Meet the 2024 ELA Class

AIA Virginia’s award-winning Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) program was developed in 2009 to jump-start the careers of young professionals. Conceived of and lead by a passionate steering committee of successful architects (ALL past ELA alumni!), the program was designed to share the things they wished they had learned in architecture school.

Each of the seven day-long sessions focuses on developing essential skills like community engagement, collaboration, firm creation, financial management, advocacy, public service, and much more. The remaining monthly sessions are dedicated to their class project from a region around the commonwealth.

Want to be a member of this elite group of leaders? The application for the 2025 class will be available in August. Contact Cathy Guske for information on how to nominate an emerging leader or with any questions about the program.

We asked members of the ELA class of 2024 the same five questions. Get to know them better by seeing their inspiring answers.

KJ Ammon, Assoc. AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Growing up in New England, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the Boston City Hall, and I have disliked it since a young age. The building is an example of 1960s brutalist architecture which comes off as overbearing and aggressive due to its concrete material, large cantilevers, and lack of nature within the plaza.

What is the last book you read?  
The Guest List by Lucy Foley

How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
I’ve been interested in architecture from a young age. What started as an obsession with HGTV has turned into spending my days creating and designing. I love to build with my hands and explore how objects and the built environment impact our lives every day.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
My favorite activity to relax is to get outside and read a good book.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
My advice to any designer is to lean into your passions, the field of architecture can require long hours and lots of work so it’s important to remember the aspects that inspired you to become a designer in the first place.

Philip Baxter, Assoc. AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
What evoked a very strong reaction from me recently was the April ELA session regarding Community Engagement. Bruce Wardell’s story and his three-year journey of building trust and shifting the power in the hands of the residents of Southwood. It changed the way I viewed how impactful community engagement could be.

What is the last book you read?  
Missing Middle Housing by Daniel Parolek

How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
I rediscovered my passion for architecture in the ELA program by being exposed to so many different pieces of architecture and truly redefined what architecture could be to me.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
My favorite thing to relax is a good story.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
As architects we’re charged with health, safety, and welfare in city planning, so, people first always. Always give back. Architecture is a form of activism and education.

Zack Britton, Assoc. AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I have long had a fascination with the role an architect can play into the design of a cemetery. This led me to revisit the Belvedere Gardens Mausoleum In Salem a few years back. I love the interplay between the site and the structure. 

What is the last book you read?
The Soul of a Tree
by George Nakashima

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
In a way, it was something that was passed down from my dad. He studied architecture in college so from a young age I was introduced to books of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, drafting tables, and construction sites (in a OSHA approved manner). When it came time to start considering career paths the decision felt like an easy one.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I can easily spend hours woodworking just testing different techniques and joinery. 

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Sometimes this job gets overwhelming. Do not allow yourself to be paralyzed from the fear of making mistakes. Just keep trying to learn and progress.

Danielle Corbin, Assoc. AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
When I visited La Basílica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, I knew that no building had ever evoked such a strong emotional response within me.  The use of light, sculpture and color were overwhelming, whether you are present during the cool greens and blues of the morning or the fiery oranges and reds of the evening, representing the passion of Christ. I visited with my mother, who had seen the Basilica before there was an interior.  We hope to return once it is finally complete after over 150 years of construction.

What is the last book you read?
I just finished reading The Forest of Vanishing Stars, a historical fiction about the Jews who escaped to the forest as a refuge from the Holocaust.  I love the genre of historical fiction because it gives us empathy for those who lived through the horrors of the past, and reminds us so we do not repeat history. 

How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
I discovered my passion for architecture through my love of drawing, painting and fine art. I chose to attend the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture because of their classical approach and focus on hand-drawing and hand drafting. I spent a summer of my undergraduate studies in Rome plein-air sketching and watercoloring, a practice that I continue to this day.  

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but my favorite thing to do to relax is to go on a run, preferably on the beach. Running is what allows me to de-stress and refocus, and it gives me an overwhelming sense of peace.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
My advice for aspiring architects is to take advantage of the resources available to learn during your architectural education. During my undergraduate experience, I went to Europe four separate times through grants both within and outside the University. My travels to Scotland, Italy, Spain and London were eye-opening and formed the way I view the world as an aspiring architect. Never underestimate the time and energy that the most accomplished professionals will give to students who desire to learn. The incredible people that I met during my travels were so generous with their time; all I had to do was ask. 

Miguel Gereda, Assoc. AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I was reading a magazine recently and saw imagery of Studio Gang’s Populus Hotel in Denver, CO. The window details and facade have a bone like appearance. It’s a very provocative building, but I am intrigued by how it comes together. 

What is the last book you read?
Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
From a very young age, I got obsessed with looking at building plans that I would see in free home books in the grocery store. One day I asked my grandmother, who are the people that draw those? The rest is history. 

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Be outside! Hiking, walking, or just enjoying the sun–whatever it is this brings me tranquility. 

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Push yourself to ask more questions and remember that you will make mistakes–just learn from them!

Noor Hadi, Assoc. AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Recently, I had to the opportunity to travel to Peshawar, Pakistan where my ancestral roots lie. I visited this beautiful cemetery where my Nani and Nano (grandmothers) are buried.  The location of the cemetery is along a busy road, however once inside the area, the noise of the city evaporates. The terraced landscape, granite-stoned graves, orchard-like greenery, and small mausoleums throughout the cemetery nodded the Mughal and Islamic architecture.  Walking through this space, I appreciated how it could hold space for loss and grief, as well as serenity, history, and memories.

What is the last book you read?
Family Tree by Sairish Hussain

How did you discover your passion for architecture? Growing up always like to design and make things with my hands from chairs to longboards, but I could never put a name to my curiosity. The summer before my first year as an undeclared major, I enrolled in a few architecture classes to acclimate how life on campus would be . Taking those classes and being in an environment of the technical and creative, empowered me to pursue this field.

    What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
    Sitting outside and drinking a hot cup of chai, listening to nature.

    What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
    “You’ll never find reasonable people on the top of a mountain” – Jim Basset. Be curious, ask questions and, be open to talk to different people from other disciplines.  There isn’t a “right” way to do architecture, the best a person can do is keep learning and use that knowledge to propel them forward in whatever way they would like.

    Ananth Jayaraj (AJ), Assoc. AIA

    What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
    The Vessel at Hudson Yards hasn’t left my mind, it feels like a tenuous step in contemporary architectural practice. Perhaps we may be returning to our tradition as a species in building monuments which bring a sense of grandeur, a physical presence that defies our impermanence and daily cynicisms. On the other hand, the stairs that show how far the city has come does not allow all its denizens access to its greatest heights, but it’s a sad for me to think that we wont see another “great pyramid of Giza” built in our lifetimes. The view from said heights are great, but to be the last is a disturbing thought. It seems “Vessel” will continue to embody these thoughts, as great works do.

    What is the last book you read?
    Color and Light by James Gurney (A treasure for understanding, well, color and light!)

      How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
      Coming from Dubai does tinge my answer with the flavor of an inescapable destiny, being surrounded by skyscrapers and such, but realizing how the spaces that surround us shape who we were, are and will be was the beginning of this wonderful journey.

      What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
      I’ve always loved to sketch, it serves as a visual diary to me.

      What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
      Explore your passions and remember what you like. My favorite experiences in this discipline weren’t when I played to win, but when I played for the love of the game. I hope you share my sentiment!

          Tony Lin, Assoc. AIA

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          Glenstone, in Maryland. One of the most tranquil experiences that so finely integrates nature with art.

          What is the last book you read?
          Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act: A Way of Being

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?
          A big influence on me was my older brother, who is an architect and professor. Early on in my life, he told me that architecture was the study of the human condition. I kept his words in mind, and it has helped me to see architecture as artifacts shaped by our communities, cultures, and environments. Furthermore, architecture has been a gateway to seeing “design” as something that is so intrinsically connected to everything else.

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          Listening to music and going for walks at sunset.

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          Open your mind, take inspiration from everything, and the path is made by walking.

          Brynn McClatchy, AIAS

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          I just returned from a semester abroad in Europe and often reflect on my experience in the Sala Beckett Theater by Flores & Prats in Barcelona! The work done by the firm was a conversation with the memories and past uses of the building, a collection of its history. I left with a greater appreciation of architecture as a conversation between a building’s past, present, and future, but also a conversation between a building and the individual observations made by all who experience it.

          What is the last book you read?
          After visiting the Sala Beckett theater I mentioned above, I just finished Archives-Universum 01 on Flores & Prats.

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?    
          I discovered my passion for architecture once I got to college, but my passion for design started back in fourth grade. I decided then that I wanted to become a set designer, and when choosing a major for college, I found that architecture allowed me to explore storytelling and crafting experiences in the same way. Currently, my passion is also driven by my love for model making, hand drawing, and the traveling I have done while at the School of Architecture at Virginia Tech.

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          Cooking! I enjoy the process from planning to shopping to making to eating to cleaning up.

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          Your precedents are your best friends. Study them, learn from them, implement them, and don’t forget them!

          Shukrullo Mirvaydullaev, Assoc. AIA

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          Well, many amazing buildings have been created in the past or recently around the world. However, I think architecture is not just about buildings; it is about creating interesting spaces within a limited budget and enhancing the quality of the environment.
          Nevertheless, all buildings and spaces evoke reactions and influence people, especially architects. The list of buildings that come to my mind is below and, in my opinion, they are very impressive and have a positive impact on the urban environment.
          For instance;
          Cultural Center Eemhuis by Neutelings Riedijk Architects in Amersfoort, Netherlands
          The National Aquarium in Baltimore by Peter Chermayeff
          Library Delft University of Technology by Mecanoo in Delft, Netherlands
          Little Island in NYC by Thomas Heatherwick Studio
          High-Line Park in NYC by Diller Scofidio + Renfro
          Midtown Center in Washington DC by SHoP Architects
          The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. by Edward Durell Stone and the three-pavilion expansion to the center by Steven Holl Architects
          FDR Memorial Park in Washington DC by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

          What is the last book you read?
          I’m reading the Vernacular Architecture of Northern Tajikistan by V.L. Voronina. For me, it is very interesting to rethink the vernacular architecture into the modern aspects or contexts.

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?
          I discovered my passion for architecture during my time at Art College in Tajikistan. We had a project to “create an entrance to the college,” which profoundly changed my life. Working on that project, I realized my deep interest in designing spaces and structures. I knew then, at the age of 16, that I wanted to pursue a career in architecture. Since that day, I’ve only looked forward.

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          Walking in nature, spending time with parents and family, reading architectural articles, being alone with my thoughts about architecture, and drawing my thoughts. These are some of the activities I enjoy.

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          Just trust yourself and hard work on it. Try to build connections. We all learn and make mistakes, I think it is okay.

          Niki Pardakhti, Assoc. AIA

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          I recently visited Robie House. There are a lot of things I like about Robie house, but what resonated with me the most is the architect’s attention to the design and construction details. Wright not only designed the building but also every furniture in the house, believing that “it is quite impossible to consider the building one thing and its furnishings another. … They are all mere structural details of its character and completeness.”. You can also see traces of Wright’s design in construction details. From the color of the mortars that is selected in a pattern to the roof drainage system that blends with the design of the house, are all testaments of the architect’s impeccable attention to detail.

          What is the last book you read?
          Missing middle housing.

          How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
          An Architect’s ability to create a physical space initiating from a concept led me to this field. I was a biology major in college and had never thought about Architecture as my major until I visited a friend in Architecture school. I enjoyed the studio’s creative environment, and being a spatial thinker, seeing all the school projects my friends were working on was very exciting to me, so I decided to pursue an architecture degree.   

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax? Read, paint. 

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          Work on your soft skills as well as technical skills. As you grow in your career, it becomes even more important to communicate and work effectively with your clients and teammates. 

          Amari Ross, AIAS

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          Dscape Cafe in South Korea by DENOVA Architects. The building evoked a positive reaction with the placement of windows, openings, and even the wall color; it feels like a cafe I’d go to daydream.

          What is the last book you read?
          Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
          I always drew floor plans of my dream home when I was younger. I didn’t think of Architecture until I watched Netflix’s Most Extraordinary Homes which gave me a deeper understanding of the design process. 

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          Throwing ceramics on a pottery wheel, reading, or gaming depending on the day.

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          It’s you vs you in your college career. Leave yourself room to grow and adapt within college while giving yourself grace. Reward yourself often and enjoy hobbies outside of architecture.

          Emily Savoca, AIA

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          Yad Vashem, Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. I don’t think I can adequately put into words how emotional and surreal of an experience it was to visit this place. I traveled with my husband (whose family is Jewish) and 30 other individuals, about half of whom are also Jewish; many with families who have personal connections to the Holocaust. By the time we arrived at Yad Vashem, we had spent over a week together with our tour guide, a native Israeli. Her first-hand stories and knowledge, combined with the exhibits and the museum’s architecture, made this more moving than any other Holocaust museum or site I’d been to before. There are moments of relief and light throughout the museum that attempt to break up the dark, tense, and challenging exhibits. Once you reach the museum’s end and you exit out onto the terrace, an open-air gallery looks out to the city and the building frames your view of a valley of trees.

          What is the last book you read?
          I recently finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming
          I am currently reading Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming as part of my office sustainability council’s book club.

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?
          For as long as I can remember, I’ve had strong interests in the arts and technical drawing. I was initially planning on going to college for engineering until my grandfather suggested I look into architecture. Even though he was not an architect himself, he had always had a passion for learning about buildings, architecture, and design. The more I researched the practice and profession, the more I felt it would be a good fit. I love how architecture is not only about the built environment, but also art, history, science, technical expertise, community, society, and so much more. I am also passionate about lifelong learning and love that, as an architect, I am able to learn something new every single day. 

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          Yoga, traveling, or spending time outside and near the water. A combination of all three would be ideal!

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          First, give yourself plenty of time in the profession to discover what aspects of architecture you are truly passionate about. It is a diverse field with seemingly endless opportunities.
          Second, never be afraid to advocate for yourself; your wellbeing, the types of projects you want to work on, and what direction you want to take your career.

          Irem Sezer, Assoc. AIA

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
          Central Control Building, Bilgin Architects… Recently, I came across comments and discussions regarding the solar power plant architectural design competition and, of course, the first-place winner, Bilgin Architects. Designing in the middle of nowhere is one of the most challenging situations an architect finds themselves in, but the team managed to create reciprocal dialogues between the earth-sky-ground zero trio and the identity of the building, its function, its oasis, and how it represents itself.

          What is the last book you read?
          Forget Foucault by Jean Baudrillard

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?
          After starting architecture school!

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          Anything connects me to the sea… Including road trips that lead to the sea!

          What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
          Learning how to ask ‘good’ questions and having the ability to ‘question’ are much more important than they may seem!

          Jessica Somgynari, AIA

          What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently?
          The Bethlehem Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania evoked both strong positive and negative reactions from me. I enjoy traveling to various industrial sites around the U.S. with my husband to learn more about the history of America’s workforce. I attempt to capture the energy that used to bring these places to life through sketching them. So many of these places that were essential to the rise of America as it is today are in the process of decay. It caused conflicting feelings in me to behold the towering blast furnaces as I read about the dangerous and often life-threatening processes workers encountered every day, encapsulating the metal behemoths in my art. It bothered me how this site was a hub of boisterous camaraderie, then one day in November 1995, the roaring furnaces went completely quiet, and for the last time, Bethlehem Steel workers filed through the plant, not knowing if they’d ever see their coworkers again. While it is a beautiful site, I was frustrated that the site does not seem to be actively preserved, and the docent was unfortunately unable to indicate if any efforts to “arrest decay” were in the works. Overall, I would return to this site, but I hope these buildings are preserved in a more meaningful way in the future.

          What is the last book you read?
          The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. If you are interested in the surreal, action-packed world of the Welcome to NightVale podcast, this book provides an insightful look into one of the most prevalent but underrated characters’ lives, and how she came to be the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. A swashbuckling adventure with love, betrayal, and revenge, this is a great novel if you like twists, because it is definitely NOT what you’d expect. Beautifully written – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have built an incredible universe with NightVale.

          How did you discover your passion for architecture?
          I loved art when I was in high school, and wanted to continue this throughout my career. Telling stories through the built environment is such an important aspect of architecture, and it is critical to me that harmony between humans and buildings exists. Well-designed buildings tend to take on the spirit of their inhabitants, and it is fascinating to see the humanity in our environments by how items we use every day are arranged. Whether it is stray papers on a desk, or a slightly skewed chair, placement matters, and buildings should help the people inhabiting them to thrive.

          What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
          I love hanging out with my husband and three black cats, Night, Luna, and Abba. Aside from that, I relax by reading, dancing in between lifting weights at the gym, making art, hiking/ interacting with nature, and most of all, cooking. I enjoy creating both new and tried and true recipes to share with friends and family, as I believe good food helps bring people together. My favorite recipe is traditional spaghetti carbonara, which I learned to make when I was studying abroad in Rome during my fourth year at Penn State. What advice do you have for aspiring architects? Go to networking events and building tours, be engaged with your work and your community – find the balance so you can enjoy a full life. Maybe it’s an overstated cliché, but seriously: communication is key – learn how to say the same thing in multiple ways, and communicate on the level of your audience (expertise, understanding, etc.). Enjoy the process, keep growing, and ask questions – you can never know everything! Learn to be ok with that and ask for help. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you!

          Design Forum Reflections

          By Michael Spory, 2024 Chair, Design Committee

          The places we gather shape us. Just over a month ago, over two hundred of us grabbed our fancier clothes, empty notebooks, and perhaps a design-y friend or two and raced to Richmond’s Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) for AIA Virginia’s bi-annual Design Forum. You may not have known what to expect, other than the featherlight expectations of hearing about great design, something about AI, or at least to see that Steven Holl museum that I’d heard about?

          Well, I know that even after planning for 18 months, I left with much much than I anticipated–a head swimming with creative energy, a thicket of insights, several pages of hastily scribbled ideas not nearly as organized as I’d like, and several new friends–and a great appreciation for our design community in Virginia. I was honored that amidst deadlines, phone calls, urgent construction responses, and class schedules, so many of my you all as my colleagues chose to join for a conversation about the present conundrum of how our architectural sensibilities of craft are crashing into the next waves of technological innovation–artificial intelligence, machine learning, automated fabrication, to name a few. 

          And amidst my own [un]certainty about all this, I felt this tension release slightly as I glimpsed the jagged, swirling white columns dotting the tables–collaboratively inspired by our Forum attendees and fabricated by the Center for Design Research students from Virginia Tech, UVA, Hampton, and Howard. I wonder where these young creative minds might further our traditional Virginia neoclassical columns as a living remnant of our historic material culture, that is on the precipice of something new.

          I saw how the rigorous experimentation of Dwayne Oyler’s work collided with the material quietness of Billie Tsien, the refined and cantankerous earthiness of Rick Joy, the joyful embrace of ecologically minded craft for Ted Flato. I listened to the din of break-time conversations in the lobby, over dinner, with coffee and scribbled notes, sharing insights and imagery as we approach new horizons of craft on cyberfrontiers. 

          While listening to this energy, I wondered how we go from here. I wonder what design challenges we’ll face in two years for the next Design Forum, in 10 years, in 50 years, in 200 years. In a polarized, uncertain time, I came back from Design Forum XVI with both the gentle reassurance and the quiet unsettling of great conversations–the ones that always end before you are quite ready for them to be done. I felt that spark of creative energy again–and I hope it continues to echo out beyond our Forum gathering on Broad Street, beyond Richmond, beyond the mountains and rising tides of our wide Commonwealth.

          If you did not get to enjoy Design Forum this time, I hope we see you in 2026! And until then, may you continue to gather in places of beauty, wonder, and gratitude that shape you as richly as our Design Forum has shaped me.

          Photos from AIA Virginia Staff

          The COTE Corner: Amplifying Resources

          Join VA COTE and AIA Blue Ridge for a building tour of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute on June 26, 2024, 4-5 p.m.

          In July of 2020, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC opened adjacent to the Virginia Tech
          Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute. Connected to the medical school and research
          institute by an enclosed elevated walkway. This 140,000 square foot research institute serves as a
          new model for biomedical and behavioral science. FBRI is a LEED v4 Silver certified building in Roanoke, Virginia.

          Location: Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
          4 Riverside Circle, Roanoke, VA 24016

          For any additional inquiries and how to sign up, please reach out to Preethi Chitharanjan at

          Knowledge Community Grant

          Do you have a passion for one of these knowledge communities?

          Are you interested in re-invigorating an AIA knowledge community throughout Virginia? Do you need some seed money for a special speaker or an in-person statewide event? A grant program is available to any statewide knowledge community (new or already up and running.) Your knowledge community could be awarded up to $1,000 to remove programmatic barriers and to enhance the quality of programming. One grant will be awarded each year. Total amount of grant not to exceed $1,000.

          Eligibility requirements

          • Must be an AIA recognized KC either currently organized or newly formed. (Virginia Women in Design is also eligible.) Grant monies could be used to start a recognized KC.
          • KC volunteer committee must have statewide representation.
          • Program/initiative goal should be to reach members across the Commonwealth.
          • Grant monies to be used for honoraria, materials, venue, technology, and/or something that advances the efforts of the KC.
          • Any grant recipients agree to submit a follow-up article/pictures (30 days after event) to show how the grant helped advance the mission. This article will be shared with the AIA Virginia membership through email, social media, Inform Magazine, etc.

          Application process

          • Applications will be open now through May 31, 2024.
          • Applications can be submitted by the KC chair or committee members.
          • Complete online application here>>
          • Monies will be awarded and available starting July 1, 2024.

          Associated Thoughts: A Reflection on Craft and Design Forum XVI 

          A few weeks ago, AIA Virginia and their Design Committee hosted the Design Forum XVI, focusing on [Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier. The event and accompanying discussions, were both humbling and thought-provoking, as I sat with my peers to listen to the wonderful words of Dwayne Oyler, Ted Flato, FAIA, Billie Tsien, AIA, and Rick Joy, FAIA. The presentations were humbling, in that we were able to learn about truly beautiful pieces of architecture and design through the knowledge and insight of the guest speakers, but equally thought-provoking, as the presentations of work were followed by discussion and dialogue between the audience and speakers. Personally, I have always been a fan of architectural lectures, but something about this weekend’s event felt sentimental and wholesome, with colleagues from around the country gathering to reflect on past experiences and speak optimistically about the future of our field.

          The first guest speaker, and moderator for the weekend, Dwayne Oyler, started his discussion by asking us all to define “craft”. A quick Google search will tell you that “Craft” is “an activity involving skill in making things by hand”. By definition this seems true, but yet… unsatisfying. Yes, there is value in craft by hand, but in a world where fewer and fewer things are made “by hand”, how do we as young architects strive to hone our own craft? Are there elements related to craft that can still be achieved using mouse and keyboard shortcuts in lieu of pen and paper?

          I have had a few days since the Forum to sit and ponder my own definition of “craft”, both broadly and in its relationship to architecture. I am reminded of Billie Tsien’s comments, about the importance of being able to recognize “the hand” in spaces. Though this can refer to the physical presence of humanity, such as a beautifully hand-chiseled piece of stone, I think this can also apply to intentionality in detailing – in those precious moments of both perfection and flaw. Perfection, for example, when numerous planes and materials meet in a thoughtfully detailed manner and the heavens sing down at a corner! Or flaw, where the rigor of order and rules is broken to highlight something that could have otherwise been tucked away into the grid. As I start to define my own definition of “craft”, I find that my thoughts linger towards ineffable or intangible qualities that are evoked by human emotion. It is through these qualities – the touch of a worn handle, the smell of a space after it rains, or the sound of a room filled with people that suddenly goes quiet – that I think we can truly start to appreciate and sense the craft of humanity. When something – an object, work of art, or space, can evoke an emotional response, is this where we find true craft? And if so, is craft limited to humanity? Some of my favorite objects are not crafted by hand but are found rocks that have been shaped and worn by Mother Nature. My “pocket rocks” as I call them, kept safe in the various coats I wear throughout the seasons, are for all sakes and purposes “crafted” by my own definition – they evoke emotional responses each time I hold them and rub my fingers along their smooth and jagged edges. If Mother Nature is capable of craft (for we all know she has had years of practice), then the bigger question needs to be asked – is AI also capable of producing crafted objects? Or, can we consider the use of AI a craft of its own, synonymous with sculpting or woodworking?

          I hesitate to even ask this, for the answer is a bit daunting. If the use of AI is in fact a craft, or AI can produce crafted things, does this mean that our roles of architects, designers, craftsmen, etc… will become obsolete? This thought forms pessimistic and yes, black-mirror-type scenarios in my mind. However, I am reminded of the hopeful optimism of our guest speakers. Of their belief in our innate need to feel and connect with humanity, with flaws, with intangible qualities. I do believe that there is craft to be found in using AI, but feel that this can only be achieved through the lens of the human spirit and mind. AI is, after all, another tool for us to use and take advantage of. It cannot achieve emotional connectivity without input from human ideas and design, without a sense of thoughtfulness, which in my mind, separates crafting from making. True thoughtfulness is developed and cultivated over years of experience – through trial and error, open-mindedness, an eagerness to learn, and above all, a sense of pride found in creating things through your own abilities and ideas.

          All this rambling to say – craft is of the human hand, whether physically or metaphorically, and it is something we as architects and designers should strive to hone and personalize over time. Its definition holds different meanings to each of us but can be connected through a shared appreciation of perceived thoughtfulness.

          Thanks for reading.
          Ashleigh Walker, Assoc. AIA
          Associate Director, AIA Virginia Board of Directors

          2024 AIA Virginia Prize Winners Announced

          During the first weekend of February, students across the Commonwealth participated in the 2024 Virginia Prize. For the first time JMU’s Architectural Design program joined competitors from perennial participants Hampton University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech (Blacksburg and the WAAC) in addressing a challenge authored by Professor Stanford Britt, FAIA, Professor Carmina Sanchez-de-Valle, RA, and Associate Professor Marci Turner of Hampton University. The brief invited students to design a “bookless” public library as a community public room on a corner site at the intersection of N. Mallory Street and E. County Street in Phoebus, Virginia.

          The submissions were juried by Trey Trahan, FAIA, NOMA, Robbie Eleazer, AIA, and David Sweere, AIA of Trahan Architects: a global architecture firm with offices in New Orleans and New York founded on the belief that the mindful design of everyday spaces can elevate the human experience. The practice is dedicated to creating spaces resonant with authenticity, cultural significance, and ecological resilience. The result is a harmonious portfolio that blends the arts, conservation, historic preservation, and social responsibility.

          The juried noted that “The work was impressive for a single weekend charrette. There’s an attentiveness to the library’s functional role in the digital and post-digital age. The work as a whole offered an enormous range of solutions in form, materiality, and articulation.”

          First Place was awarded to Graham Gewirz (University of Virginia).

          “The scheme demonstrates a clarity in the development of the original diagram to the finalized solution. There is a consistency in the attitude and articulation of the natural thickness of masonry throughout the scheme, operating at multiple scales. Intelligent carving of the masonry creates places for gathering and engagement with the building from the exterior and intimate spaces for contemplation and studying in the interior.”

          Second Place was conferred upon Philip Edmonston (University of Virginia).

          “The scheme is strongly engaging of the site’s context, operating at a transition of scale in the urban fabric, by breaking down the scale of the overall structure into a series of volumes, aggregated into a composition that pulls a visitor into the site. The library expansion is complementary of the existing library in orientation, access, and form.”

          Third Place was given to Kanako Kohara (Virginia Tech: WAAC).

          “The scheme combines a muted natural material palette and access to nature with a beautiful simply articulated elevation. The use of exposed timber construction offers an example of forward-sustainable thinking.”

          Mohammed Elabbasi (Virginia Tech: Blacksburg) merited an Honorable Mention.

          “The scheme is inventive and playful in its articulation of a series of treehouse-like structures connected by a catwalk. It offers a youthful expression of lifted volumes to protect from flooding while creating a forest floor-like condition at the ground level.”

          Many thanks to the jury for their diligent deliberations.

          And Congratulations – not only to those who were recognized – but to all who submitted and, through their work, helped us to encounter new approaches and envision innovative possibilities.

          View a gallery of the submissions below.

          Resiliency Week 2024

          Resiliency is the ability to quickly recover from disruption. But, how quickly can our buildings and systems bounce back from natural or man-made disasters? Can our infrastructure rapidly adapt to changing environmental, social, and economic conditions? 

          Join AIA Virginia from 12:00-1:00 pm each day from April 22 to April 26 for an exploration of resiliency in the built environment and discover why investing in resilient solutions can help protect us all.


          4/22: Luisa Black Ellis with Elizabeth River Project – The Ryan Resilience Lab: Accessible, Resilient Design – 1 AIA LU pending

          4/23: Lindsay Brugger with Urban Land Institute – The Business Case for Resilience – 1 AIA LU pending

          4/24: Paul Robinson with RISE – Architectural Adaptation and Risk Transfer: Making buildings safer and protection more affordable – 1 AIA LU pending

          4/25: Lewis Lawrence with Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission – Flooding is Changing the “Landscape”= New $ Opportunities – 1 AIA LU pending

          4/26: Troy Hartley with Virginia Sea Grant – Finding Innovative Climate Solutions: Knowledge Integration through Resilience Design – 1 AIA LU pending

          AIA Member – $15
          Non-member – $20
          Students – FREE

          Historic Resources Committee Events for 2024

          Virginia HRC kicked off 2024 with a great retreat at Frazier Associates in Staunton, VA and a BIG thank you to Kathy Frazier, FAIA for hosting.  We are planning to do 5 tours and 2 webinars throughout the year with a Craftsperson’s Crawl at the AIA Virginia Architecture Exchange East Conference in November and ending the year with the traditional HRC Trivia night in December.

          Please visit the Historic Resources Committee webpage here to learn more and see our calendar of events for 2024. 

          If you are interested in participating in HRC leadership or activities, contact us at and members are always welcome to join our monthly calls.

          2024 AIA Virginia Prize Jury Announced

          AIA Virginia is pleased to announce the jury for the 2024 AIA Virginia Prize. The competition — which took place over the weekend of Feb. 2-5 —challenged students to design a public library in Phoebus, VA as a community public room to be a place both welcoming and safe for individuals, as well as for groups that choose to gather and interact.

          The AIA Virginia Prize is a design charrette that engages students at all of the accredited architecture programs in Virginia.  Conducted simultaneously at each institution, students are given the competition program Friday at 5 p.m. They work over the weekend to create a board presenting their design solution by 9 a.m. the following Monday.  The competition is intended to promote collaboration between the profession, students, and professors in Virginia.

          Each school’s faculty reviewed the submissions and sent up to 10 finalists for final consideration by the jury which will be chaired by Trey Trahan, FAIA, NOMA.

          About the Jury

          Trey Trahan, FAIA, NOMA approach to architecture begins with his conviction that a building can create something that extends beyond its walls—and when we build, we shape our landscapes, communities, and cultures. His practice is dedicated to creating spaces resonant with authenticity, cultural significance, and ecological resilience, resulting in a harmonious portfolio that blends the arts, conservation, historic preservation, and social responsibility. Trahan’s work, oriented towards serving the public, strives to create venues that foster powerful communal experiences and connections, reaching beyond the
          traditional bounds of architecture—to shape our landscapes, communities, and cultures. Trahan is commended for his innovative use of sustainable materials, stemming from his strong personal belief in environmental conservancy. The firm has signed the AIA 2030 Commitment. He has navigated a four-decade career exploring global artistic and construction traditions, drawing influences from Eastern, Western, and Indigenous cultures. Trahan’s particular interest in Japanese culture is reflected in his extensive collection of ceramics, lacquerware, and bronzes by notable Japanese artists, with objects dating back to the 1500s. This deep interest in how materiality shapes cultures has profoundly influenced the firm’s approach to the built environment. Trahan received the Architecture Review Emerging Architecture Award in London in 2005 and was elected to the AIA College of Fellows in 2006. The firm has received recognition for combining research in emerging materials and construction with a connection to history, place, and culture, creating innovative work that feels simultaneously rooted and contemporary. In 2021, he was honored as the Laureate of the American Prize for Architecture by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

          Robbie Eleazer, AIA is passionate about finding new expressions of built form and working with clients to communicate those expressions to their stakeholders. The experience he brings to the New York design team includes a range of projects that exhibit inclusive design including the Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA, to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington D.C. He has contributed to work that has gained national recognition for innovation and leveraged technology in the design of beautiful facilities that contribute to wellness.
          As a leader in the computational design community, Robbie engages with
          technology to expand his understanding of what architecture can be and
          how it impacts people’s lives, particularly regarding materiality and safety
          practices to encourage public health. Robbie has contributed his expertise to a diverse portfolio of work that purposefully integrates buildings into their landscapes—believing that architecture should defer to natural settings wherever practical. Robbie’s experience includes leading the conceptual and technical design for high performance façades in a variety of climactic zones; working on complex, multi-phased projects that involved site planning, strategic renovation, and new construction; specializing in work where landscape-driven solutions provide a framework for buildings; and significant experience in cultural

          David Sweere, AIA a native Arkansan and graduate from the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design at the University of Arkansas, joined Trahan Architects’ New York studio in January 2022. He believes place memory and cultural context are critical sources of inspiration in a world of increasing globalization and optimization. Prior to joining Trahan Architects, David was a designer at MARVEL in New York and Marlon Blackwell Architects in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he gained experience on a wide range of cultural, master planning, educational, retail, and government projects. He also served 9 years in the United States Air Force as an Electrical Journeyman, including multiple tours abroad in base maintenance and new construction units. In 2019, he received The Aydelott Travel Award, a $20K travel grant focused on self-directed architectural analysis, through which he traveled to 13 countries across Europe and Asia. In presenting this work, David has lectured at the Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscapes, and Settlements and the University of Arkansas.

          Opportunities to Connect Across the AEC Community

          The Virginia Engineers Conference (the VEC) will be held March 12-13, 2024 in Newport News. The program offers a vertical track – on topics of common interest to architects, engineers, and contractors – and features an AEC Code Forum with Code Representatives from Southeast Virginia.

          The VEC registration site is now open and AIA member rates are available for either the AEC Code Forum or the entire conference. An early bird discount is available until February 12, 2024. Receive up to 6 AIA LU | Elective pending

          Register here>>

          We will offer another Code Forum Event in Richmond, featuring code officials from the local area, on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Please save the date. Additional information will be provided in the not-too-distant future.