Meet the ELA Class of 2024

Meet the Emerging Leaders in Architecture class of 2024! This year’s class of 15 comprises architects and associates from around the state and students from Hampton University and Virginia Tech. We will be traveling around the state throughout the year for our educational sessions and focusing on the Alexandria/Arlington area for this year’s class project. Would you like to support the class as they travel around the state? Contact Cathy Guske, cguske@aiava.org for more information. Be sure to follow the ELA Instagram account at ela_aiavirginia to follow their progress throughout the year.

KJ Ammon, Associate AIA (AIA Richmond nominee)
Philip Baxter, Associate AIA
Zachary Britton, Associate AIA (AIA Blue Ridge nominee)
Danielle Corbin, Associate AIA (AIA Central Virginia nominee)
Miguel Gereda, Associate AIA
Noor Hadi, Associate AIA
Ananth Jayaraj, Associate AIA
Tony Lin, Associate AIA (AIA Hampton Roads nominee)
Brynn McClatchey, AIAS (Virginia Tech)
Shukrullo Miruaydullaev, Associate AIA
Niki Pardakhti, Associate AIA (AIA Northern Virginia nominee)
Amari Ross, AIAS (Hampton University)
Emily Savoca, AIA
Irem Sezer, Associate AIA
Jessica Somgynari, AIA

ELA 2024 Applications Due Nov. 10

AIA Virginia announces the call for applications for the 2024 class of Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA): An Honors Academy of AIA Virginia.

The application and more information are available here>>
The application deadline is Nov. 10, 2023.

ELA is an intensive program of educational sessions structured around presentations, discussions, team exploration, analysis, consensus-building, collaboration, and case study activities undertaken over the course of a year by a small cadre of participants selected for their potential to be outstanding contributors to the profession and the community. Facilitators and mentors who are established leaders in the building, finance, non-profit, development, university, legal, consulting, and design professions and in the community at large develop and deliver the sessions, designed to provide participants with advanced knowledge and skills related to specific areas of leadership and practice.

The program consists of monthly, day-long seminars, work sessions, or class project presentations, culminating at a presentation at Architecture Exchange East in November.

The seminars are interactive, drawing on real examples and actively involving participants. They rotate among sites in Roanoke, Charlottesville, Richmond, Alexandria, and Norfolk in conjunction with the firms, schools, and the local AIA component in each area.

The class project for 2024 will be in Northern Virginia, so many sessions and the project workdays will be located in the Northern Virginia area.

How to Apply
The committee seeks applicants from three categories:

Component Nominees: Each of the five AIA Virginia local component Boards may nominate one or more individuals for admission to the program. One participant will be selected from each component for a total of five. If interested, please contact your local AIA chapter representative. Each chapter sets its own deadline and application requirements for these positions.

Student Nominees: Each Virginia Architecture School (UVA, VT, Hampton, and WAAC) may nominate one or more students for admission to the program. One participant will be selected from each school for a total of four. If interested, contact your department Chair/Dean.

Open Applications: Applicants may apply on their own or be nominated by someone else. Seven participants will be selected from among these applicants.

The application and more information are available here>>
The application deadline is Nov. 10, 2023.

If you have any questions, please contact Cathy Guske, Member Services Director, cguske@aiava.org

2023 ELA Class Profiles

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 2024 class will be available later this summer. 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 2023 the same five questions. Get to know them better by seeing their inspiring answers.

Mira Abdalla, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Last month for Ramadan my friends and I visited the Ottoman-style Diyanet Mosque in Maryland, and it was such a transformative experience for me. To be in a building that felt like the physical and spatial manifestation of something so inexplicable and divine was incredible. Upon entering, I was awestruck by the large void filled with light. The way the Qur’an recitation reverberated in this space seeped into my soul and stuck with me for days after. It was the most tranquil architectural experience I’ve had in a long while.

What is the last book you read?
Architectural Ornament: Banishment & Return by Brent C Brolin (lent to me by my lovely mentor, Julia!)

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
In high school, I was in an architectural drafting program while also taking AP Art History. I remember in Art History always being especially excited to discuss the works of architecture. I felt there was something so beautiful and poetic about these works of art that are experienced three-dimensionally and tell the stories of their inhabitants. I always loved storytelling, but it was then that I realized architecture is my favorite way to do it.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Anything where I can sit outside & soak up the sun! I love having picnics with friends, going to farmer’s markets, reading on my porch, and admiring Charlottesville’s beautiful scenery from any good spot I can find!

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Architecture is subjective, don’t be afraid to have your own opinions. Think about what your unique background, interests, & experiences can bring to the world of architecture, and lean into it!

Emily Baker, AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
A few years ago visiting Barcelona, I got to tour the famous Casa Mila. I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time on the rooftop traversing the undulating walkways, peering around sculptural formations, and enjoying the vantage points created of the surrounding city skyline. It was like its own little fantastical world up there!

What is the last book you read?
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I’ve always been curious about how the built environment can influence how one lives, works, and plays. Coming from a small town, the complexity and sometimes chaotic nature of cities fascinated me. I found myself considering both architecture and urban planning for college majors. I ended up selecting architecture because I liked the idea of influencing a city’s built environment at a more micro level – one building at a time – and being able to physically stand within something that started with just a blank sheet of paper and my imagination.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Taking my two dogs hiking/camping. Allows time for silent reflection, while listening to the calming sounds of nature – plus it’s great exercise!

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
There are a lot of career paths that an architectural education can lead you. Take opportunities to ask other architects about their educational/professional journey, as it may spark inspiration for your own path.

Lindsey Blum, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
The Tate Modern Switch House by Herzog and de Meuron. On a recent trip to London, I found myself captivated by the main stairwell. I spent around an hour chatting with a woman on holiday from her law firm in Boston. She said she’d never particularly loved the art in the Tate but had been back three times to enjoy this space.

What is the last book you read?
Taste by Stanley Tucci, “The Tooch”

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
At first, I had a simple love of making things. When I was young, I was building small towns for my stuffed animals from used detergent bottles and old pizza boxes. As I grew up, I was afforded several opportunities to make things for others – from large porch ramps to small home improvements. A slight dose of naivety led me to pursue architecture simply for the love of making things. I have been fortunate to find a great love of both design and community in architecture as a result.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Dare I say running? Without fail, my greatest moments of relaxation stem from the perfect balance of popcorn, peanut M&M’s, and some good tunes.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Be cognizant of the architect’s role to know “a little bit about everything.” Prioritize and consume the things that get you excited about architecture and design.

Perry Hammond, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is pretty amazing. I felt transported to a different time and place when inside. The combination of plants, art, and low light made me feel like I was in a novel.

What is the last book you read?
Designing The Forest by Lindsey Wikstrom.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
I think my relationship with architecture turned from interest to passion when I realized how connected the built environment is to the natural environment. Rather than seeing a division between buildings and ecology, I’ve come to accept the complex entanglement of the two with hopes of benefiting both equally through design. Architecture has tremendous power to change our communities and environment, and it’s up to us to decide what that change looks like.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I enjoy going on walks, whether in an urban environment or in nature.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Find what aspect of architecture makes you excited and pursue that above all else.

Ava Helm, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Recently,  I have not been inspired by one building, but the many I see while walking around the streets of DC where I work. The variety of different building types, colors, materials, etc all work in different ways, and you never know when you’ll stumble upon something inspiring!

What is the last book you read?
The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

How did you discover your passion for architecture?  
Long story short, I discovered my passion for architecture from a high school teacher. I had no interest in going into architecture and he convinced me to take his architecture class. I ended up loving it and decided to test the waters with the Syracuse University Summer Architecture Program. This opened the floodgates and I have not looked back since!

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I like to go on long walks with my dog. 

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
My advice is to trust yourself. Architecture is hard and it’s okay to make mistakes. You need to trust that you are doing the best you can. When it gets hard, take it one day at a time, but don’t forget to smile!

Anna Kniceley, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA.

What is the last book you read?
Essentialism by Greg McKeown

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I’ve always had a fascination with construction. This likely comes from having an engineer for a dad and growing up around uncles with hauling and excavating businesses. After my freshman year at Virginia Tech, I was on track to transfer from Business into the Interior Design program. However, in the summer transfer studio, my eyes were widened to the endless possibilities of Architecture. I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to Dr. Hilary Bryon for steering me into the Architecture program.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
You can usually find me going for walks with my dog, Emmie Kay while listening to an audiobook or podcast.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Be curious about everything! Form positive relationships with engineering colleagues and find people who are willing to answer any type of question.

Jason Lin, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s always invigorating to see works by Architects that you’ve studied in school. I was amazed by the identity of the spaces and just how much of the surrounding area was inspired by Wright’s work.

What is the last book you read?
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. The televised ending left me wanting more.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was watching How I Met Your Mother throughout my senior year of high school and really resonated with Ted Mosby, who was a, you guessed it, an Architect on the show. I had taken some drafting classes as well and enjoyed the craft, I applied and got into Virginia Tech for both Architecture and Engineering and made the decision to begin my journey.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Love playing volleyball and gaming with my friends.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Ask questions. You can never learn enough and don’t be afraid to take risks and go beyond your comfort zone.

Caitlin Morgan, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, VA. This historic downtown treasure has such rich stories within its architectural details, and as a Harrisonburg native, it makes these little details even more special. Since 1856, the Warren-Sipe House has served the community in many ways – Civil War hospital, rec center, family home, temporary court house, and finally the home of the Virginia Quilt Museum. Even the exhibits complement the 1800s-style gallery space where some of the quilts are older than the house itself. Every time I volunteer with the museum, I gain a new understanding of how valuable these historic treasures are to downtown neighborhoods and the adaptable longevity of architecture in society. 

What is the last book you read?
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It’s a fascinating mix of architecture, history, and culture rooted in the development of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. 

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I always share the cliché story of playing with Legos and building mini-cities as a kid (because it’s true!), but as I grew up and learned more about what architecture is, I found a love for how it incorporates anthropology, historic preservation, art and design, and more. There are so many facets to architecture that it feels like there’s something new to discover every day. 

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
My brain doesn’t know how to stay still, so I’ve been spending more time on activities where I can keep moving while letting my head focus on a single task… Painting, making music, golfing (new to this one but loving it!), sketching, and even quilting. 

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Find a way to set yourself apart! This is sometimes daunting, but once you find something you love, become a resource for others also interested in that trademark. Early in my career (i.e. during the global pandemic) I teamed up with three colleagues in architecture to create Emerge AEC, a passion project that connects emerging professionals in architecture, engineering, and construction. Every month, we host virtual events for AEC professionals at every experience level with topics that range from professional development to little-known AEC careers. Check out @EmergeAEC on Instagram and learn more at EmergeAEC.com!

Javius Richardson, AIAS

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
During my first time at the African American Smithsonian last summer, the building overall and lighting qualities made a negative or sad reaction feel more like a connection to a timeline of history. The way the building was separated by open floors it was like a separation of emotional value but it became more positive as you traveled from floor to floor. It was a great opportunity to be able to see how the building formed the experience.

What is the last book you read?
Since I am still a student at Hampton University, it seems my day always ends by reading The Architects studio companion by Edward Allen and Joseph Iano

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I discovered my passion for architecture after discovering engineering wasn’t a path I wanted to take at Hampton and I was having trouble finding something I loved to do or really interested me. I had colleagues who were making beautiful projects that involved everything I loved to do and I grew up around it, and soon I realized my real passion was architecture. It felt like it was meant to be and I have loved it ever since.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I enjoy cooking and a slow night at home watching Netflix.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
For aspiring architects like myself, I’ve learned to stay humble and learn as much as you can from others and the profession in general, apply for any and all internships, and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith even if you are not confident. Everyone has a pace in this profession but you do what’s best for you.

Adam Schultz, AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Tate Modern, London

What is the last book you read?
Till We Have Faces, by CS Lewis

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I discovered my passion for architecture through a school assignment in 4th grade. We were presented with several text descriptions of theater set designs to select from and to design what it might look like. Immediately after painting the materials and atmosphere imagined as the perfect set for the play, I thought and felt that designing spaces was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Draw and paint.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Slow down. Make beautiful things.

Veena Shah, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I recently attended the Richmond Symphony at the Carpenter Theater, a centerpiece for the Dominion Energy Center for the performing arts. I felt that the impressive façade with intricate details and terracotta decorations immediately reached out to the artistic side, giving me a taste of what was to come. The auditorium features richly colored tapestries, stunning paintings, and intricate statues, which helped create a complete and immersive experience. I found the whimsical and enchanting atmosphere created by the décor to accentuate the tonal works of the symphony by transporting me to a different dimension. The Carpenter Theater (and the performance) truly left a lasting impression on me, and I can’t wait to experience it again.

What is the last book you read?
Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less, written by Axios co-founders Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz. With clear, practical advice and relatable examples, the book is a truly impactful guide toward effective communication in today’s digital world. I enjoyed reading the book and have since tried to keep my emails to the point!

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I have always been curious about human psychology and behavior. One of the most memorable moments in my life has been living on a stunning houseboat made of all-wood interiors. The juxtaposition between the enclosed spaces in the houseboat and the openness of the lake left was quite fascinating. I believe it was curiosity towards this evocative and experience-based nature of architecture that drew me towards studying architecture.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I find comfort in spending time with the people I love. I also find playing board games, exploring new places, sitting by a water body, and watching sunsets quite soothing.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Each person has unique skills and perspectives that make them an effective architect. Try to figure out your strengths and ways to leverage them. I find experiences to be the best teacher so jump in and try out different things. For example, participating in the ELA program has offered me opportunities to discover my working style in a non-hierarchical environment.

Cat Smith, AIAS

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
The Virginia Tech WAAC building in Old Town, Alexandria. Being in graduate school evokes a lot of strong feelings over the widest possible spectrum of emotion.

What is the last book you read?
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. I’m designing a cemetery and funeral home for my graduate thesis, which has led to some fun reading material. This is a great book for getting an inside perspective of the death industry.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
Honestly, I don’t think I fully discovered my passion until I started working in an office on real projects. A lot of my experience so far has been with affordable housing projects in Virginia. I’ve been honored to build a partnership with a group of residents in Charlottesville who are working to redevelop their current neighborhood. It’s been really exciting to be involved in projects where architecture is being used to solve real-world problems and improve people’s lives.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
When I have the time, I love to go hiking or just walk through nature.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Try everything you can! Work on different building types, go to networking events and building tours, talk to peers and mentors about their experiences, and join different professional groups and organizations. The field is so broad, and there are a million different ways you can fit in, so don’t limit yourself, especially when you’re just starting out.

Briana “Bri” Smith-Stiff, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
One of the most recent buildings I visited that sparked my design engine was the WAAC building. (Washington Alexandria Architecture Center). An extension of the Virginia Tech architectural program. I was able to visit during one of our ELA Sessions and I was so inspired and blown away by the variety of specialty design workshops the students could participate in. I was inspired by all the creativity, the patterns, and the material choices of the decor which also served as the projects of former students.

What was the last book you read?
Seamless: Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story by Angie Smith

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I discovered my interest in architecture during multiple puzzle nights with my mother. When working on complex puzzles she would share a dream about a house she would love to live in. She would go into much detail explaining her desired experiences in each room and space of the house. As she spoke, I would begin to start sketching out what that would look like. I would then create little models of each space and began to piece these spaces together like a giant puzzle.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I enjoy being in or near water. I enjoy swimming, relaxing at the beach, and my newfound joy canoeing. Throw a full body massage at the spa in there then I’m in my peaceful place.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
It’s a wonderful thing to establish a love for architecture, but don’t forget to give yourself room to explore the many avenues architecture can guide you to and through. The journey of architecture is a whirl of endless opportunities. Enjoy trying new things!

John Sturniolo, AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
While on a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, I ended up seeing some really rural building details. Some of them were incredibly unique and intricate and brought me immense joy; like finding a shiny gem beneath a mountain… And yet some elements were so incredibly bad that I could not help but wonder what the person may have been thinking! To me, architecture is about the little details, so that is where my eyes are drawn to.

What is the last book you read?
Monstress by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda (Graphic Novel)

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I wish I could say it was Legos because I’ve been utterly obsessed with them since I was a child and still am to this day. But in reality, I took several technical drafting classes in high school, one being more architecture focused. There was a project where we had to hand-draft a house floor plan that we designed ourselves. My design was utterly horrible, but I stayed up late into the early hours of the morning to get it done, simply drawing and poche-ing along, completely engrossed in the project. Eventually, I realized, “Yeah, I could probably do this for a living”, and decided to pursue architecture as a career.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
In no particular order: Reading, Legos, disappearing into video games, attempting to catch up on sleep, visiting a local brewery, making a new dish in the kitchen, finding a park or hiking trail to explore.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Be willing to learn. Be willing to make and admit your mistakes. Do try your best. Always have a favorite pen.

Kelsey White, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I’m currently planning a trip to Chicago this summer and researching the buildings I want to go see, as one does. I’m most excited to see the Aqua Tower by Studio Gang. I love how she created an organic, sculptural facade with a functional element.

What is the last book you read?
The Scholomance Trilogy by Naomi Novik

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
Through my family. My Dad and brother are architects, we always nerd out at family get-togethers and bore the rest of the family.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Spend time with friends or be a happy introvert at home with a puzzle and my dog.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
The advice I have to remind myself occasionally: you’re always learning, especially in this field where building science is constantly evolving. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what stage you’re at in your career, it’s impossible to know everything. Don’t let imposter syndrome take hold.

ELA Class of 2023

Meet the Emerging Leaders in Architecture class of 2023! This year’s class of 15 comprises architects and associates from around the state and students from Hampton University and the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center. We will be traveling around the state throughout the year for our educational sessions and focusing on the Charlottesville area for this year’s class project. Would you like to support the class as they travel around the state? Contact Cathy Guske, cguske@aiava.org for more information.

Bottom row: Noah Bolton (2023 Chair), Emily Baker, Ava Helm, Mira Abdalla, Anna Kniceley, Haley DeNardo (2023 Vice-Chair), Middle row: Lindsey Blum, Caitlin Morgan, Perry Hammond, Veena Shah, Adam Schultz. Top row: Cat Smith, Jason Lin, John Sturniolo, Briana Smith-Stiff, Kelsey White, Javius Richardson.

2022 ELA Class Profiles

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 (now 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 2023 class will be available later this summer. 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 2022 the same five questions. Here are their inspiring answers.

Shahadah Allah, AIAS

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I recently had the opportunity to study abroad in France and I was able to see some really beautiful, thought-provoking architecture. Of course, seeing Notre Dame in its current state was the most impactful. Centuries’ worth of work and craftsmanship brought us one of the most iconic cathedrals and being able to witness the restoration progress was a very cool experience. However, I will say it has left me pondering will it return to its former glory or will there come a time when the building takes on a new life and purpose

Shahadah Allah

What is the last book you read?
The last book I read was Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. I remembered skimming through it as an adolescent but decided to pick it back up for some design inspiration. It was a great read, and a reminder to always stay generous with your kindness.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?  
I come from a family of creatives (artists, curators, writers, etc). This coupled with my love for math and science led me to the field of architecture. From an early age, my elders would always mention that I was going to become an architect one day. It started with legos and forts and progressed to room planning and landscaping my backyard with my grandmother. When I got a little older, I ventured into graphic design. Once I began designing I instantly fell in love. The transition from graphic design to architecture was a smooth one. It was challenging and I felt I was able to express my thoughts in my work. After my first rigorous semester, the satisfaction that came with seeing my work on the wall is when I knew I discovered my niche.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Anytime I need to recenter myself and relax, I like to take the day to do all my favorite self care activities. I brew some tea and sit on the patio and listen to the sounds surrounding me. My fur friend, Saturn, tends to join me. It’s always refreshing to see the clouds and stargaze at night.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
My advice for aspiring architects is to be open to varying perspectives.I’m always pulling inspiration from the craziest of places because I find it keeps the work fresh and fun. 

Christopher Brown, AIA

Christopher Brown

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Chichen-Itza and the Mayan ruins.  I admittedly don’t know enough about the history or culture of the Maya, but the intentional way in which their world seems to be designed let me feel that something was important beyond my own comprehension.  That feeling resonated with me for quite some time.

What is the last book you read?
A Year of Playing Catch by Ethan D. Bryan

How did you discover your passion for architecture?  
In high school, I loved the structure of technical drawing.  I was attracted to the idea of putting something together on such a grand scale, so I pursued it.  I didn’t yet understand what it was I was drawing, but I knew it was a space I could dream within.  As my education progressed, I became more and more interested in the way the built environment was a reflection of our experience.  My interest had evolved to question why we build and why it matters.  As I pushed myself to satisfy this question I found such a beautiful answer that it shaped my outlook on the human experience and I knew that my place was in architecture. 

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Go for a long run, work on my garden/yard, or simply taking a step back and watching my family as they experience the world. 

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
No matter how public or private a structure may be, its architecture is a representation of culture and values in a specific period of time.  Take the time to discover what matters to you and the people around you, and find that idea in your design.  Be slow to judge, quick to learn, and always open to what your environment is telling you. 

Preethi Chitharanjan, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
One of the most evoking architectural masterpieces I have seen is the City Palace in Udaipur, India. This palace is one of the most intuitive and magnificent pieces of architecture I have ever seen in the most recent times. Historic architectural styles have always fascinated me. This palace was built in the 1600s and served as the home of the ruler of the city. The intricate detailing showcases the power of architecture in ancient India.

Preethi Chitharanjan

What is the last book you read?
Harlen Coben’s The Woods.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?    
As a kid, my parents used to take me and my brother on vacations all around the country. Every city had a unique style of building and urban fabric…. How do these buildings all look so different and unique?  India is a county filled with unique historic-style architecture. It was at that point that I got curious about how they are built and their unique styles of architecture. The more curious I got the more I read about the different styles of architecture. That was where my passion for architecture was evoked.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Play Badminton.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Follow your dreams. Curiosity can take you a long way, never shut it down until you answer your thoughts.

Cody Dodd, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Visiting the construction site of my own project for the first time this winter evoked a strong positive reaction. Not because it’s the greatest design or anything, but because I was able to see with my own eyes how our design decisions made as a team were actually carried out in the built world. Often times as architects we create designs that exist only in a digital space and never come to fruition, however in this case I was able to evaluate and critique my own work in person on site. Unforgettable.

Cody Dodd

What is the last book you read?
Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture

How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
I’m from a small town with hardly any buildings you might call “architecture”, however, my parents took us on many summer trips up and down the east coast. It was on these trips that I became fascinated with the built environment.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Sitting on the beach in the sun is my favorite relaxation activity.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Don’t be afraid to be a specialist. The practice of architecture is vast and there are many avenues to pick from. Find what makes you tick and channel your efforts in that direction.

Steven Foster, AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
The Getty Center in Los Angeles.  My wife Caitlin and I spent hours just exploring the buildings and surroundings in awe.  There were plenty of exhibits when we visited, but the architecture was so captivating that we didn’t even have time to see any of the art on display!

Steven Foster

What is the last book you read?
The Storyteller by Dave Grohl.  I’ve been a Foo Fighters fan for as long as I can remember.  He’s the greatest rock star of my generation and seems like a really interesting guy.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?  
I always loved drawing and building things ever since I was a kid.  However, I never really made the connection to architecture until later in life.  I began my education studying engineering, but the moment I switched to architecture, I truly fell in love with the profession.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I love to play golf with my friends.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Keep learning and always be open to new ideas.  Architecture is constantly evolving, and it’s really important to be able to evolve with it.

Cedric N. Gilliam, Associate AIA

Cedric N. Gilliam

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?         
The Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright. On a recent trip to Chicago, I took some time to carve out an architectural photography tour for myself and the Hyde Park landmark was my first stop.

What is the last book you read?                
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

How did you discover your passion for architecture?       
Mrs. Bailey, my 7th-grade mentor/teacher always had us do projects from problem-solving matrices to constructing building models and doing research. Her husband was an architect and I would always “sneak over” to look at his blueprints whenever he stopped by…he always knew I did and eventually realized my interest in it and would bring in current project documents to show me what he was working on. 

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?           
Playing some records while sketching or planning out an art project. A trip to the record shop always gets me in a creative mindset.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?              
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone early on, the earlier you do the more exposure and opportunity will be available for you. No growth comes from a place of complacency. 

Brian Gore, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
This wasn’t recent but while in grad school my class visited The Fisher House by Louis Kahn. Kahn is a master of light and shadow and the quality of light in that house was simply amazing. We had to take our shoes off while in the house and because the house isn’t open to the public the space was cold. It was an overcast day, but when the sun peeked from behind the clouds the living room and kitchen lit up in a way that made you forget about how cold it was. Being in that house is one of my favorite experiences.

Brian Gore

What is the last book you read?
I have recently started reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard and Missing Middle Housing by Daniel Parolek

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I discovered my passion for architecture by helping my dad with the numerous projects around the house. As a kid, many Saturday mornings were spent at Lowes picking up materials for whatever we were working on that weekend. My brothers and I were digging footers, framing, hanging drywall… you name it we did it. There was nothing in our home that we didn’t have a hand in installing. I didn’t know it then, but I was getting an education on the building process. It was that experience that helped me discover my passion for architecture.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Two things. I LOVE to cook! To me, it is very therapeutic, and it is another creative avenue for me outside of architecture. If you show or let me try a plate of food I’ve never had before I can figure out how to cook it (slight flex). I also enjoy going on walks. I love being out in nature breathing fresh air. It is very relaxing to me, and it is also a way for me to think through problems and ideas.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
My advice would be to find a mentor whether they are inside or outside your office. Architecture can be difficult for young professionals to navigate. It’s great to have a person who you can go to for advice, lessons learned, or just to hear you vent about any frustration you have. Shoutout to Rasheda!

Darian Henry, Associate AIA

Darian Henry

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. After hearing and learning so much about it in school, it was like standing in front of a celebrity and seeing it for the first time.

What is the last book you read?
Essentialism by Greg McKeown

How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
My love for architecture started with HGTV marathons with my family. When it was time to decide what to study in college, I went on this path not knowing what to expect. After my first year,
I was hooked. It felt as if I had just gotten a deeper understanding of the world around me.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I love baking, especially chocolate chip cookies.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Even after graduating, always be in student mode. There is so much to learn and that’s what keeps architecture exciting.

Helen Jadlowski, AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
There’s nothing like going to a job site and seeing the project you spent months or years pouring over finally rising out of the ground. It’s a labor of love and a major commitment. Recently I visited Arbor Acres in Winston Salem, NC where SFCS designed two apartment buildings currently under construction that are full steel and concrete structures. It was important to achieve ten-foot ceiling heights for the lower floor levels and up to fifteen-foot ceilings for the top floor units, so the buildings are colossal. Standing on the top floor of the partially framed building and looking out at the city skyline took my breath away.

Helen Jadlowski

What is the last book you read?
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. It spoke to me on a molecular level and revolutionizes everything I thought a leader was. It made me want to become a leader. The book emphasizes being brave through vulnerability. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  

How did you discover your passion for architecture?     
I always thought I’d be an artist until my seventh-grade art teacher taught us about Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. A light bulb went off in my mind when she made the relation between art and architecture. Before this, I hadn’t imagined architecture as a profession. At that moment I was irrevocably in love with architecture.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I love to paint and garden. When I paint, my mind is completely transported and focused on the task of creation. I feel connected to myself and centered in those moments. Gardening is a physical connection to nature that doesn’t require much thought. I feel joy and excitement when a plant grows and thrives.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Be a sponge. The architecture field is vast and that can be daunting. Never stop learning and believe in your abilities. Be bold and brave!

Christina Jeyaseelan, AIAS

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I just LOVE historic buildings! I feel they provide a unique sense of place and connection to the past world. The most evocative building I came across after moving to the States from India is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The form represents the style of the greek doric temple is just marvelous and I also admire the way it creates a sense of destination for the national mall. My favorite thing to do around the national mall is to watch the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool at dusk with the hues of twilight shades in the sky. And yes the Capitol building too, I struggle a lot to choose between these two!

Christina Jeyaseelan

What is the last book you read?
The recent book I read was Life between Buildings by Jan Gehl and Writings on Architecture & Identity by Balakrishna Doshi. The book by Gehl gave me a new perspective on how public spaces play an integral role in the life and evolution of cities. As an aspiring Urbanist, I love the way this book explains strategies for creating more lively, vibrant, and healthy public spaces which is very much enlightening to me personally. Writings on Architecture & Identity is a curated set of anthologies by Indian architect Balakrishna Doshi who is also the 2018 Pritzker Laureate. His works shifted the dynamics of postcolonial architecture in India. After reading this book, I realized how important an architectural narrative is in a design. The simple yet beautiful sketches in this book explain the thought process behind each of his projects from the 1950s till the present day, which I admire the most!

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I have always been a science and an art person since my childhood. My passion for architecture began especially during my high school history classes. Learning about the past while designing for the present and the future is the one thing I love most about my profession. The way architecture strives and adapts itself to create better livable spaces for the users in a constantly changing world is the notion that keeps me curious to learn something new every single day!

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I love reading books in my leisure time, mostly historical fiction and science fiction. I am also more of an outdoor person, love to go on bike rides, and short hikes, and love to do picnics in the parks around!

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Architecture and its tenets are timeless. It requires endurance depending on the various context and dimensions which is highly subjective. Thrive, Learn, Adapt, and more than everything, be confident about your own potential!

Isabella Nassar, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
During a recent trip to Sri Lanka, we decided to climb Sri Pada, a holy mountain where at the top sits a Buddhist temple. While the temple itself is not the most glamorous or ornate, the arduous trek up those 5500 stairs, the religious significance of the site and the shared joy of the pilgrimage made it such an incredible journey. Being able to experience the sunrise over the mountains from that temple was one of the most moving experiences of my life. 

Isabella Nassar

What is the last book you read?
Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung. I went through a psychology phase during quarantine and I just finally got around to finishing it! It’s an incredible read, I highly recommended it.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
I discovered my passion for architecture sophomore year of college – at the time I was majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in architecture. It was my first time experiencing studio culture and I found the creative process addictive. Let’s just say my grades definitely reflected where my interests were and it’s a great thing I switched majors! 

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Without fail I always find I am most relaxed when I’ve gone for a long drive somewhere playing my favorite music, eventually finding a good spot for a walk and sitting out in nature. 

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Nurture your curiosity and try hard to never lose that sense of childlike wonder. 

Bronwyn Redd, Associate AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
Mildred B. Cooper Chapel by E. Fay Jones and Maurice Jeanings. While in school I always appreciated and researched the design of the famous Thorncrown Chapel by E. Fay Jones, and I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding at its sister chapel, the Mildred B. Cooper Chapel. It was a beautiful and serene space. The wood and river rock textures as well as the tall windows, clerestories, and skylight immersed you in the natural wooded environment surrounding the chapel. The tall, curved wood structure felt light, soft, and airy. It was a refreshing space to visit and signified harmonious and fruitful beginnings for my friends’ marriage.

Bronwyn Redd

What is the last book you read?
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

How did you discover your passion for architecture? 
My passion for architecture started at home. Growing up, I had many influences surrounding me.  Most notably, I was encouraged by my parents and influenced by the two major renovations/additions done to my childhood home.  Watching the house grow and evolve over the years to fit my family’s needs heavily influenced my appreciation for design.  In addition to the house renovations, I always enjoyed art, drawing, and building from a young age.  My curiosity and imagination often led me to build forts and draw floor plans of my future home, and I think architecture and design combine art and building by emulating artistic conceptual thought in the built environment.

 What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Taking leisure walks to clear my head and ponder everyday thoughts is a favorite, relaxing activity I typically enjoy.  In addition to walks, I have recently and surprisingly enjoyed taking care of my house plants as well.  I feel relaxed by the controlled yet fast, developing condition of a plant’s evolution.  Plants are strong and resilient, and they play an important role in our mental and physical health.  Everyone should own a plant!

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
As an aspiring architect myself, I have received a lot of great advice from mentors and peers in recent years.  Their advice has helped me learn and grow as I have experienced new and challenging situations.  Here are some key takeaways from my experiences as an aspiring architect:

  • Be Confident.  Don’t be afraid to try new things and challenge yourself.  You will only grow from new experiences.  
  • Be Humble.  Be respectful and open to new ideas.  Take the time to listen to others because you might learn something valuable from their differing perspective.
  • Be true to yourself.  Pursue your interests and do things that make you excited and happy.  Your happiness will lead to your own success.

Cody M. Solberg, AIA

Cody Solberg

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I was just recently in Joshua Tree National Park and was fascinated by the many diverse contemporary homes on the outskirts of the park. Driving up to the park’s west entrance felt like driving through an architectural playground.

What is the last book you read?
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. After wrapping up my ARE’s last year I have been head down in some truly wonderful, albeit heavy, fiction books. This book was beautiful, raw, and emotionally captivating in all the right ways.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
I was always creative at a young age with drawing, photography, etc, and architecture felt like a logical step in combining a lot of my passions.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Jump in a pool and swim the day away.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Explore as many outlets as you can, especially while in school! Act like a sponge and absorb as much as you can and then continue to pursue your own individual creative outlets outside of the profession.

Katrina Van Orden, Associate AIA

Katrina Van Orden

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?

What is the last book you read?
Living Queer History by Samantha Rosenthal 

How did you discover your passion for architecture?      
I had the amazing privilege of visiting Spain in 8th grade and I was so impressed with how much better the cities were designed to navigate and experience. The buildings were beautiful and intentional. 

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Knit!

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Chase the “why” within your passion for architecture. Figure out who you want to make for, and why you want to make it. 

Sarah Weiner

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
I recently did a case study of Villaggio Matteotti, a housing development by Giancarlo di Carlo. I love how he worked to design it with the factory workers who would be living there.

Sarah Weiner

What is the last book you read?
I am currently reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. It is a gripping and dramatic detailing of how our economic structure drives the progression of climate change. Klein presents a radical call of action to drastically change that economic structure in order to save our planet. Her book scares me to my core, but it is an excellent reminder of what my purpose as an architect is.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?     
Back in high school, I started urban spelunking. Some people might call it trespassing. I have always loved the history and character of old buildings being reclaimed by the environment. There’s something eerily romantic about abandoned urban space. Now that I’m older, I prefer to leave those old ghosts alone, but I still admire them.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Definitely playing with my pet rats. I build them little mazes and cardboard forts to climb around in. They’re silly little critters. Nothing is quite like coming home after a stressful day to two pocket-sized sewer puppies.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Find a healthy work-life balance. It’s easy to lose yourself in the world of architecture. There’s so much to learn and so much work to do, but your health is of the utmost importance. Make time for friends, family, hobbies, and especially sleep. Your work will be of higher quality and you will be happier as a result.

Alec Woletz, AIA

What building evoked a strong reaction from you recently—either positive or negative?
The UVA Memorial to Enslaved Laborers – During our most recent ELA session in Charlottesville, we were given a tour of the memorial with one of the descendants of enslaved laborers and 2 members of the design team.  I’ve walked around the memorial many times and admired the design, but this experience unlocked a much deeper level of understanding of all the thought and symbolism that went into it.

Alec Woletz, Alloy Workshop architects. Photo/Andrew Shurtleff Photography, LLC

What is the last book you read?
The Ships of Earth, by Orson Scott Card.  After learning a lot from non-fiction books in the past few years, I am rediscovering my love of Sci-Fi pleasure reading and going through a book series that was on my shelf for a long time.  This is number 3 of 5.

How did you discover your passion for architecture?
In early childhood, my parents recognized my passion for building with Legos, K’nex, playing cards, and 3D puzzles.  They encouraged me to pursue architecture and I am grateful for they set me on that path early on.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
Hiking or biking to a quiet place where I can read and/or sketch outside.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
Be curious and go explore as many buildings as you can!  There is a huge difference between learning about a building in an article, book, or an image in a lecture and experiencing it in person.  If you don’t have the resources to travel the world and see famous buildings from history, explore the architecture of your town, city, or state.  You will be surprised to find how many interesting buildings are in your area, and learning from them will inform your work for many years to come.

Meet the 2022 ELA Class

The 14th Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) class started the year virtually last Friday with our first session and look forward to getting together in person in February in our project area of Roanoke, Virginia.

Shahadah Allah, AIAS, from Hampton University
Christopher Brown, AIA, from Moseley Architects
Preethi Chithranjan, Associate AIA, from AECOM
Cody Dodd, Associate AIA, from Hanbury
Steven Foster, AIA, from DBI Architects
Cedric Gilliam, Associate AIA, from Jacobs Engineering Group
Brian Gore, Associate AIA, from Quinn Evans
Darian Henry, Associate AIA, from HBA Architecture
Helen Jadlowski, AIA, from SFCS
Christina Jeyaseelan, AIAS, from the Washington-Alexandria Architecture School (WAAC)
Isabella Nassar, Associate AIA, from KGD Architecture
Bronwyn Redd, Associate AIA, from Jacobs Engineering Group
Cody Solberg, AIA, from VMDO Architects
Katrina Van Orden, Associate AIA, from Hanbury
Sarah Weiner, from Virginia Tech
Alec Woletz, AIA, from Alloy Workshop Architecture and Construction

The 2022 leadership team is:
Breanna LaTondre Helms, Associate AIA, ELA class of 2019, Chair
Noah Bolton, AIA, ELA class of 2018, Vice-Chair
Nick Cooper, AIA, Past Chair
Chris Warren, AIA, ELA class of 2016, Emeritus Advisor

For more information about the ELA program or to help financially support this program, please contact Cathy Guske at AIA Virginia.

ELA Class of 2021 Wrap-Up

Emerging Leaders in Architecture is a year-long professional learning and service program created by the Virginia chapter of the American Institute of Architects This program brings together students and young professionals from across the state for monthly sessions on topics that will deepen our understanding of professional practice, alongside a year-long project to create a meaningful deliverable for a particular community. For the class of 2021, our focus was the neighborhood of Blackwell in Richmond, Virginia. We were tasked with developing a design proposal that addresses the needs of a community on the verge of significant redevelopment while considering the preservation of its history and culture.

View their ArchEx project presentation

Blackwell is a predominantly Black, low-income residential neighborhood in the city of Richmond. Like many inner-city neighborhoods, its history is linked to urban renewal, gentrification, and cultural erasure. White flight and urban divestment have resulted in much of the surrounding neighborhood fabric and culture being erased to make way for newer development, highways, and outpriced housing markets. The residents of Blackwell feel as though they have been continually left out of the conversation and are now being driven out by increasing property taxes and cost of living.

To properly address the historical and present-day inequity, as well as the physical and economic challenges that impact the community of Blackwell, we focused our initial efforts on listening to community members to learn and prioritize their needs. We heard that Blackwell lacked access to resources, especially fresh produce, affordable housing, and physical places for people to gather. Without these resources, the residents will likely be pushed out of their neighborhood due to the redevelopment happening all around them.

As our group discussed how to honor, secure, and support the existing community and culture of Blackwell, we acknowledged that, as outsiders with limited time on this project, we cannot pretend to be experts on the community and cultural identity of Blackwell. The only people who can decide what Blackwell needs are the people who live or work there. So, instead of focusing on a specific structure or a location, we explored ways that we could connect residents with resources that already exist so that they can assert their own agency regarding the future of their community. We have since assembled a “community tool kit” for Blackwell: an entry-level, user-friendly guide for starting a grassroots effort to support whatever improvements the residents decide are most important. These tools have been developed for and in conjunction with the community of Blackwell.

Over this past year, this project and process have taught us all so much about the vital role that community engagement must play in all our projects as designers. We prioritized listening to the Blackwell community, and in response to what we heard, did our best to produce a tool for them that is tangible and practical. We have also partnered with local organizations that are willing to store and distribute this community tool kit so that this information is made continually available to Blackwell long after our ELA 2021 class has disbanded. Now, we look to your financial and professional assistance to put this tool into the hands of the community so that they can continue this initiative in their own unique way. If you are able, please consider financial support of this project to help bring this community tool kit to life.

Help fund this project>>

ELA 2023 Nominations Open

AIA Virginia announces the call for applications for the 2023 class of Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA): An Honors Academy of AIA Virginia.

The application and more information is available here>>
The application deadline is Nov. 11, 2022.

ELA is an intensive program of educational sessions structured around presentations, discussions, team exploration, analysis, consensus-building, collaboration, and case study activities undertaken over the course of a year by a small cadre of participants selected for their potential to be outstanding contributors to the profession and the community. Facilitators and mentors who are established leaders in the building, finance, non-profit, development, university, legal, consulting, and design professions and in the community at large develop and deliver the sessions, designed to provide participants with advanced knowledge and skills related to specific areas of leadership and practice.

The program consists of monthly, day-long seminars, work sessions, or class project presentations, culminating at a presentation in November.

The seminars are interactive, drawing on real examples and actively involving participants. They rotate among sites in Roanoke, Charlottesville, Richmond, Alexandria, and Norfolk in conjunction with the firms, schools, and the local AIA component in each area.

The class project for 2023 will be in Charlottesville, so many sessions and the project workdays will be located in the Charlottesville area.

How to Apply
The committee seeks applicants from three categories:

Component Nominees: Each of the five AIA Virginia local component Boards may nominate one or more individuals for admission to the program. One participant will be selected from each component for a total of five. If interested, please contact your local AIA chapter representative. Each chapter sets its own deadline and application requirements for these positions.

Student Nominees: Each Virginia Architecture School (UVA, VT, Hampton, and WAAC) may nominate one or more students for admission to the program. One participant will be selected from each school for a total of four. If interested, contact your department Chair/Dean.

Open Applications: Applicants may apply on their own or be nominated by someone else. Seven participants will be selected from among these applicants.

The application and more information is available here>>
The application deadline is Nov. 11, 2022.

If you have any questions, please contact Cathy Guske, Member Services Director, cguske@aiava.org