Associated Thoughts: New Beginnings 

Ashleigh Walker, Associate AIA

As a newly appointed AIA Virginia Board Member, I find myself contemplating the idea of “new beginnings” throughout the start of the new year.  My focus has been on not only how to represent the current group of AIA Virginia Associate members, but who am I representing? Who are my colleagues, and what are their backgrounds? What are the different aspirations we as a collective group share for growth in the profession, and what are we looking to get out of our AIA memberships? Above all, how can I help support these goals and requests, and better serve as an ambassador to young professionals in Virginia?  

The task at hand is not easy or simple, but as complex and unique as the group of individuals represented. I am reminded of the ever-present motto from my alma mater, Virginia Tech, as “Ut Prosim” or “That I May Serve”, and hope over these next 2 years as your Associate Director, I can do my part to serve.   

To better understand how I can achieve this, I need to look outside of myself and go directly to the source – Associate members! – and ask “What can I do for you?”. At our recent Board of Directors meeting, we discussed goals for the year as well as challenges facing the chapter, the state, and the profession at large. Over the 2 days of collaboration and problem-solving, my mind kept wandering to my specific task at hand – make sure Associate members are represented, and feel that they are heard, valued, and helped. 

I begin my journey with a simple set of 15 questions for Associates (or non-Associate members) to fill out, and hope it can start me in a direction toward growth and service. 

Will keep you posted! – A

Associated Thoughts: Taking Rest

Slowly, cautiously–our daily architectural lives seem to be headed towards normal. Or at least, something
familiar and regular, if not exactly normal yet. As our collective patterns change once again, I remember
the small rhythms of the Before Times: saying good morning as you walk in post-commute, quickly
dropping off your lunch leftovers in the office fridge, stopping to chat by the coffee machine, grabbing
extra pens as you head to the big table for a markup session. Even writing these things almost sounds
foreign, like a fable about how we “used to do things” after getting used to kitchen table laptops and
waist-up formality for the last 15 months. I had one of my first in-person work meetings recently, and like a
long-forgotten pair of jeans, I felt the strangeness and comfort of these cautious steps forward.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

But what rhythms have we forgotten? What habits have we lost? I suspect that if you are like me, one tenuous habit lost has been balance, and how we navigate and structure the intersection between our personal and professional lives. Studies by Forbes, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and others all point in the same direction — working from home has mostly resulted in working more. Most of these studies show that, on average, Americans worked 1-3 hours more per day during the pandemic. Despite this, similar studies also indicated that many pivoting workers also somehow managed to maintain or even increase their productivity when working remotely. With job cuts, layoffs, and reductions happening in unexpected ways across lots of industries, design professionals had to adapt, juggle, and squirm as the world swirled beyond the walls of our homes-turned-to-offices.

And so we figured it out. But we also stretched ourselves, perhaps to the breaking point.
I will not opine on why we have worked more (we can leave that to the counselors, clergy, and loved
ones), but I wonder how–after 15+ months of extra hours, of thinner boundaries between work and
non-work, of uncertainty breathing down our necks–how we reactivate our habit to rest. To clock out. To
not just take a break or go for a walk, but to disengage from the always-present professional snarls of
doing the hard work of architecture. As we return to offices and perhaps forgotten patterns, we also return
to the realities that work and rest are scales to be balanced, each critical in its own time.

Drawing a tough hand, many young professionals rose to the challenge to keep learning and working in
new ways and unexpected formats, and now find ourselves with a new challenge of how to rebalance our
schedules, our personal commitments, our loved ones, and our mindsets. Personally, I took my very first
vacation this past year (really) and was shocked at how stepping away from the never-ending demands of
an architectural job reset my system. I came back more engaged and rejuvenated, more capable of
contributing rather than just coping and reacting. In essence, more capable of being my whole self. And in
the spirit of June being Pride Month, the goal of bringing our full selves to the creative table is an ongoing
opportunity for synergy.

And so I hope you can take the beginning of summer to carve out time to reset, to relax your jaw, to
power down the computer, and find time away. After 15 months, we will continue to navigate all the new
normals to come, and so rest up in the meantime. Use that vacation time. The good work we do will
continue to be there, and it takes our fullest selves to do it well.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Associated Thoughts: Wintering

Amid the few blustery storms that blow across Virginia every few winters, most of us have probably spent even more time than normal in our own home office setups, reviewing yet another PDF before yet another virtual meeting while the sun still seems to set before 5 p.m. Even though I have done my best to live out the cold-weather-culture of “wintering” to better embrace this time by bundling up for longer walks, bringing hot drinks wherever I go, and trying to stay active amid these dark pandemic doldrums, I find that something has tilted off-kilter. My daily rhythm of work and rest is misaligned. 

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

After almost a year of working from home–who even knows what is “normal” anymore? What does balance look like, when the days are dark? For some, the daily churn of a workday has crept uneasily beyond its typical boundaries, where the pinging emails and responsibilities are only steps away at all times of day–sneaking across personal boundaries that keep us healthy, sane, and energized. For others, the challenge of empty days means the uncertainty of trying to find work, of polishing another resume, of feeling left behind as we try to stretch our resources another week. For students, it’s trying to make do with the suckiness of college life done from small apartments and dorm rooms–and the missing out on a broken promise of what design education was supposed to be. In the cold of winter, nearing the anniversary of a pandemic that has sent us home, I find my personal rhythms disrupted too, with a blurry line between work and overwork, creativity and confusion. 

For designers of all levels, the past year has upended long-established ways that design usually happens, and how design offices usually function. In that churn of change, I wonder how we as young professionals might raise our voices with what we have personally learned and experienced–what has worked and what has not–and push for positive upheaval. I wonder how we might raise our voices to reestablish a better equilibrium between our professional and personal lives. I wonder how new expectations around flexible work might springboard more women into leadership positions and opportunities. I wonder how firms might realize new ways to transfer knowledge that was lost when younger staff were not physically present for that elbow-to-elbow mentorship that happens between neighboring desks. I wonder how, eight months after protests enflamed our nation around the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we might continue to push ourselves and our firms toward greater institutional impact towards racial equity–and wonder how our architectural policies and practices have changed beyond any book club or public statement. I wonder how this upending might rebalance us, rather than overturn us. 

You will probably read this from your home office, as I am writing in my empty work space as well, and missing the warmth of professional colleagues and the springtime sun. It’s dark out, and there are too many things to do, and too much information coming in the swirling vortexes of our headspaces at this strange moment in time. Deep breaths. A walk. An unpowered phone. Might do us all some good this week. 

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Associated Thoughts: New Habits in a New Year

On the last day in December, I was listening to a ​podcast piece about habits​–about how to start new ones, how to disrupt unhelpful or unhealthy ones, how to break them down into tiny bits and ultimately try to become a better person with the new habits that I will implement smoothly, effectively, and with no trouble or sacrifice at all–as I confidently assure myself every January. It will be like magic, right? Yet more often than not, my track record suggests otherwise. Other than a recent resolution to floss more consistently (stemming from the post-grad school financial shock of my first significant dental procedure), I have an admittedly poor record with immediate follow through on my resolutions. I am an aspirational person, but usually by the grey days at the end of January, my big goals have shrunk to small goals, if they still exist at all. I suspect I am not alone.

Michael Spory, Assoc. AIA

And yet, I look back and realize that even if those resolutions did not immediately pan out, that resolving myself to stretch and grow in new ways each year has positively bent the arc of my life in the long run. In the act of reflecting every new year, I can clean off the dust of the everyday chaos of deadlines and redlines and take stock of who I have been–and more importantly–who I want to be. Not just trying to go to the gym more often, but someone who takes action on my holistic health more intentionally. Not just checking off the next professional credential, but understanding what is piquing my curiosity and holding my creative attention. Not just trying to quantify ways to appease my internal sense of my own racism, but undertaking the steady, consistent work to undo the white supremacy where it shows up in my life.

For me, this realization helps shape the often slow, sometimes frustrating back-of-house efforts that begin the new year. As the AIA Virginia representative for unlicensed professionals across the commonwealth of Virginia, I am looking ahead to how to bend the arc of our emerging professional architectural community more towards excellence, more towards equity, more towards connection in a challenging year for designers everywhere. In serving your needs, I am committed to the following:

  • To connect our five distinct chapters in more concrete ways, building bridges across professional networks and universities to celebrate and share what each of our components does really well.
  • To increase opportunities for allyship and equity-building for women, LGBT, BIPOC, folks with disabilities, and non-traditional professionals.
  • To find ways to better serve our design outposts in under-resourced cities and the rural areas outside of Virginia’s traditional design geographies.
  • To supporting entrepreneurship and design organizations (and the people running them) that don’t always look like traditional architectural practice.

If you find that you are inspired by something in these goals–please please please get in touch with me. Our AIA Virginia team is always looking for new team members–emerging leaders who can take on the big and small things that serve each other and our communities in better ways. Will you come join me?

In that podcast that I mentioned, the host suggested breaking down new goals into the tiniest bits possible, to build on small successes consistently. As 2021 gets underway, I wonder what these first small successes will look like over the next weeks and months, as we work together to build and celebrate the good daily work of design in ourselves, our neighborhoods, and across Virginia.

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Just a few fun things to click on:

Some dope projects. ​The Architect’s Newspaper announced its ​2020 Design Awards​ list, which features Virginia’s own ​Memorial to Enslaved Laborers​ at the University of Virginia as Project of the Year.

Something to listen to. ​Speaking of habits, this ​podcast from Hidden Brain​ explores how to build better habits–and maybe even break some of the worse ones. Plus, it features an “irresistible staircase” in the Miller Hull’s ​Bullitt Center​ in Seattle.

Something to jumpstart your ARE studying. ​AIA Northern Virginia is gearing up another round of ARE prep courses, which will all be virtual for the time being. If you are anything like me, having others to share the ARE studying gauntlet with is an invaluable resource and motivator. More info ​here​.

Something to join. ​VANOMA (recently founded in the fall of 2020) is up and running. Get info and connected to its efforts, and join the meetings to learn more. They can be found on social media ​here​.

Associated Thoughts

I had this month’s update for associates all planned out. Real nice and tidy. It was going to be about getting started—with your career, with your AXP record, with raising your hand and getting involved in your community—and simple ways for emerging designers to do that. And sometimes our nice and tidy plans get pushed aside, rightly so. As I type out these words, helicopters buzz low over my Washington DC neighborhood, and massive crowds stream through the streets in protest of the injustices perpetrated against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so, so many in the black community over the last 400+ years. Injustices both outrageously specific and overwhelmingly systemic, and we grieve them.

And so we center these words from the May 31 statement by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA):

The air in our nation is thick with a profound sense of grief and despair. Our collective air is so very thick that it’s literally hard to breathe. We struggle to grasp for air as we all navigate a global pandemic coupled with the deadly and pervasive virus called racism that has plagued America for over four centuries…As architects, how can we protect the health, safety and welfare of the public if our country is not properly including Black Americans as full members of our society?

photo courtesy of Michael Spory

We as architects serve the public. Not just the paying, powerful, or polite public. The ENTIRE public, in all its messy, complicated, and challenging complexity. And in serving the entire public as designers, we imagine environments and worlds that do not yet exist, and we help make them visible. How can we, who care so much about the beauty in our built environments, imagine and act to bring that better world into being, a world that repairs the systemic injustices enveloping our black brothers and sisters for the last 400 years? How can we as professional architects address racial issues within our own profession? How can we hold this in our gaze, and not look away?

Ultimately, this newsletter is still about getting started (and you can certainly find links for job boards, AXP advice, and community service opportunities below) but with a renewed focus on racial justice in our design offices and in our neighborhoods in our diverse, complicated, beautiful Virginia. This work has been going on for a long time, but the pressing reality begs us as emerging professionals to partner with our elders in clear-eyed reckoning with how race and architecture are colliding, in this moment in 2020. 

In the coming weeks and months, there will be a variety of opportunities to sustain this priority, so watch out. Read things like the links listed below, and share them with your friends and supervisors. Listen to diverse voices. Listen to your black and brown friends and colleagues, who have to come to work every day and try and smile and finish their task list. Get involved in our newly-established NOMA chapter. Donate to our PAC, and to trusted organizations doing justice work in our communities. 

We will keep moving. 

In solidarity and action,
Michael Spory, Associate AIA

Just a Few Fun Things to Click On

Some Statements about Racial Injustice from AIA and Design Leaders: Read statements from the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), the AIA, and AIA Virginia. Ask if your firm or institution has drafted any statement. 

Someone You Should Know: Jeffrey Butts is the Regional Associate Director for the Region of the Virginias for the 2019-2020 term. A graduate of Howard University and a designer at Hanbury (Norfolk), Jeffrey is an incredible resource between our regional chapter and AIA National. He’s doing big things, folks. 

Someone Else You Should Know: Robert Easter, FAIA is one of the newest AIA Fellows from Virginia (recently awarded in January!), the chair of the architecture program at Hampton University, and one of the most prominent voices for increased black and minority participation in Virginia and in the country. He serves as Hampton University’s representative to the AIA VA Board of Directors. 

Someone to Ask NCARB Questions: Michael Hammon, AIA is the NCARB Licensing Advisor for Virginia. He knows all things NCARB and is appointed by AIA Virginia to help you. Reach out to him at He is happy to respond to big and small questions about how licensing works, how to navigate tricky situations, and how to help you get that stamp!

Something to Talk about with Your Boss and Coworkers: AIA has developed Guides for Equitable Practice, for resourcing architects to make the business and professional case for ensuring more equitable practices in our firms, particularly towards black and minority individuals and clients. This is an important baseline, especially the personal stories in this section. Ask your supervisors if your firm has discussed and implemented these guides. 

Something to Donate To: The Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson, supports criminal justice reform, racial justice, and public education about racial inequities and the residual structures and legacy of the enslavement of African-Americans. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, it’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a heartbreaking and architectural wonder to the legacy of lynching and racial violence. 

Something to Sign Up For: AIA Virginia is forming a joint and supportive relationship with our newly-launched NOMA Chapter. This is an important step, and is an effort that needs people of all skin colors to actively support minority architects. Fill this form out to show your support and interest; it’ll take less than 60 seconds.

Something Else to Sign Up For: Due to the loss of networking and internship opportunities, AIA VA is responding creatively to provide mentoring relationships between rising students and young professionals and working architects. I signed up–you should too! Only 2 hours per month. Forms for mentees & graduates are here, and forms for possible mentors are here

Something to Put on Your Calendar: Join other engaged folks for our Emerging Professionals Roundtable + Happy Hour. June 10 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Register online

Some Free Stuff for the ARE Exams: AIA National is offering their ARE prep course ArchiPrep FOR FREE for associate members until August 31. If you’re taking your exams, or thinking about taking them, this should push you over the starting line. 

Something if You’re Looking for a Job: For those on the job hunt, take a look at the job board on the AIA Virginia website — with employment opportunities all across Virginia. And check out AIA’s resource for navigating the 2020 job market. 

Something Inspiring: Past winners of the AIA’s Whitney M. Young Jr Award, which distinguishes an architect or architectural organization that embodies social responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue, such as affordable housing, inclusiveness, or universal access.