair, Ely Merheb, AIA, who shared with us her experience at the recent national AIA Conference on Architecture in Chicago. Read on as Merheb shares her takeaways from the annual signature event and don’t forget to check out two more articles highlighting the newest AIA leaders, Lakisha Woods and Kimberly Dowdell, included after the recap.

Who was the most inspirational keynote speaker from a J.E.D.I. perspective? What J.E.D.I. action takeaways can firms implement?

It is so hard to choose! I think the most inspirational aspect of all keynotes, and of the conference in general, was that J.E.D.I. was central to all. Lakisha Woods, CAE, the newly appointed AIA CEO, really set the tone for the event on day one in her conversation with Julia Gamolina. Her appointment demonstrates that AIA is prioritizing diversity, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of practice because Woods is an expert in business and association management as a Certified Association Executive (CAE). I encourage everyone to read her most recent interview published in Architect and the session recap to learn about her intentions of listening and implementing change through the AIA Strategic Plan, while prioritizing retention and organizational value.

The second keynote, a panel moderated by Lee Bey with Jeanne Gang, FAIA, Vishaan Chakrabarti, FAIA, and Renée Cheng, FAIA, was also incredibly dynamic and challenging. They were not afraid to talk candidly about the challenges faced by the profession while remaining optimistic. They see a future where architects “run into the burning building” – or burning planet – by bringing our thinking and talents into development and politics so that we can amplify our ability to effect positive change. “Thunderous silence”, as Whitney M. Young Jr. said, is not an option.

Former President Barack Obama was the closing keynote and, undoubtedly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The conversation also centered around J.E.D.I. from his early beginnings as a community organizer to the goals for The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. AIA President Dan Hart, FAIA, closed the conversation by asking about his lessons in leadership, and Obama had three main points, which he believes are applicable to any type of leader and organization:

  1. Build a culture that empowers the team to do the best we can and be our best version. We must be predisposed to empower and invest in team success. Hold ourselves and the team accountable.
  2. Do not get hung up on hierarchy. Know and send a signal to those who do the work (usually the ones in the back of the room). Everyone counts.
  3. We need diversity of ideas — not just diverse people. One doesn’t guarantee the other. Set up a rigorous process to make good decisions by including different perspectives. It’s not a chore or charity to be more inclusive; it will make us better even though it might make us uncomfortable.

This wasn’t a specific J.E.D.I. conference, but can you describe how these topics were woven throughout the conference and impacted your experience?

Though the conference wasn’t specifically J.E.D.I. themed, to me it felt integral to the entire event — as it should as one of the association’s imperatives. It was at the forefront of all the keynote conversations, all the sessions I attended, and even in the event planning. For example, it was very thoughtful and grounding how all the keynote sessions featured Chicagoans introducing, moderating, or animating the sessions. Some of the standouts for me were a graceful Native American prayer dance, a children’s choir that greeted attendees the second morning, the message from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Lee Bey’s contributions. Even the expo felt more communal, as it was purposefully organized to prioritize chance encounters and used Chicago neighborhoods for wayfinding while describing their unique character. I met a lot of wonderful people, both planned and unplanned. It was especially enriching to meet the Next to Lead participants, a pilot leadership program that removes barriers to AIA leadership positions.

In addition to the conference, what other experiences in Chicago were impactful?

Chicago was a great host city and the conference planners did a great job in contextualizing and grounding the event with the richness of the city. I enjoyed a free concert at the Millennium Park Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a boat tour, the Riverwalk and some great restaurants, but my visit to Wrightwood 659 was particularly impactful. It is a new exhibition space to contemplate socially engaged art and architecture in a 1920s building that was transformed by Tadao Ando. All the exhibits were thought provoking but two were particularly poignant and timely.

  • In “Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green”, Rirkrit Tiravanija blends community and activism by inviting us to share a bowl of curry while observing local artists draw images of civil protests on the walls. From anti-government protests in Bangkok to Chicago’s Black Lives Matters marches, from gun rights to women’s rights, it was a dense yet safe space to contemplate these events.
  • We Shall Defy: Shahidul Alam” also sheds light on activism. It’s focus is on Bangladesh where “Despite the climate of fear, the arrests, disappearances, extra judicial killings, torture and death, people still resist.” The images and text by Alam and his creative partners illustrate the life and consequences of an activist in a different country without the protections of the first amendment. I found the following shlok – or verse in Bangla – an incredible lesson in resilience and allyship: 

“I don’t want to be your icon of poverty or a sponge for your guilt. My identity is for me to build, in my own image. You’re welcome to walk beside me, but don’t stand in front to give me a helping hand. You’re blocking the sun.”

Shahidul Alam

Interesting in further reading? Learn more about AIA CEO Lakisha Woods and AIA National 2023 First VP/2024 President-elect Kimberly Dowell:

Architect Magazine Q+A: A Deep Dive with Lakisha Woods

Kimberly Dowdell on her time as NOMA president and the importance of diversity in architecture

For those who missed the national AIA Conference, save the dates of November 2-4 for the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference in Keystone.

© AIA Colorado 2023