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

Virginia Design Forum XVI: [Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyberfrontier!

Please join us for the upcoming 2024 Design Forum XVI on Friday, April 5-Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Richmond, VA at Institute for Contemporary Art VCU. The theme of Design Forum XVI will be [Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier, and our speakers will challenge assumptions and define new boundaries along the spectrum of craft and design, evolving how humanness and technology continue to intersect in our built environment.

Our speakers include:

Purchase Tickets Here>>

AIA Member/VANOMA Member: $250
Assoc. AIA Member: $175
Non-member: $300
Student: $60

Want to become a sponsor? Check out our sponsorship package and complete this form.

We are so excited for this event and hope to see you there!

Earn 6.75 AIA LU | Elective (pending)


2:00 p.m.  Meet and Greet, Registration Opens
3:00 p.m. Welcome and Speaker 1
4:00 p.m. Speaker 2
5:30 p.m. Happy Hour Reception
7:00 p.m. First Fridays in Richmond, VA (attendees out on your own)

8:30 a.m.  Check-in and Breakfast
9:30 a.m. Speaker 3
10:45 a.m. Speaker 4
11:45 a.m. Provided Lunch
1:00 p.m. Moderator Remarks and Speaker Panel
2:00 p.m. Tour of the Institute of Contemporary Art VCU with Quinn Evans (associate architect)
3:00 p.m. Closing Remarks

Save the Date! Virginia Design Forum XVI

Please join us for the upcoming 2024 Design Forum XVI on Friday, April 5-Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Richmond, VA at Institute for Contemporary Art VCU. The theme of Design Forum XVI will be [Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier, and our speakers will challenge assumptions and define new boundaries along the spectrum of craft and design, evolving how humanness and technology continue to intersect in our built environment.


We are excited for this event and hope to see you there!

The Virginia Design Forum is a biennial event celebrating and exploring critical topics around design. Curated by the Design Committee, the two-day event showcases the talent and work of some of the profession’s most cutting-edge designers, and brings together and connects architects of all ages as we engage the pressing issues of our time.

Launched in 1994, the Virginia Design Forum continues a tradition of matching urgent topics with engaging speakers, which have included Samuel Mockbee, Tod Williams, Kai-Uwe Bergman, Anne Fougeron, Glenn Murcutt, Doris Kim Sung, and many more.

Design Forum XIII Less Than One Month Away

Design Forum XIII is now less than a month away, and we couldn’t be more excited. Space is limited, so be sure to register here today to secure your spot.

Presentations from Eric Höweler, Doris Kim Sung, Nathan King, David Freeland and Refik Anadol will offer insight into how we can utilize the ever growing and changing resources that expand the limits of design. We invite you to join us as we ask: Is it art? Is it architecture? Does it matter?

Visit the Design Forum page to learn more about this year’s speakers, program, sponsors, and venue.

Earn up to 6.5 AIA/CES learning units. (Tour participants earn 1 additional learning unit)

Design Forum Keynote Announced

Eric Höweler, AIA, LEED AP

With Design Forum XIII less than two months away, AIA Virginia is excited to announce Eric Höweler, AIA, LEED AP of Höweler + Yoon as this year’s keynote speaker.

Early Bird rate runs through March 2 — register today and save!

Design Forum XIII will showcase dynamic figures in art and architecture who have embraced the blurring of lines between the disciplines. We invite you to join us as we ask: is it art? is it architecture? does it matter?

Visit the Design Forum page to learn more about this year’s speakers, program, sponsors and venue.

Earn up to 6.5 AIA/CES learning units. (Tour participants earn 1 additional learning unit)

Design Forum XII is a Wrap

Design Forum XII – Transformation: The Turning Point was held April 1-2, 2016 at the Slover Library in Norfolk. Nearly 200 attendees enjoyed presentations from Jason Long, Anne Fougeron, FAIA, Archie Lee Coates, IV, Stephen Kieran, FAIA along with our moderator, Z Smith. Thank you to those who attended!


Photos by Nick Seitz

We would also like to take this opportunity to again thank our sponsors who made this event possible:

Clark Nexsen
Tymoff+Moss Architects
College of William and Mary, Dept. of Art & Art History
Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas
Work Program Architects
H & P Electric Co.
M. Sykes Inc.
Beck Roofing Corporation
Gulf Seaboard General Contractors, Inc.
HITT Contracting, Inc.
Mark S. Orling, AIA
Milliken Carpet
Provectus, Inc.
Pyrok, Inc.
Ritter Norton Architects
Shade & Wise Inc.
South Wood Building Systems, Inc.
Tanner Windows and Doors LLC
LKH Architects, LLC

And the AIA Virginia Design Committee members:

Chair: Camilo Bearman, AIA
Ghazal Abbasy
Paul Battaglia, AIA
Andrew Cocke
Robert Dunay, FAIA
Allison Ewing, AIA
Michael Gibson, AIA
Evan Mackenzie, Assoc. AIA
Mark Orling, AIA
Ed Pease, AIA
Andrea Quilici, AIA
Wilson Rayfield, AIA
Simone Saidel, Assoc. AIA
Roberto Ventura

AIA LU|HSW credits will be uploaded prior to April 15. If you do not receive a confirmation email from AIA regarding your credits, please contact Marshall Dreiling at Certificates of completion will be sent to the email with which you registered for the event. These certificates will be sent to you within the next two weeks.

President’s Report To The Membership

Greetings Colleagues,

We are pleased to report on the activities of AIA Virginia for the first quarter of 2016. Truly, it has been a memorable quarter with excellent efforts on many fronts for the benefit of our members.

Nick Vlattas, AIA
Nick Vlattas, AIA
2016 President, AIA Virginia

We tipped off April in fine fashion with DESIGN FORUM XII held at the Slover Library in Norfolk designed by the partnership of Newman Architects and Tymoff + Moss Architects which provided an inspirational setting. It was a rainy weekend in Norfolk, but it did not dampen the spirits of the 160 in attendance and it kept us focused on our theme, TRANSFORMATION: The Turning Point, and the issues of sea level rise and resilient design.

Dr. Z Smith, AIA, Principal and Director of Sustainability and Building Performance at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, winner of the 2014 AIA Firm Award served as our dynamic moderator, orchestrating DESIGN FORUM XII which included keynote presentations by Jason Long of OMA in New York, Anne Fougeron, FAIA, of Fougeron Architecture in San Francisco, Archie Lee Coates, IV, of PlayLab Inc. in New York, and Stephen Kieran, FAIA, of Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia.

Jason Long presented many examples of connecting the virtual world to the actual world while Anne Fougeron, FAIA, made the connection of architect as artisan and activist. Archie Coates spoke from his heart on inspirations that change our lives, while Stephen Kieran, FAIA, in “Power of Tens” style, opened our eyes to sea level rise in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and challenged us on what we were going to do about it in our own practices.

In addition to the four keynotes, we were welcomed by Christine Morris, Chief Resiliency Officer of the City of Norfolk, who told us about the $120,000,000 resilience grant for Hampton Roads from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We were also treated to four DESIGN FORUM TALK XII’s by Mel Price and Thom White of Work Program Architects in Norfolk on “Living at Sea Level”; Thomas Quattlebaum of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the new Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach on the building as an experiment in net zero sustainability; AIA Virginia’s Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 presentation on the “Porous City”; and Jackie Parks’ presentation on Parklets in Norfolk. It was wonderful to see the engagement of our Emerging Leaders in Architecture at DESIGN FORUM XII. I hope you will continue to encourage the participation of our Emerging Professionals in AIA programs at the local, state or national level for the future of our profession.

Thank you to the Design Committee chaired by Camilo Bearman, AIA who planned an outstanding event and our many sponsors who helped to make it possible. In addition, our AIA staff including Education Manager Marshall Dreiling, Special Projects Manager Rebecca Lonadier, Managing Director Rhea George, and Executive Vice President Helene Dreiling, FAIA, deserve special recognition for working tirelessly before and during the event to ensure the success of the Forum. It is also worthy to mention Jim Ritter, FAIA, Bob Steele, AIA, and Greg Hunt, FAIA, who inspired the creation of DESIGN FORUM I in 1994, at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, the tradition of which has continued as AIA Virginia’s premier biennial conference on architecture and design in the Commonwealth.

See photos from Design Forum XII.

Leadership from AIA Virginia and local components attended AIA Grassroots 2016 along with approximately 625 other leaders of the American Institute of Architects from around the country, February 23-25, in Detroit. This was truly an inspiring and motivational event to learn and collaborate with other AIA components and leaders.

AIA Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, Robert Ivy, FAIA unveiled the next video in the #ilookup media campaign, “Look Up to America’s Future”, to air primarily during election coverage on major cable news networks to promote the value of architects to the public. More information on the campaign can be found at

A keynote panel which included architects, educators, and elected leaders who participated in the rebuilding of cities such as Detroit, Tampa, Birmingham, and Seattle was very informative on the impact architects can have on the quality of our cities when they are able to collaborate with civic leaders.

In his opening keynote, entrepreneur and author Josh Linkner shared the story of the decline and renaissance of Detroit and motivated us to rekindle our spirits. He gave us five big ideas to take home from Detroit which included: “get curious, crave what’s next, defy tradition, get scrappy, and adapt fast.” Josh challenged the audience: “I want you to recapture the reasons you got into this business in the first place: to rise to challenges, make an impact on your community, and build terrific organizations.”

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm delivered one of the most memorable keynotes which I have ever heard to close out the conference. She opened by outlining trends in politics, the work force, and smart buildings and made four predictions: (1) Forget the Feds, Congress isn’t working; (2) A new Federalism will come in which State and Local governments will drive policy and education will race to the top; (3) Policy will be focused on jobs and the economy; (4) Political consensus will revolve around funding for infrastructure. During a brief interlude, the Governor shared the Super Bowl Commercial from 2012, “Halftime in America”, about the downturn and the comeback in Detroit. She then shared the tragic story of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which led to her call for “Help Wanted! What can architects do to lead the way in encouraging, in rising from the ashes, and in rebuilding the hardest hit?”

The General Assembly began its 60-day legislative session on the second Wednesday of January. Thank you to our Government Advocacy Advisory Council led by Tim Colley, AIA, and staff liaison and Managing Director Rhea George for monitoring bills and working with our lobbyists on bills of interest to our members. A detailed report on the session is included in this newsletter.

It was clear at AIA GRASSROOTS in Detroit and DESIGN FORUM XII in Norfolk, that architects make a difference in our community. We need to continue to up our game to bring the perspectives of architects to the decision makers in our community. In this election year, it is even more important. Our policy makers and politicians are stewards of our built infrastructure, but most of them are not expects in design and planning. They need your advice. I am begging you to get involved: volunteer for a campaign, speak with your legislators, serve your community on a board or council, and please reach in your pockets and contribute to the AIA Virginia Political Action Committee. PAC money doesn’t buy influence, but it does help us gain access to legislators, so we can educate them on issues that are important to us and important to our communities. We don’t get resilient, sustainable, healthy cities without a strong advocacy program and strong advocates like the architects in Virginia. We have over two thousand members in AIA Virginia. Please consider giving to AIA Virginia PAC (, even if it is a small amount, many voices will help us be heard by our legislators.

In the months ahead we look forward to continued advancement on our Strategic Plan and the principles of the Virginia Accord which include commitments to job creation and a growing and thriving economy, to constructing environmentally sustainable buildings, to public health, to systems of mass transit, and to responsible land development and urban infill. We also are planning the convening of the next meeting of the Large Firm Roundtable, visitation by AIA Virginia leadership of several of our member firms, and an informative virtual membership meeting. There is still time to register for AIA Convention 2016 May 19-21, in Philadelphia.

AIA Virginia continues to work hard to bring significant value to our members, provide programs and services which are relevant to our fast-changing profession and to celebrate the prosperity of our members. Our mission is to be the voice of the architecture profession in the Commonwealth, dedicated to serving our members and through a culture of innovation, AIA Virginia empowers its members, advances their value, and inspires the creation of a better-built environment.

Congratulations to Ann Kosmal, FAIA, a member of AIA Northern Virginia, and David Oakland, FAIA, a member of AIA Central Virginia for being elevated to fellowship.

Thank you for being a member of AIA Virginia! It is an honor to serve the architects of Virginia.

Nick Vlattas AIA
AIA Virginia President 2016

Design Forum Focuses on Façade Innovation

Jovanovic Residence, LOHA. Photo by  Michael Weschler
Jovanovic Residence, LOHA. Photo by Michael Weschler

Recently, Inform Magazine had the opportunity to interview speakers from the Virginia Design Forum X about their work and their philosophies. The bi-annual event organized by the Virginia Committee on Design will take place on March 16-17, 2012, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Keynote speaker, Kim Herforth Nielsen, MAA, RIBA, of 3XN in Copenhagen discusses how architecture shapes behavior.

Panelist Lorcan O’Herlihy, FAIA, of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, in Los Angeles, talks about ROI on high-design façades. Marc Simmons, of Front Inc., in New York City chats about client values and Lisa Iwamoto of IwamotoScott Architecture, in San Francisco discusses innovations in envelope systems.

Registration is still open for the Virginia Design Forum. More>>

Design Forum Speakers Announced

1140 Formosa Ave. Lorcan O' Herlihy Architects.
1140 Formosa Ave. Lorcan O’ Herlihy Architects. Photo by Lawrence Anderson.

It is often said that beauty is only skin deep, and yet striking — sometimes astonishing —  façades are quickly becoming a device to charm developers, funders, and the public alike. Clients are beginning to understand what architects have long known: innovative building skins can be used to woo investors and buyers for commercial projects as well as funders for museums and universities. Because apparently impossible structures jar us out of our everyday pursuits and force us to contemplate the built-environment, unusual façades generate a tremendous amount public interest in contemporary architecture as well. But more than just a potential selling point, building skins are evolving as new computer technologies, new materials and new societal behaviors are changing the perception of architecture.  As architecture is functioning more as a synthetic organism working within its surrounding ecosystem, more literal comparisons are being made between biological skins and built skins, and thus the topic for the tenth bi-annual Virginia Design Forum was born.

The Virginia Society AIA has assembled some of the world’s most acknowledged experts on building skins to speak at the upcoming tenth Virginia Design Forum: SKINS in Charlottesville on March 16 and 17, 2012. Registration is open.

About the speakers:

Keynote Speaker

3XN's Bella Sky Hotel. Image courtesy of 3XN.
3XN’s Bella Sky Hotel. Image courtesy of 3XN.

Kim Herforth Nielsen, MAA, RIBA of 3XN, Copenhagen

Kim Herforth Nielsen is founder and principal of 3XN. He graduated from the Aarhus School of Architecture in 1981 and was one of three founders of 3XN in 1986 (all with the surname Nielsen). He has been involved in all the practice’s major projects, including The Blue Planet, Kubus in Berlin, Museum of Liverpool, Ørestad College, Muziekgebouw Concert Hall in Amsterdam, the Danish Embassy in Berlin, and the Architects’ House in Copenhagen. Often called upon as a jury member in international architectural competitions, and as lecturer at art academies and universities around the world, Nielsen is also a Knight of Dannebrog and has received Denmark’s highest architectural honor, the C.F. Hansen Medaille.



LOHA's Habitat 825. Photo by Lawrence Anderson.
LOHA’s Habitat 825. Photo by Lawrence Anderson.

Lorcan O’Herlihy, FAIA, of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, Los Angeles

Since LOHA’s inception in 1990, founder and principal Lorcan O’Herlihy has sought opportunities to engage the operative layers of the urban landscape with respect to spatial, sensory, and experiential information. In 2004, the Architectural League of New York selected O’Herlihy as one of eight Emerging Voices.  His firm has garnered 42 national and international awards including 17 AIA Design Awards. He has taught and lectured extensively over the last decade, including the Architectural Association in London, Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, Columbia University, New York, and the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C., among others. Previously, Lorcan worked at Kevin Roche/John Dinkeloo & Assoc. on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at I.M. Pei and Partners on the celebrated Grande Louvre Museum in Paris, and as an associate at Steven Holl Architects, where he was responsible for several project, including the award-winning Hybrid Building in Seaside, Fla., which received a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.


Marc Simmons, Front Inc., New York City

Marc Simmons, a founder of the New York-based façade-engineering and-design consultancy firm Front Inc., is a faculty member at the Princeton University School of Architecture and holds both a bachelor of environmental studies and professional BArch degrees from the University of Waterloo, Canada. His specialist façade knowledge and experience in custom curtainwall and hybrid cladding system design is built upon previous work at Foster and Partners, Meinhardt Façade Technology, and the structural glass and façade consulting group at Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners in New York.

Voussoir Cloud by IwamotoScott with Buro Happold
Voussoir Cloud by IwamotoScott with Buro Happold. Image courtesy IwamotoScott.

Lisa Iwamoto of IwamotoScott Architecture, San Francisco

Lisa Iwamoto received her MArch from Harvard University, and a BS in Structural Engineering from the University of Colorado. She has worked as a Structural Engineer at Bechtel Corporation, and Architectural Designer at Schwartz Silver Architects, Thompson and Rose, and Architectural Intern at Morphosis. She previously taught at the University of Michigan where she was a Muschenheim Fellow, and Harvard University. Currently she is an Assistant Professor at University of California Berkeley where her design research concentrates on the perceptual performance of material and digital fabrication techniques.


The Virginia Design Forum X is sponsored by:

Special thanks to our sponsors

Benefactor Sponsors 

Clark Nexsen

College of William and Mary

HITT Contracting, Inc.

Mathers Construction Team

Potomac Energy Group, Inc.

US Smoke & Fire


Patron Sponsors 

Perkins Eastman

EvensonBest LLC


Sustaining Sponsors 

Hanbury, Evans, Wright Vlattas + Company

University of Virginia School of Architecture

School of Architecture + Design, Virginia Tech


Supporting Sponsors

AIA Northern Virginia

Alliance Lighting

Atlas Carpet Mills

BCWH Architecture Interiors Planning

Bonstra | Haresign ARCHITECTS

Forrester Construction Company

Green Roofs of VA/McNeil Roofing, Inc.

Pinnacle Architectural Lighting/Ambiance Lighting

Pyrok, Inc.

Seaman Corporation’s FiberTite Roofing Systems

The Snead Co.

Steel Windows and Doors

VMDO Architects

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.