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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession loosing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

#Architalks 10: Give me a Break!

By Rosa Sheng, AIA

#Architalks is back! And No. 10 happens to be themed on the topic of Summer Break (no irony should be lost that I have written this post during my summer break and it was due just a day after the 4th of July holiday weekend) thanks to Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. 

Since childhood, summer breaks have been special and distinct. As the weather heats up for 3 months, time seems to slow down. And yet, the memories from these "breaks" are more vivid now than the blurred rush from rest of the 9 months of years past.  Fireworks, fireflies, family day trips to the Jersey shore with sun, sand, and salty Atlantic Ocean mixed with smells of fried funnel cake, cotton candy and lemonade. As I got older, summer break trips expanded to a few special visits to China to visit my grandparents and see amazing architectural wonders like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and the Hu-Tong (densely packed neighborhood fabric of the city). And during Architecture school, my last summer break as a student was spent immersed in the city of Taipei, Taiwan for my thesis project: mixing summer fun with historical research for a theoretical building site. 

Now, as an Architect living on the west coast for more than 15 years with seasons that are muddled, I look forward to my “summer breaks” more than ever. I enjoy reliving the nostalgic memories and creating new ones with my family in our annual July vacation to the east coast. It has become an important time to recharge the batteries, reconnect with personal passions, as well as catching up with our relatives and friends. While we still make a point to unplug with a visit to the beach, my vacations would not be complete without some exploration of urban and architectural treasures. The list includes an annual visit to The Metropolitan Museum (aka., The MET), a baseball game at the new stadiums, a leisure stroll on the High Line, a ferry ride to Governor's Island, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and The Glass House in Connecticut. 

The importance of getting a break from work or any major project that we are trying to accomplish seems like an obvious no brainer to maintain optimal focus and productivity. A 2008 Families & Work Institute study found that not only do workers with paid vacation time have higher job satisfaction and are less likely to leave their job than those without paid vacation time, but also that the amount of time away matters. Both workers’ satisfaction and likelihood to stay in their job rose significantly when their vacation lasted 13 days or more.

While most established Architecture firms may offer a minimum number of paid vacation days and sick days (usually 10 of each) to salaried full-time employees, the reality is that the majority of staff never take the full time allotted to them given the demands of project schedules and pressures of the “long hours” work culture originating from Architectural School design studio. Since we conducted the Equity in Architecture Survey in 2014, the discussion of work/life flexibility and more specifically the topic of employer support for taking an extended break is something that the Architecture profession needs to discuss and improve upon as a strong link to talent retention. 

Outside of the profession, there are bigger questions of how we compare with other countries and their support of paid breaks. The U.S. is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee workers paid time off according to a report titled "No-Vacation Nation - Revisited" by the Center of Economic and Policy Research, a liberal policy group.

And beyond taking leaves for medical reasons (including childbirth or caregiving of others) the least addressed or discussed type of extended break or leave is one for exploration to learn a new skill or a mental respite traditionally know as a sabbatical in academic circles. Is there a way to hack the illusive "break"? 

What if companies offered scholarships for those seeking to expand their professional and leadership development that also benefitted the sponsoring employer? What if professional sabbaticals were structured in a way as a benefit for reaching milestones of project goals, licensure, or tenure to reward productivity, project success and also improve talent retention? From restorative summer breaks as a youth/student, we could seek inspiration for transforming that experience into a healthy lifestyle practice throughout our careers. So don't be afraid to ask and find creative ways to negotiate for it - "Give me a break?"

For different takes on the theme #Architalks 10 "Summer Break", read from the following contributors to this worthy topic.

"Bob Borson - Life of An Architect @bobborson Architectural Bucket List"
"Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture @FiELD9arch SummerBreak?"
"Marica McKeel - Studio MM @ArchitectMM Summer Break = Extreme Architecture"
"Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols Summer Break and Aunt Loretta"
"Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect @LeeCalisti summer break"
"Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC @L2DesignLLC Vacationing with an Architect"
"Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect @EntreArchitect 2 Simple Systems That Will Transform Your Studio"
"Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen @archy_type MILES AND MILES OF ROAD "
"Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design @modarchitect Summer Getaway"
"Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect @mghottel #Architalks 10 - "summer break""
"Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC @MeghanaIRA Architalks: There, but not there"
"Amy Kalar - ArchiMom @AmyKalar Summer Break"
"Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC @Parthenon1 A Brilliant Summer Break"
"Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect @bpaletz Summer Vacation"
"Eric Wittman - intern[life] @rico_w summer break [or] summer school"
"Sharon George - Architecture By George @sharonraigeorge Summer Break #ArchiTalks"
"Brinn Miracle - Architangent @simplybrinn Summer Break"
"Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL @sramos_BAC Architect: Gift or Curse?"
"brady ernst - Soapbox Architect @bradyernstAIA The Education of an Architect"
"Michael Riscica - Young Architect @YoungArchitxPDX The Architecture Students Summer Break"

Licensure -Just Do It!

by Sharon Portnoy

Sharon Portnoy is a licensed architect in California and New York and is currently a Principal Consultant at Breuer Consulting Group, which specializes in executive search for the built environment.

To be honest, I never paid much attention to the “debate” about licensure in Architecture. It’s been in the air since, well, forever, and I never gave it much thought for several reasons. For me, licensure seemed the logical next step after years of rigorous training in school and “paying my dues” as an intern. Perhaps because I was an English major in college before going on to get my M.Arch., I craved the validation of being an Architect with a capital “A”. But beyond my personal experience, we are a profession that has, first and foremost, an obligation to ensure public comfort and safety. No matter how visionary and innovative our buildings are, people need to get out of them safely if there’s a fire. Sophisticated design and the poetic use of materials mean nothing if the building is not universally accessible. And as compelling as that transparent façade looks in the rendering, if heat gain and shear strength aren’t figured into the equation, a hot summer day or earthquake could make the spaces beyond it uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.

Architects complain a lot about how little recognition and respect we get from the public. In my mind, what licensure says to the world is that we don’t just draw pretty pictures. We are well-versed and competent in the business of making buildings that are safe, accessible and efficient. I would not go to a doctor who hasn’t passed her medical boards; why would a client choose an architect who hasn’t displayed at least basic competence in areas of life safety, accessibility, and professional practice?

Objections? Sure. These are the ones I hear often

1. The exam says nothing about your skill as a designer.
True. But it tests your fluency with the codes and standards that you need to internalize to become a good designer. Just as a grammar test can’t predict whether you’ll be the next William Faulkner or Toni Morrison, you really should know how to construct a sentence before you sit down to write a novel.

2. It’s hard! 
Yes. Yes it is. And it should be. Maybe the public doesn’t understand or appreciate the rigors of our profession, but we must. We need a basic understanding of structural and mechanical engineering, acoustics, resilience, ergonomics, accessibility, environmental impacts, economic outcomes, etc. so that we can collaborate with contractors and consultants and be effective leaders on project teams. We are the ultimate generalists and connecting all the dots is one of our greatest strengths. But doing so requires basic knowledge in a variety of areas, and our competence should be assessed and recognized. So yes, it’s hard, but we work in a challenging profession and assume a lot of responsibility. In my mind, licensure is a badge of honor that says an architect respects, values and is equal to the challenges and responsibilities that come with the title “Architect.”

3. It's time consuming!
Yup. And it doesn’t get any less time consuming the longer you wait. In fact, studying becomes more time-consuming, as the load calculations and force diagrams you learned in your Structures class in school fade further into the recesses of your memory. What’s more, life itself has a habit of becoming more time consuming as the years pass, so if you are relatively young and unencumbered by family responsibilities in your first few years out of school, get it over with! And if, by chance, you are considering licensure later in your career and are mired in mid-life responsibilities, take comfort in the fact that the exam can be taken section by section these days, and therefore broken into manageable bites.

4. It’s expensive.
Again, I can’t argue with this. Although the research suggests that licensed architects do have a financial advantage over unlicensed architects, one that grows over time, this is by no means a guarantee. But I can offer a few words of encouragement on this front. First, ask your employer to help. Many firms offer incentives for licensure, whether it’s paid time off for study time, help defraying exam costs, or a financial bonus upon achieving licensure. Make sure you know what your employer offers and take advantage of it! If your employer doesn’t have a program in place, ask them to start one. There are a host of arguments supporting the benefits to firms that have a high percentage of licensed professionals. Do some research and make your case. If that doesn’t work, get creative. Start an Indie-Go-Go campaign, or when your relatives ask what you want for Christmas, tell them you’re saving up to get your credentials and want a check --- preferably blank .

So now, 20 years after I first sat for the exam, I have finally given the “debate” some thought. Yes, the exam is imperfect and so is the profession. The process is onerous and the rewards seem thin. But I can say without reservation that I have never questioned or regretted my choice to get licensed. It has served me well in the way potential clients and employers see me, but perhaps more importantly in the way I see myself. Starting as a young woman in this profession in the early 1990s, I struggled with presenting myself as a credible, authoritative professional. There was a sense among some older architects and contractors that female architects, even those with professional degrees, were somehow not to be trusted with the serious business of building. Having the title “Architect” bolstered me against these assumptions and gave me the confidence to reject them. And as hard as it is to believe that female architects still contend with implicit bias in 2015, I feel that licensure is powerful tool for countering that bias. And one final note: after 20 years of professional practice, I have transitioned to a consulting practice, which focuses on executive search for the built environment. In my new role, I talk to a lot of firm leaders and look at a slew of resumes and LinkedIn profiles. I can say that while not all employers demand licensure, without exception they prefer it. So if you want your resume to float to the top of the pile ---JUST DO IT!




I unsubscribed.

By Lilian Asperin Clyman

Effective June 20, 2014.  Because it had been a long while since I had a summer off.  The year thus far had been shaped by the passing of my father, a health scare with my husband, an exhilarating experience of leading a Hackathon, transitions in leadership at work, and a recurring wish to explore hot room yoga in the middle of the day.  I decided it was a good time to STOP.

I wrote a thank you email to each person who had shaped my every day and every teachable moment of the past 20 years.  It had been a steady cadence of shared and formative experiences since graduating from UC Berkeley. These dear influencers had taught me the difference between work and mission, friend and colleague, singular and collective, meaning and waste.

The summer solstice was the first day of an interlude dedicated to purposefulness. I was curious to consider a new set of pairings, which would shed light into what truly means the world to me — now.  I knew that the “process leader” in me would ask for many details and sequences. But perhaps my most important pledge to myself was to resist wanting to know what, when and how much and instead focus on why, where and with whom?  Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas. Fail fast. It would be a life hack!

Three important clarifying thoughts came at the end of three yoga sessions last summer.  One: Let go. Two: I had not yet been ready.  Three: I feel calm, clear and strong. So, I leaned on my skills and tools learned as an Architect to create a visual map of the Woman of the 21st Century: self, wife, life partner, and employee. To map my future life, I wanted to design scenarios that would integrate, not just balance, all these quadrants.

I’d like to share the organizing process I discovered for developing a visual map:

  • Where to start
  • Where to go next
  • Take time to reflect and move things around
  • Be scrappy and low-tech
  • Stare at the picture that emerges
  • Enjoy the freedom of being very honest with yourself

WISH MAP: What does your best-lived life include?

Wish Map

Wish Map

Step 1: Think about your personal quadrants. Place those in the middle of a blank sheet. Step 2: Work outwards from your core and identify what you wish from the spheres that influence you. In my case, my core is defined by: Me (self), You (hubby), Us (our partnership), and Them (employer).  Step 3: Embrace this.

Second, what is your “sweet spot”? What do assessments reveal to you? What your mother admires about you? What would your best friend agree with?

STRENGTHS: FEEL-BE-DO MAP: When you are working to your strengths, how do you feel? When you feel that way and are applying yourself, what are you actually doing? When you aggregate your best self, what are the opportunities you have to earn a living?



Step 1: Map your personal attributes - they may come from assessment tests like FIRO-B, Myers-Briggs, Hogan, etc. Step 2: On the left margin, jot down how you feel when you are working to your strengths. Step 3: Along the bottom, jot down what you are actually doing when you are working to your strengths and feeling strong. Step 4: On the right hand margin, jot down roles, professions, and activities that you can engage in.

CONVERGENCE MAP: How could I contribute with the most meaning and influence?

Convergence Map

Convergence Map

Step 1: Identify your 4 areas of authentic passion, interest and/or expertise. Place each one in one corner of a blank sheet. Step 2: Draw two axes along the center to create 4 quadrants. Step 3: Starting at each corner and working towards the middle, jot down key trends you know are influencing the future of each area of interest. As you work in the zone between two areas, think about new, potential intersections.

Today is June 20, 2015. I am living with purpose. Visual maps are a simple and effective way to achieve clarity and to build confidence.  My hope is that you feel empowered to take inventory of your life. And, that you find these visual maps to be useful tools to help you think about your blank slate as well as your big picture.   


INSPIRE% Firm Culture: Inside View of Ehrlich Architects

An Interview by Susan Kolber (Part 2 of 2)

As EQxD continues to investigate how the profession can foster more equitable, innovative and sustainable practices, the voices of our top firms provide unique input on firm success and how these firms value their staff and work culture. On Monday EQxD shared 2015 AIA National Firm Award recipients Ehrlich Architects’ (EA) principal and staff perspectives on their daily routines and team dynamics. These interviews revealed EA's unique firm culture that seeks to create a family-like team with trust, respect, and collaboration at the forefront. This blog series has interviews by Principal Patricia Rhee (PR) and staff members with varying levels of experience: EJ Fernandez (EF), Will Korchek (WK), Amanda Snelson (AS), and Lyannie Tran (LT). The interviews featured below shed deeper insight into the staff’s development at EA and how they envision the future of architecture.

Can you expand on how you promote a healthy community and support "having fun” in your architecture practice?
(PR) It's a balance--at the end of the day, we are a part of EA because we believe in creating beautiful spaces that best serve our clients and communities. People don't choose to be an architect because it's an easy career path--we recognize the long hours, hard work, patience and endurance it takes to build buildings, particularly when you care deeply about the design. Design doesn't always follow a linear path or fit neatly into a tight schedule. So the reality is that we do inevitably need to work late hours to meet a deadline. So we try to make the working environment as comfortable and efficient for our employees as possible.

What is your average employee tenure? What benefits/incentives do you have to retain talent?
(PR) The principals and associates have all been at EA for 14-20 years. The junior staff ranges from 2-8 years.

Ehrlich Architects' studio located in Culver City, CA photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Ehrlich Architects' studio located in Culver City, CA
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your role at Ehrlich?
(EJ) I grew up in Chicago where I spent most of my time studying architecture before moving out to LA to get my masters at the University of Southern California.  While at USC, I was fortunate to have both Steven Ehrlich and Takashi Yanai as  studio professors which eventually lead to my current position here at Ehrlich Architects.  My role as a designer at EA is to provide project solutions through design strategies that function appropriately with the environment and client’s needs in mind.  I collaborate with my team to produce a functional project that promotes architectural honesty and community development.  I also help develop our office drawing standards and setting up our community outreach events.
(WK) I am a designer at the firm, managing projects that range from master plan studies to schematic design for an office building. Smaller roles include managing office IT and coordinating lunch and learns. I graduated with a BA in Architecture from UPenn in 2013.
(LT) I am a designer at the firm working in the residential team.  I have 5 years experience and am going to start my licensing soon.  I am a project manager for two houses which are soon to be under construction.
(AS) I’ve been at EA for 2.5 years, just after moving to the area from the Ozarks in southwest Missouri.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on considerable responsibility at my job. With limited experience, I’m often learning by doing. This can be challenging, but has provided incredible learning opportunities. The firm places a lot of trust in its employees, who take on a lot of work and are able to gain great experience.
— Will Korchek

Is getting licensed valued in the firm? If so, What are ways you encourage that and reward it? Do you have (have) formal or informal mentorship practices in place?
(PR) Yes, it is valued. As part of our office policy, we pay for study materials, the exams and licensure fees. It is one of the requirements for associateship. We have a long-standing internship program that is open to students or recent graduates that is approximately 6 months long. It's a good way for recent grads to gain exposure to an architecture practice with a wide-ranging portfolio and to pick up valuable skills like learning Revit. Mentorship occurs on an informal basis throughout the office--we are all still learning from each other constantly--at least I am!

Team meeting at Ehrlich Architects  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Team meeting at Ehrlich Architects 
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

What is the greatest challenge/difficulty that you have had to overcome in your professional career? How has Ehrlich helped you grow as an architect?
(EJ) The greatest challenge I have encountered was on my first project that involved finishing a CD set within a short amount of time.  Thankfully our project manager, Whitney Wyatt, and her experience, along with management's help to delegate two more workers on board, we were able to produce the set and get the project finished.  Ehrlich Architects has helped me grow immensely as an architectural designer.  This is also due to the fact that our experienced veterans take the time to teach the young staff rather than just assigning tasks.  I have learned everything I know up to this point in architecture because of the leaders we have here at Ehrlich Architects.
(WK) I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on considerable responsibility at my job. With limited experience, I’m often learning by doing. This can be challenging, but has provided incredible learning opportunities. The firm places a lot of trust in its employees, who take on a lot of work and are able to gain great experience.
(AS) Obtaining my architect license – of which EA had helped support through providing study materials, funding a lunch series for those studying, and reimbursing test fees once passed. A salary adjustment is also given once California licensure is obtained.
(LT) The first year is always the hardest, knowing the trade.  Then when you first learn to manage a project.  I still don’t know if that is something that has been overcome yet. [EA] has  given me the opportunity to manage a project and to also connect to other people beyond architecture.

(AS) I have not experienced any hesitations on the job due to my gender – the partners portray a level playing field when it comes to expectations (definitely equal opportunity from my experience). They are also very approachable if there is ever an issue, either with working remotely due to health or family issues, needed time off for family, working with flexible schedules, to keeping an open mind about each of our capabilities.
It’s really refreshing to have multiple female leaders at EA with families to look up to – it is possible (albeit challenging) to be a successful woman architect with kids!
— Amanda Snelson

Do you have work life flexibility policy? If you do not, how do you navigate everyone's life challenges?
(PR) During the summer, we offer employees the ability to take every other Friday as a half day, assuming they make up the hours within the two week time period. As for flexibility to work at home, it's on a case-by case basis. The nature of our medium-sized office is that it benefits most from people coming together, rubbing elbows, talking to each other, observing the goings-on around them. When people have life challenges--we listen and try to work together to find the best solution for everyone.

What inspires you on a daily basis?
(EF) Being able to create architecture, space and community as a living is what inspires me on a daily basis.  From listening to clients’ needs, figuring out spatial strategies and detailing the smallest crevice in order to produce a sound and holistic project is enough motivation.
(AS) The view out my window – either at home, at my desk, or from my car.
(LT) It is hard to constantly be inspired but on a daily basis, seeing other people’s work whether in the office or in the architectural field itself is inspiring.  This is accomplished through discussions in the office, daily newsletters from architectural organizations and books.

What do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments to date? Why?
(AS) Obtaining my license is my most important accomplishment professionally, to date, including all the efforts that lead up to licensure: university, internships, learning on the job under an architect, etc.  It’s a long road, and though most outside of the profession do not grasp the difficulty, it is a huge personal accomplishment – not only “jumping through hoops” but a necessary path in this demanding profession. If only we could be compensated to reflect these efforts.
(LT) To date, my greatest accomplishment is learning how to use the work that I do to achieve what I want to do in life.  I am able to pursue other hobbies and travel with my eyes wide open because of what I learn at work daily.

What is the best advice that you ever received and how does that apply today?
(AS) Surround yourself with people that inspire you, which you aspire to be like, and that believe in your potential. (This reinforces the great aspects of EA – the people you interact with on a daily basis are everything, and EAers are some of the best I’ve ever met.)
Timing is everything. Perfect is impossible. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Everything always ends up working out. (These mantras help put things into perspective, when work becomes overwhelming or out of our control.)
(LT) “Have patience, it will benefit you” from my first fortune cookie.  I’ve learned that time is relative and we all seem to be in a hurry to go somewhere, compressing what little time we already have.  However, in time, all will work out.

How do you see Architecture changing in the next 10 years? What would your role be in the future?
(WK) Architects should get out in the community, support public events, host public events, and invite the community in for studio visits. The more people who know an architect, the more people are comfortable with architecture.
(AS) We will be given shorter time to develop design and construct buildings; Higher demand for building performance (energy efficiency, indoor environment, water conservation, etc.); More partnerships in the private sector with Developers, Contractors and Architects with shared risk/reward.
My role will be to respond to the changing industry demands by exploring alternate deliverables, honing project and time management skills, observing projects post-occupancy, and embracing the latest technologies.
(LT) I think there will be more linkages between cutting edge technology and a recycling of styles of the past, whether that be modernism or something else.  As always vernacular will be on the fringes.  I’m not sure what my role is in the future, but I hope that it will be more meaningful to the community.  

Ehrlich Architects photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Ehrlich Architects
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

How does Ehrlich support equity in their firm culture, personal, and work?
(WK) At its very foundation, the firm is built on equity. We all work together; designers sit among partners sit among interns. Partners want to hear what designers are thinking and see how their personal creative background can inform a firm project.
(AS) I have not experienced any hesitations on the job due to my gender – the partners portray a level playing field when it comes to expectations (definitely equal opportunity from my experience). They are also very approachable if there is ever an issue, either with working remotely due to health or family issues, needed time off for family, working with flexible schedules, to keeping an open mind about each of our capabilities.
It’s really refreshing to have multiple female leaders at EA with families to look up to – it is possible (albeit challenging) to be a successful woman architect with kids!

Where do you see Ehrlich in 10 years?
(EF) As we continue to expand our portfolio and go beyond our boundaries I can see Ehrlich Architect growing in number and complex projects.  One thing we are not afraid of is adapting new technology and ideas, applying it to our projects and seeing how we can expand our architecture while sticking to our foundations in design.    
(AS) I would like to see EA challenging the industry’s status-quo by exploring alternate project management, project deliverables, and partnerships with developers and contractors for more productive project team dynamics.


INSPIRE% Best Practice: AIA National Firm Award winner Ehrlich Architects

An Interview by Susan Kolber (Part 1 of 2)

The Equity in Architecture 2014 Survey Report revealed respondents identified three key elements to success in their careers, “Working with the A-Team, Significance of Meaningful Work, and Work/Life Flexibility.”  With these three themes in mind, Equity by Design wanted to continue the energy of  INSPIRE% Best Practice blog post in January, an initiative that features Architecture firms that support equitable practice. We wanted to learn how Ehrlich Architects (EA) winner of the 2015 AIA National Firm Award fosters equity in their practice and firm culture. Known for their design approach deeply rooted in the needs of inhabitants, the surrounding culture and site context that has been coined as “multicultural modernism,” EA believes their firm culture should be equally focused on participatory and healthy community. How many firms do you know use words likehigh level of trustand “family” to describe their firm culture? We explore EA’s firm life with interviews from Principal Patricia Rhee (PR) and staff members: EJ Fernandez (EF), Will Korchek (WK), Amanda Snelson (AS), and Lyannie Tran (LT).

You practice multiculturalism in your work, how does this translate to your firm culture?
(PR)  Our firm is its own unique blend of People and Place. Our Place--the building itself--is a living breathing creature with a life of its own, that we interact with every day. Its size, compactness, its blend of casual, homey spots and intense coming-together spots--is an inspiration to work in. Our People, the greatest resource of EA, are what make our firm culture. The varied personalities, backgrounds, histories, knowledge and experience are ever-changing yet we maintain constant threads of openness, humor, familialism and of course, a love of food!    

Ehrlich Architects winners of the 2015 AIA Firm Award photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett 

Ehrlich Architects winners of the 2015 AIA Firm Award
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett 

Ehrlich Architects is a family. We have strong leadership and young staff that collaborate together and learn from one another, which is one of the many strong qualities we have at our office. There is a sense of community and genuine appreciation for one another that resonates within our projects and the clients we work with.
— EJ Fernandez

Can you walk us through a week at the studio? Do you have daily/ weekly meetings that everyone participates in? What firm wide activities foster community? (PR) A week at the studio? Sorry, that would take too long! We do have a bi-monthly office-wide meeting to review project/staff status, where every single person shares with the group what they've been working on since the last office meeting. Because our project teams vary in size and type, there is not a standard way of running all project meetings--and each principal has their way of managing their projects.
We have been using an intra-office website--a virtual "water cooler"--for posting events, inspirational/fun images or blurbs, recent construction photos, and soliciting responses for questions on a variety of issues: code, Revit, the next softball game. It's a great way to be inclusive and crowdsource contributions from our people--the most invaluable resource of our office.
As for firm-wide activities, once or twice a year we will rent a bus for a field trip day and visit local projects recently completed or under construction. We have a tradition of summer multi-culti barbecues, hosted (sometimes lavishly!) by the current interns. We also have themed pecha kucha nights on the patio, which have been a great way for staff to share something about themselves. A growing number of action committees have also sprung up, with staff eager to delve deeper into arenas of interest and to make things happen in tandem with their project work. It's this balance of project work and non-project work (that sounds so dry!) that makes our office special--the amazing community of people working together, accessible to each other with a wealth of experience and knowledge that allows us all to learn from each other every day. It never gets boring.
(EF) Our studio is a very active space in which there are constant meetings happening either within the project team or with clients.  We have quarterly office meetings that allow every person in the office to speak about their current project.  If there is one firm that loves to have a good time and knows how to foster community within our office and those affiliated with us, it is Ehrlich Architects.  We engage as a family in countless office events and gatherings that are catered by different individuals in the office which allows for everyone to participate in creating community.
(AS) There is usually one event at least every other week, either a lunch and learn to hear the latest product or technology or sustainability update, or office-hosted BBQ, or softball game, or movie night, or a Friday happy hour at a nearby bar. EA differs from other firms because we all play hard – frequently together!
(WK) We relish times during the week that we are able to come together as a staff and enjoy a birthday celebration, an office announcement, or other quick gathering. We don’t have formal meetings very often, but are working to start meeting office-wide every other month. As we grow, it is becoming more important that we meet as a full office to hear what everyone is working on and build camaraderie. After-hours events like summer barbecues and movie nights are essential to fostering community.

What is the team structure of a normal project? Is it highly collaborative? Do junior staff have opportunity for design input or other opportunities/roles besides production? How do you promote team building and collaborative design?
(PR) The team structure varies depending on project type and size, but essentially, there is a principal in charge, project manager and project architect (sometimes one person) and supporting design staff. Junior staff have always been a very important part of the practice--typically coming out of our internship program or former students of ours--and depending on their unique skill set, will contribute to the design process and productivity of the overall firm. It always amazes me what the junior staff will come up whether it's design solutions, a new or better way of using software or a different approach to social media--because they are engaged with these elements and see things in a way that the older generation may not--and that makes our group all the more educated and enlightened. We encourage everyone, regardless of experience level, to speak their mind and contribute (and trust me, they have!) on their projects and to also have the freedom to reach out to the rest of the office for advice and support.

photo courtesy of Ehrlich Architects

photo courtesy of Ehrlich Architects

The open environment and density of the office also lends itself to collaboration. We've learned this through co-location with client and consultants in our design-build projects as well--the closer in proximity you are to your fellow teammates, the more in-tune you are with the issues of the team and equipped to help. Building 3d models to study design, physically and virtually, is integral to the way we work--and is also a great way for junior staff to contribute their design ideas from the beginning of a project.

Our People, the greatest resource of EA, are what make our firm culture. The varied personalities, backgrounds, histories, knowledge and experience are ever-changing yet we maintain constant threads of openness, humor, familialism and of course, a love of food!
— Patricia Rhee

What characteristics does Ehrlich Architects encourage in their employees?
(PR) I encourage the staff I work with to be self-motivated, confident, responsible designers who are not just focused on the project tasks at hand but also understand the bigger picture of the work they are doing--the economics, the politics, how it affects our clients and our communities. These are the invaluable lessons that are best learned on the job.
(EF) Honesty and hard work.  Ehrlich Architects encourages everyone to be true to their work and honest in their architecture.  Working with different teams you develop trust with everyone you work with and every employee is encouraged to participate and support each other.
(WK) Self-reliance, determination, and hard work. Compassion, understanding, and sympathy.
(AS) Positivity, Rigor, Curiosity, Confidence, Friendliness
(LT) To be current, to be able to relate to stakeholders and to be a communicator.

How is Ehrlich's firm culture different from other firms you have worked at?
(EF) Ehrlich Architects is a family.   We have strong leadership and young staff that collaborate together and learn from one another, which is one of the many strong qualities we have at our office.  There is a sense of community and genuine appreciation for one another that resonates within our projects and the clients we work with.  We are different because our firm culture extends beyond the walls we work in and is cultivated through activities outside of architecture.  This develops trust and builds team character even before we begin working on projects together which is what some firms do not offer.  We like to keep things light yet take our work very seriously.
(AS) I’ve never partied as hard with my boss before working at EA!  At work, we are given many responsibilities, which forces one to learn a lot quickly. It all stems from a high level of trust between everyone.
(LT) The culture here is more interactive in the sense that it is important for employees to not only get along but to build friendships.  There is a work hard play hard mentality here but it seems that the firm also supports the play hard factor as well.


Read Part 2 of 2 INSPIRE% FIRM CULTURE: Inside View of Ehrlich Architects

EQxD on KQED Forum

On the heels of TEDxPhiladelphia last week, I was contacted by Irene Noguchi, the producer of KQED Forum to share the work that we have been doing the past 2 years with a larger audience. On Friday, June 19th, I visited the KQED Forum Studio to chat with guest host Aarti Shahani, Tech Reporter for NPR. We had an interactive session, including questions and comments from KQED's wide audience of listeners in the Bay Area and beyond. In addition to talking about the formation of Equity by Design, we discussed some of the key statistics and touched upon examples of initiatives that we are working on to take more bites out of the proverbial whale.

During the call in portion of the program, someone who called in questioned the American Institute of Architects position on supporting women in architecture. Although the past record of support has been a topic of discussion, our current and future actions in partnership with the Institute is very promising. We look forward to mutually tackling the challenges of achieving equitable practice and supporting architects to remain in the profession. There is a lot of work ahead with getting resolution 15-1 implemented and we need more people at the table. Please consider taking action and getting involved to secure a brighter future for those underrepresented in our profession. There are many ways to do this and we look forward to generating more ideas in the future.

Another architect wrote about her experience as a mother of two young children feeling pressure from the firm where she worked about the inadequacy of her reduced hours. It felt very real to the challenges I faced at the same point in my professional and personal life. I also shared Pamela Tang's inspiring story of returning to architecture after a long hiatus to raise her 4 children.  

Another question asked about the role of architects in creating more accessible spaces as more people encounter physical challenges or disabilities. I mentioned the work of Chris Downey, an architect in the Bay Area who became blind during his career. He continues to practice today providing design services with alternative tools that allow him to continue his work and serve the sight- impaired community. AIA National shared Chris' story at the convention in Atlanta and you can watch it via this link.

Special thanks to the Equity by Design committee (with great appreciation for Co-chair Lilian Asperin-Clyman and head of research Annelise Pitts), AIA San Francisco, our Equity Alliance champions, our sponsors and supporters for the survey and our current outreach. We look forward to sharing more exciting programs and outreach for the coming year!

And Justice for All - TEDxPhiladelphia 2015 Highlights

by Rosa Sheng, AIA

The theme of TEDxPhiladelphia 2015 was centered around the final four words from The Pledge of Allegiance: “And Justice For All”. The full day program of 4 sessions explored the presence of universal concepts in our communities including access, fairness, opportunity and democracy; and purposefully acknowledged lessons learned and questions raised in their absence.

Out of 400 applicants, I was privileged to be among the  14 speakers on Thursday, June 11, 2015 at Temple Performing Arts Center. We came from diverse professions and backgrounds; entrepreneurs, business leaders, a child advocate, a professional protestor, a scientist, an artist, an educator,  a lawyer, a police commissioner, a journalist, a Pastor, and an Architect. From the beginning to the end, the TEDxPhiladelphia organizers were nothing short of amazing supporters and professionals; most of whom have volunteered their time and effort to make this event the great success that it was. Special thanks goes to Emaleigh Doley, Michelle Freeman, and Marcia McInnes for asking me to be part of this provocative and engaging event.

The following is an excerpt of what I intended to say, that didn't fully get into the final talk. I had worked on this "speech" for the last several months and planned to memorize the talk in its entirety and deliver it with great finesse and polish (Just like those TED videos I keep watching). Well, during the dress rehearsal, to my chagrin, I realized that I had written more than I could adequately deliver in the 18 minute time slot allocated for each of the TEDx speakers. So rather than panic about getting everything "perfect", I gave myself liberty to speak from the heart. If I forgot some of the key words or thoughts I wanted to convey, I reassured myself that I could always share them here. I believe that made all the difference in my ability to calm my nerves before I stepped out to speak to the audience of 1100. 

So, Why should you care about Equity in Architecture? and Why does Architecture matter in the first place?
Equity is not just an issue in Architecture. And it’s not just about getting equal representation in gender or racial diversity. Equity is about asking WHO can bring new ideas to solving difficult challenges? And WHO adds a different yet compelling viewpoint to the conversation. It's about noticing WHO’s missing at the table? And asking those people to join in. 
Social Equity builds Economic Equity. At the core: It’s about valuing the spectrum of humanity and building greater empathy. And influence is the social capital of meaningful connections that becomes the basis for stronger teams, higher satisfaction, and talent retention;
Equity is about conscious inclusion; recognizing and giving people fair access to opportunities and resources they need, so that we can ALL achieve the American dream; Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And Architecture is not just for Architects. And It’s not just for the 2% of the population who currently hires them.  Architecture is for everyone. According to the EPA, We spend nearly 90% of our time INSIDE of buildings and the impact of the built environment has a lasting effect on how we work, how we learn, our health, safety and welfare. There tends to be a focus on Architecture with a capital “A” where most of the recognition goes toward iconic buildings (important places where important things happen).  But functional everyday “architecture”, for PEOPLE is where the true value of design lies. Our homes, offices, schools, libraries, civic centers, shops and restaurants, are such an integral part of our lives. How can we all engage in a collective conversation of what is missing and what is needed to make our communities better? 
"In order for Equity to become a reality, we need to go beyond just thinking differently. We can make a bigger difference by what we DO. Stay hungry for change, go grab your fork and join us at the table."

There are so many things that I learned from my fellow speakers including their passion, resolve, creativity and generosity to pay it forward. I will be sharing more in the coming months as there is too much to process and it wouldn't do justice to summarize their talks in one post.  I have included the gallery of photos as well as the Livestream raw video capture so that you can get a sense of the day. (They will be creating final versions for official TEDx viewing in the coming months.)

There is also a great opportunity for collaboration between architects and the greater Philadelphia community as we prepare for the AIA National Convention 2016. So I encourage you to get involved and engaged to learn more about our next host city.

You can watch the Livestream of 1st and 2nd morning sessions in the video embed below with the Equity by Design presentation starting at approx. 2:56:50 into this segment. 

EQxD Workshop #2 - What's Flex Got to do with Success? RECAP



On June 11th,  marking the 2 year anniversary of our group, Equity by Design took "Discussion and Action" a step further and another whale bite with the second EQxD "U" Program: What's Flex got to do with Success? about Work Life Flexibility challenges in the profession. 

Work life flexibility emerged as a major theme of last year's Equity in Architecture survey. Flexibility was one of the most important ways that our survey respondents defined success in their careers. The survey also shows that inflexible schedules and long hours are a real burden on our field - a significant portion of respondents had turned down opportunities or promotions due to issues of flexibility, people are leaving the field due to long hours and low pay, and taxing work schedules are a major obstacle to licensure. 

The workshop was hosted by AIA San Francisco with Amber Evans and Lilian Asperin-Clyman of the Equity by Design Committee. 4 guest panelists from a range of experience in Architecture and Engineering. Kirstin Weeks is a senior Energy and Building Ecology Specialist at Arup. Jeffrey Till has is an architect and Design Principal at Perkins & Will. Annette Jannotta is an interior architect with Flad Architects San Francisco. Douglas Speckhard is an architect and an Associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

The Storify recap of live tweets from the event with #EQxDFlexWorks is part of our initiative to leverage technology as a way to capture and document valuable ideas and lessons learned for continuing the dialogue and inspiring action in your firms, local AIA Chapters or in our larger AEC community.


Hungry for more Knowledge, Discussion and Action? Join us for EQxD "U" Workshop #3 on Thursday, August 13th at 6-8:30pm for "Collaboratie Negotiation is your Power Tool". Are you an avoider, accommodator, compromiser, collaborator or competitor when in comes to Negotiations? Talk with negotiation experts, Take the Thomas-Kilmann Analysis of your default negotiation style and then Practice your skills w/ our customized Negotiation Role Play in the Break-Out. This will be a popular session and likely sold-out, so sign up early! As with all our sessions, this workshop is beneficial to men and women and AEC professionals.




Promoting equity practices in architecture, The A-Team

By Patricia Canevari, AIA

Going into the Equity by Design Hackathon workshop in Atlanta, I thought I pretty much knew what to expect. After all, my recent focus has been promoting equity practices in architecture through the re- launch of the AIA WIA Tampa Bay. Through this learning and discovery phase, I had come across many articles on the subject by industry publications, the Equity by Design website, and many others. But I couldn’t ever imagine the profound impact that this initiative is having on our architectural world. It has been long overdue and I was pleasantly surprised to see this awareness buzzing all over in the AIA ATL 2015.

Being this is my first Hackathon, I was intrigued by the idea of hack, but I didn’t want to speculate so I just waited. When the workshop’s day finally arrived, there was a great energy in the room. People were eager to meet other people, conversations started almost effortlessly. It seemed that we all had a reason to be there. The key introductory points from the organizers provided the much-needed background information to understand the desire to see our profession thrive with a commitment to action and the pursuit of equitable practice.

Our Hack-The A-Team

Corrie Messinger, Peter Ruggiero, Janis Brackett, Patricia Canevari members of the A-Team Hack worked to define the baseline for makes a great A-Team

Corrie Messinger, Peter Ruggiero, Janis Brackett, Patricia Canevari members of the A-Team Hack worked to define the baseline for makes a great A-Team

One of the Missing 32% Project: 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey findings noted that   “working with a talented, collaborative A-team was listed as one of the key elements of success.” One can easily see this point. Success of companies and projects go hand-in-hand with having the right people doing the right thing at the right time, led by the right individuals. Architects by nature work in teams. I would even go so far as to say it is in our DNA.

Some teams vary in size and complexity depending on the projects, but ultimately, our goal in this society is to build environments, and we do it collectively. There are no lone heroes in this profession.  Being part of the right team, the A-Team, is of utmost importance in having a meaningful architectural professional career.

Our focus team looked at the large number of women leaving the profession by licensure. To us, there is a direct correlation between the lack of A-teams and job retention.  At the same time, our team felt that this is not just a gender issue, but rather an issue for the architecture community in general. So then, defining the term “A-team” was our first must-do task.  Since we had just met and came from different types of firms and backgrounds, we needed to create a baseline of understanding before as to where we can begin to understand our topic and hack in ways that we could make meaningful contributions.

After a varied discussion, it was agreed that an A-team was very similar to an orchestra. As in an orchestra, the leader of the team might be the essential conductor, but the players are the ones who make the music. And there is a perfect balance among all the players to produce a perfect pitch and a superb performance.  

The A-team could be as big as the whole firm, or be just one team within it, but all members share the same culture and have a common purpose. As in an orchestra, all the players are in complete harmony with one another. They all understand that they are part of a greater project. For us in the architectural profession, the perfect A-team makes each individual feel part of the project: each has responsibilities but feels empowered and encouraged to be a problem solver. A-team individuals can make some decisions for the better of the team and the projects, but they all deliver together as one with great satisfaction, and they have fun in the process.

In an orchestra, every player has an instrument to master and specific notes to play in order to produce a magnificent piece of music. In architecture, teamwork is the life force that sustains the tangible goal of designing a building. In order to create such a powerful experience, the team must execute with excellence in mind. Each individual must be committed to becoming an expert in his or her field and make useful contributions to the team. It is not about “time spent in the office” commitment, but respecting, trusting and granting flexibility to each individual on the team to flourish in what they do best.

Of course, the A-team is not possible without the right leadership.  It takes a great leader to build a great team.  He or she, like the conductor, knows how well each of the players performs, understands their strengths and weaknesses, and guides them through their performance. The architectural A-team leader has to understand the process and final outcome of designing buildings; they must also think about his team members and create the right environment for them to perform to the best of their abilities. They are great communicators and understand the human side of his/her team too, because ultimately, a happy, talented team creates great projects.

Every firm wants to have or be an A-Team.  We all know that an A-Team leads to better performance and professional satisfaction.  In order to achieve progress towards more equitable and sustainable practices, our community must re-evaluate how we create and sustain these teams. With a staggering number of female architects abandoning the profession by licensure, I can only imagine what kind of talent are we leaving on the dust.

If a soccer team was missing 32 percent of its players, how could anyone expect them to win the game? Everyone deserves to work in an environment that fosters growth and development, and we must find our A-Team. If it is not there, I encourage you to take a proactive approach and create it. In the process of creating, become a leader. Leaders are not just great at leading the design but also understand the team’s needs and can create a happier and higher performing A-Team.  In the end, this will be a win-win for all parties involved.

Let’s keep on hacking.

What's next for EQxD?

Join us in San Francisco at AIASF on June 11th for our next EQxD "U" Workshop "What's Flex got to do with Success?" (Win Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility) Meet the panelists, and participate in small group break-outs to "hack" what works for flexibility in the modern workplace. This event is relevant to all AEC professionals! 6pm-8:30pm. 

Flexibility Works.

by Emily Grandstaff‐Rice AIA

How does the architecture profession break away from our robotic daily work routine into modern work/life integration?

How does the architecture profession break away from our robotic daily work routine into modern work/life integration?

Through recent research, work‐life flexibility has emerged as a key element of defining success for men and women in large and small firms. Flexibility is likely the most important and easiest concrete measure firms can implement. As both a workflow practice and employee benefit, firms have seen positive impacts on culture, employee satisfaction, and talent retention. While work life flexibility practices have become more commonplace, stigmas still exist about those who take flexibility options. As a female architect who has used flexible work policies (who is also married to a male architect that has also used flexible work policies), I can attest to both the advantages and drawbacks of this workplace benefit. While it doesn’t make life ‘easier,’ it does relieve pressure around needing to address somewhat competing obligations in the personal and professional realms.

Below are some of my observations and experiences:

Successful work life flexibility measures need buy‐in from both supervisors and employees. Even with the best policies in place, without direct supervisors having adequate training on the value of supporting employees’ personal lives, employees can feel pinched. Sometimes an arrangement negotiated with higher level HR or leadership can be derailed by an employee’s peer group and direct supervisors. This is where the rubber hits the road. Employees and supervisors need to be clear in communication about their expectations. Personally, I found posting my hours and my cellphone number at my desk went a long way about being clear about when and how I can be reached if I wasn’t physically in the office.

On the other hand, flexible work arrangements must also prompt employees to reconsider when and where they work. Working from home does not always provide distraction‐free time or there may be significant expenses related to upgrading technology to enable telecommuting or remote access, especially as architects deal with large files. (Can I tell you how many times I’ve had issues with VPN?) Employees who chose flexible work arrangements need to be flexible about the nature of work especially in incorporating an appropriate ratio of face‐to‐face time with independent working time.

When does work‐life balance become work‐life blur? Enabling access to technology for remote and ‘off‐hours’ work has a tendency to lead to both work‐life balance and its next iteration: work‐life blur. I find it difficult to be able to turn the office ‘off’ when I’m not working and the constant beeping of my phone does not help. This is a difficult issue regardless of work‐life flexibility policies. Understanding the need to have time to devote to one’s personal life also means that there needs to be a shut off value for all of our sanity. My newest strategy includes switching my phone on silent and using the visual cues to know when I have an incoming call.

Four additional things to consider about workplace flexibility:

1. Rethink time, location and mode of work. Flexibility in the workplace is not about imposing a set way of working on individuals, but rather developing a respect and trust for them to decide to work in the way which fits best for them. This requires an element of mutual agreement. Collaborative working arrangements recognize the difference between ‘working for’ a supervisor rather than ‘working with’ a team.

2. Remember that flexible arrangements do not necessarily reduce a full‐time load. In the case of reduced time, if you work less than 40 hours per week be mindful of the actual hours worked because it may be difficult to scale back responsibilities based on previous performance and expectations. Additionally, supervisors need to acknowledge that when employees are not in the office, they are ‘working’ in the other realms of their life—not relaxing.

3. Be flexible about flexible conditions. Flexible working arrangements should be reviewed a couple times per year. Since flexibility is often a need to fulfill other aspects of employee’s lives, situation can change seasonally. Checking in often encourages dialogue amongst supervisors and employees and good communication is always key to strong relationships.

4. Try not to make hard and fast rules about flexibility. Policies are meant to provide employees equal opportunity and protect the nature of the business enterprise, but sometimes there will have to be exceptions to the policies. Think of every employee and situation as unique. Focus on the outcomes of the flexible work arrangement, not just the impact of the details. Something that works for one individual may not work for another.

Ultimately, flexibility is everyone’s issue—not exclusive to men or women; parents or children; individuals or families; or even architects and designers. Ensuring the well‐being of the people we work with is a goal that helps both the organization and the individual and ultimately leads to success for all in architecture.


Catalyst: Flex WorksParlour Guide to Equitable Practice: 04 FlexibilityThe Flexibility Stigma NY Times: The Unspoken Stigma of Workplace Flexibility

What's next for EQxD?

Join us in San Francisco at AIASF on June 11th for our next EQxD "U" Workshop "What's Flex got to do with Success?" (Win Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility) Meet the panelists, and participate in small group break-outs to "hack" what works for flexibility in the modern workplace. This event is relevant to all AEC professionals! 6pm-8:30pm.