We Walked Through Fire – But We Don’t Smell Like Smoke

AIA Virginia 2020 Year in Review

There is no question that we are starting to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Those who are choosing to get vaccinated can now find access to several vaccine options. The Architectural Billings Index (ABI) in February showed that architecture firms are reporting an uptick in billings for the first time since the start of the pandemic over a year ago. Most believe that the worse of the pandemic crisis is over if we continue to exercise caution and follow the instructions of our public health experts.

As such, I am hopeful that each one of you has taken a moment to simply pause.

Pause for a second.

Reflect on the Year 2020 and what it meant to your personal life and your firm. Count your blessings.

We walked through the fire – but don’t smell like smoke!

Yes, we were inconvenienced. Greatly.

But most of us never had to wait in a four-mile-long line to get a free bag of groceries. You may have experienced a temporary pay cut or frozen salary, but the lights in your home stayed on. Somebody out here needs to hear this.

It is with a similar lens that I look back on the work of AIA Virginia in 2020 and cannot help but to smile from ear to ear. Our President at the time, Beth Reader, FAIA led with a steady tempo making sure our organization could fill the necessary gaps our members faced. For example, she played an instrumental role in our Operation: Reach, Retain, and Develop program with the national component of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). This offering was cobbled together and deployed faster than you could turn your head (Similar to how fast – in legislative terms – Congress passed the PPP bill).

This meant it was not perfect, but it was effective. It would not have been possible if it were not for the approximate 50 members who stepped up in a mentor capacity. I am forever grateful for you. You impacted lives and kept these recent graduates in the profession. Do not take my word for it – read the testimonials and talk to these young men and women yourself.

So, it is an honor and privilege to present to you the AIA Virginia 2020 Year in Review.

I hope you thumb through this document and at some point, say, Wow.

I hope you look at it and say, How can I be a part of this?

I hope you walk away being a proud member of this organization.

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA
Executive Vice President

Meeting of the Roundtables

Join us for an educational opportunity that brings together AIA members to discuss pertinent practice topics in a structured and facilitated format.
Connect with other firm leaders and build network of support for now and the future.

Earn 1.0 AIA LU

Zoom links will be sent once you register.

Large Firm Roundtable Meeting
Thursday, May 27
12-1 p.m.

Mid-Sized Firm Roundtable Meeting
Thursday, May 27
12-1 p.m.

Small Firm Roundtable Meeting
Thursday, May 27
4-5 p.m.

Emerging Professionals Roundtable Meeting
Thursday, May 27
4-5 p.m.

2021 Fellows Fete

On Saturday night, April 10th, the Region of The Virginias celebrated the 2020 and 2021 elevated fellows – 13 in total!!!

Our new Fellows Regional Representative, Jane Rathbone, FAIA, gathered nearly 60 fellows and their spouses and guests to raise a toast to the new fellows and then have some fun cooking a delicious dinner with Chef Rolf Strub from Culinary Concepts AB out of Charlottesville.

Thank you to our sponsors:

Culinary Concepts AB

Associated Thoughts: On Making Mistakes

Mistakes happen. They happen all the time. But they especially happen when you are doing things for the first time. Like when you forget to put north arrows or door swings during that early pinup in design
school. Or you put chairs too close together, forgetting that people have to walk between the rows. An
unpinned family in Revit. An unexamined set of meeting minutes. A wall section with the air barrier on the
wrong side of the insulation. Not backing up. Keynoting the wrong spec section. Not asking for help soon

Learning how to be an architect can be a tightrope. Not enough knowledge and experience to move
quickly, but always pressed for time. Move too fast and you miss critical details, or you have to redo
something so it takes even longer. You want to be independent and showcase your growth and initiative,
but also need to ask for help to set things up correctly the first time before you barge ahead. Things that
take your boss 10 minutes might take you an hour. Things that seem simple–a lighting grid, a corner
detail, a presentation slide–get more involved when consultants and specifications and schedules and
contracts come up. And you miss things, sometimes without even realizing it.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

To be a designer is to take risks, and to take risks means to invite mistakes and expose your professional (and sometimes personal) vulnerabilities. I certainly know what it’s like to realize you are in over your head, to be given a task and a deadline with no clue how to even begin, how it is to feel alone with no one around to help you because it’s a pandemic and the only living thing nearby is a houseplant. At that moment, it can be easy to hide and sit back, but I have learned that growing as a designer means exploring your mistakes, owning them, and asking for help early and often. Getting a building planned, drawn, and built requires more knowledge, time, and attention than any one person can have, let alone young designers tackling it for the first time. So even with the most dogged quality control processes in a firm, we still learn from the redlines, the busted dimensions, the misspellings, even as we hope to never see them again.

Your growth as a young designer is the inextricable balancing act of learning quickly and working humbly,
continually asking for help when you need it, and offering it when asked. In bravely surrendering the
veneer of the having-all-the-answers kind of architect, we open ourselves up to new ideas, better
processes, established rules, and gleaned expertise from the generations of architects before us, and the
wisdom of the communities that surround us. Some designers will tread longstanding paths, while others
will break new ground, each on their own pathway towards professional excellence and vulnerability. On
our own paths, we continue to learn from our own shortcomings and share that growth with others.
Mistakes happen, and they happen to the best and worst among us. We’ve all been there, and it’s never
fun, but it is inevitable in the iterative and collaborative world of real-life design.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Newly Licensed

We understand the dedication and effort required to study for and pass the ARE. Congratulations to the following members for passing their exams and gaining licensure. This is great news that thrills all of us and we are so proud to call you architects!

Mr. John W. Elliott, AIA (Northern Virginia)
Ms. Erika L. Fegestad, AIA (Hampton Roads)
Mrs. Helen F. Jadlowski, AIA (Blue Ridge)
Mrs. Johanna Scogin, AIA (Richmond)
Mrs. Susy Mikhail, AIA (Northern Virginia)

Have you recently passed the ARE? Upgrade your membership to Architect using this AIA form. or send an email to your Member Services Director, Cathy Guske, cguske@aiava.org

New Members

We are always excited to welcome new members to Virginia. The following members recently joined the ranks of AIA Virginia.

New Architect Members

Mrs. Haley A. Arthur, AIA (Richmond)
Miss Allison C. Baker, AIA (Richmond)
Mr. Jeremiah Fordham, AIA (Northern Virginia)
Mr. Joseph N. O’Toole, AIA (Northern Virginia)
Mr. Jesse Quezada, AIA (Northern Virginia)

New Associate Members

Mr. Jacob Bushmire, Assoc. AIA (Richmond)
Ms. Mina Kang, Assoc. AIA (Northern Virginia)
Mr. Yi Li, Assoc. AIA (Northern Virginia)

Transferred In

Alison I. McBride, Assoc. AIA (Blue Ridge) from AIA California
Ms. Barbara F. Burns, AIA (Northern Virginia) from AIA DC

AIA Virginia Allied Members

Michael Maguire, Reg. Architectural Mgr. Mid-Atlantic, ROCKWOOL

View all of the AIA Virginia Allied members

At the Last Board Meeting


AIA Virginia | 2021 Board of Directors
February 26, 2021
Zoom Virtual Meeting
Motions Made and Approved:

The Board of Directors of AIA Virginia voted as follows:

  • Acceptance of the Mid-Career Professionals Task Force Recommendations
  • Acceptance of 2021 Signature Events Recommendations
  • Appointments to the 2021 Honors Committee
  • Appointments to the 2021 PAC Board of Trustees
  • Approval of the 2020 Financial Audit
  • Appointments to the 2021 Secretary’s Advisory Committee
  • Appointments to the 2021 Nominating Committee

Motions Made and Approved in Closed Session:

The Board of Directors of AIA Virginia voted as follows:

  • Approval of IRS Form 990 for Fiscal Year 2019-2020
  • Adoption of Unanimous Consent of Directors Resolution for PPP Forgivable Loan

Written reports were provided for the following consent agenda items:

  • General Assembly Update
  • Lobby Month Update
  • Membership Update
  • Amber Book Program Update
  • Virginia NOMA Update                                              
  • Emerging Leaders in Architecture Update                            
  • AEC Virtual Symposium
  • Economic Outlook from February 5, 2021                                                    

Members may request a copy of these written reports by emailing AIA Virginia Executive Vice President, Corey Clayborne, FAIA at cclayborne@aiava.org.

The next meeting of the 2021 AIA Virginia Board of Directors will occur virtually on April 23, 2021.

Roundtables Wrap Up

The Meeting of the Roundtables [Small Firm, Mid-Size Firm, Large Firm, and Emerging Professionals] occurred on Thursday, February 25. The below captures the highlights of each conversation. Please plan to join us for the next session on May 27.

Large Firm Roundtable         

Topic 1: Remote Work and Transitioning Back to the Office

  • Employees have the choice on when to return to the office in person
  • Some firms have purchased PPE for employees and performed deep cleaning for the office
  • Many firms have requirements for masking when in common areas and moving throughout the office
  • In general, firms have not imposed a requirement for employees to vaccinate
  • It was noted that there are varying requirements for re-opening in different states, thus posing challenges for firms with multiple offices in the U.S.
  • One firm leader shared how vaccinations are not embraced by everyone which will influence office policy development
  • Some firms shared that productivity (measured as revenue per employee) has been high during this period of remote work
  • Some firms classified 2020 as a “so-so” year in terms of financial performance

Topic 2: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

  • The 21 Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge by the American Bar Association was shared as a resource: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_contract_law/leadership/21-challenge/
  • Firm leaders thought they should let the next generation take the lead on JEDI issues
  • Some firm leaders are mentoring more than ever during the pandemic
  • There was consensus that firm leaders need to understand our future generation as individuals, particularly minorities
  • Some firms have established a J.E.D.I. Committee
  • Firm leaders were encouraged to use Virginia NOMA as a resource.

Topic 3: Cultivating Emerging Professionals

  • One firm leader indicated that emerging professionals were obtaining knowledge and advancing it on their own
  • Firm leaders reported that it seemed emerging professionals in their firm missed the camaraderie of the office environment and desire to come back; however, are accomplishing a great deal from home
  • It seems that conversations on EDI have flourished amongst this demographic
  • There is a concern by some firm leaders if the development of some emerging professions is “falling through the cracks” in the remote work environment
  • Some emerging professionals have risen as key players in contributing to firm vision and strategy during this time
  • The question of how to grow the firm without growing the firm’s real estate was discussed
  • It seems the vast majority of emerging professionals desire flexibility to work from home and the office
  • Some firm leaders believe that the pandemic will change the culture of the profession; the office will likely become a destination for specific tasks opposed to pre-COVID times where the office was a place that you “go just to go”

Mid-Size Firm Roundtable

Topic 1: Remote Work and Transitioning Back to the Office

  • There is a blend of approaches: some are working remotely, bringing in staff in shifts, and some are back in the office.
  • Once teams are vaccinated, many envision returning to the office
  • There seems to be adequate information about safe space planning.
  • Some firms are offering incentives to encourage vaccination, paying for vaccinations, or providing time off. None were mandating vaccination as a requirement to return to work.
  • Site meetings and construction administration have been flowing fairly normally. Some are hosting hybrid meetings or in-person meetings with 6-feet social distance and movement every 15 minutes. Many try to schedule meetings early or late in the day when fewer people will be onsite.

Topic 2: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

  • One firm formed a diversity and inclusion council that is charged with reviewing all policies. They began with evaluating recruitment and legal and have been working for 6 months.
  • Some have not adopted any J.E.D.I. initiatives
  • Hiring/recruitment has been challenging
  • One firm just hired several new team members. Another hired several new people in June right out of school and developed new virtual training/orientation methods to support them.
  • One firm went through the JUST process which is posted on their website. They used the information like a report card and have implemented several new policies and practices as part of their continuous improvement efforts.

Topic 3: Cultivating Emerging Professionals

  • Several firms are seeking to hire emerging professionals at this time.
  • Shortly before the pandemic, one firm hired a student part-time. He has now graduated and is full time. Because the firm is not planning on hiring anyone else, he is advancing very quickly out of necessity.
  • One firm hired several new graduates and has implemented regular virtual check-in meetings and virtual check-sets to help support them.
  • There are a lot of people participating in ARE support sessions which is helping them to be well prepared for the test. One office just had a staff member pass the ARE.
  • There was some discussion about mentorship programs in Seattle and New York. The group talked about the differences between mentorship and training as well as challenges of mentoring in a smaller firm.
  • One firm is considering a more structured mentorship program and evaluating their existing methods. They have had some success with summer interns who are “attached at the hip” with a firm principal. This firm is back in person, so it is easier – to do this.
  • Because of the virtual environment, one firm in creating more structure to their mentorship programming out of necessity.
  • The group discussed the various challenges of having multiple partners with different styles.
  • One firm matches each new hire with an in-house “mentor” who helps them on the job.

Small Firm Roundtable

Topic 1: Remote Work and Transitioning Back to the Office

  • Some firm leaders shared that it is difficult to manage projects remotely as a small firm
  • One firm has employees working in the office but seated 12’ apart with masks optional at one’s desk
  • One firm requires clients to make an appointment before visiting the office; “walk-ins” are prohibited
  • A firm leader stated that the company was so busy that they are turning down clients

Topic 2: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

  • One firm made Martin Luther King Jr. day a paid holiday for staff. This day will eventually be made a day of service for the firm
  • A firm leader shared that the company is being more intentional about casting a “wider net” in search of interns
  • J.E.D.I. conversations take on a much different context in small firms; for example, firms with 3 to 4 people
  • Several firms believed they could make a stronger impact with J.E.D.I. by serving the community (example projects mentioned: converting a church to a community center pro bono for a disadvantaged neighborhood, making oneself available to the Government as a contract vehicle, “Architects Anonymous” pro-bono services program]

Topic 3: Cultivating Emerging Professionals

  • The group discussed AIA Virginia’s Amber Book ARE prep scholarships being sponsored by the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design
  • The Chair of The Branch voiced opportunities for engagement with the 501c3

Emerging Professional’s Roundtable

Topic 1: Remote Work and Transitioning Back to the Office

  • Overall, most firms have been supportive of the remote working arrangements
  • Some reported that their teams have become more dynamic and flexible in their scheduling. The group appreciated that flexibility and most hoped that it would continue.
  • Document review and redlines/mark ups have been challenging.
  • The group discussed the various advantages and challenges with Blue Beam, Miro, and Mural
  • Some discussed the challenges of remote work during the early career stage
  • Most are still working remotely, though some are in the office.

Topic 2: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

  • Some firms’ J.E.D.I. efforts have been disappointing or have seemed performative (rather than substantive and sustainable)
  • The group discussed the challenges of bringing J.E.D.I. issues to firm leaders
  • One firm is trying to identify information to see if there is unconscious bias in the review process
  • The size of the firm seems to impact diversity; larger firms are (in general) while smaller firms seem less diverse
  • There seems to be some level of “tokenism” in some firms
  • AIA should reward/recognize/celebrate firms for genuineJ.E.D.I. efforts
  • Michael Marshall – who has suggested a hiring diversity/staffing rating system like LEED was discussed.
  • The group wondered how many firms are willing to sponsor visas for international applicants.

Topic 3: Cultivating Emerging Professionals

  • It can be difficult to get the information/support that one would normally get when in the office
  • It is difficult to build professional relationships within firms in a remote setting
  • Some have felt like there is a lack of connection and communication in the virtual space.
  • Despite good intentions by firm leaders, some are not feeling supported and don’t know how to ask for it.
  • It is very hard to learn when personal or mentorship relationships are absent.
  • Some were uncomfortable asking for things/support/help because they feel like firm leaders are doing them a favor by keeping them or offering more flexibility in scheduling
  • “It feels like you should know what you’re doing, but you don’t — and you don’t know who to ask?”
  • Being paired with a firm “mentor” (who you aren’t afraid to ask questions/ whose “job” it is to help you) has been a successful approach
  • Some didn’t find out until several years into their architecture program that a Masters program was necessary to be licensed and that expensive testing was necessary (following a long internship/training process).

An Update on the AIA Virginia J.E.D.I. Committee

Since its inception in September 2020, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee has been dedicated to creating a more equitable architecture profession throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our efforts acknowledge the grave disparities that marginalized identities face and aims to provide opportunities for education, programming, and advocacy. This work serves everyone. To date the committee has 4 main areas of focus:

Education: Education and training serve as the foundational for the work happening in firms and architectural schools across the country. It is important to have a shared language and a common understanding of the history and systems at play in American society. That being said, the committee will provide opportunities to learn about the value of diversity, the obstacles facing historically underrepresented populations, and ways to combat the many forms of bias, bigotry and exclusion in the discipline. Moreover, it is our hope that architecture firms take that knowledge and begin implementing equitable practices that respond to the systemic barriers to entry and retention in the profession.

Acknowledgment: Already underway, the committee has proposed ways to honor firms and individuals that champion equity through their exemplary civic engagement and/or their proven record of policies and procedures that expand inclusion and reallocate resources to underrepresented people.

Advocating: Inherent in the work of any committee focused on equity is a duty to advocate. Our planned advocacy can take place in many forms. It can manifest as a public statement of support for climate action and environmental justice or as a conversation with elected officials in support of specific legislation. As we continue to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, it is important for us to give voice to those who have not always had a seat at the table and this is where programming comes in.

Programming: In this initial year, the committee aims to create opportunities for dialogue between disparate groups with the hope of gaining more understanding and developing some shared values. In addition to original content, the committee plans to promote and circulate webinars, programs, and services offered by other components, organizations, and agencies.

As I said before, this work serves everyone. It extends far beyond the reach of the committee and the architecture discipline at large. In the words of the late John Lewis, I hope that you will join us in our efforts to get into some “good trouble” this year.

Kendall A. Nicholson, EdD, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
member of the AIA Virginia J.E.D.I. Committee

Virginia Firm Directory

The AIA Virginia Firm Directory helps connect clients with an architect or architecture firm that meets their needs. Clients can search by firm name, ZIP code, distance, and areas of practice.

View the Firm Directory

Listings are free to firms with an office in Virginia and an AIA Virginia member Principal. To have your firm listed in the directory, click on the “Create a Listing” button inside the directory. To correct any information in your listing, email cguske@aiava.org.