Moya Design Partners attended the 2018 American Institute of Architects annual Conference on Architecture at the Javits Center in NYC, June 21 – 23. With over 26,000 attendees, AIA is the largest convention for architecture and design professionals. It features several keynotes, 30 workshops, 160+ seminars, and over 200 tours and events.
The Javits Center was a great space for three days of exploring current trends in design. This year’s theme, ‘Blueprint for Better Cities’, taught us more about how architects and designers can make a difference. The workshops, conferences, and activities were scattered around Midtown and Downtown. As NY is such a great place, the experience was amazing! Lots of construction was happening this time of year. Everywhere you looked great architecture was taking place.
DAY 1 – THURSDAY JUNE 21
A Changing Financial District: Wall Street Becomes a Neighborhood
On Day 1 of A’18, Moya Design Partners Senior Architect Ligia Saldana attended a two-hour walking tour around the financial district. It was led by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. This once ‘business-only’district is undergoing a dramatic change. New York knows that people need to live where they work. This already happens in Midtown and Uptown but not as much in Downtown. The Wall Street redevelopment is creating green spaces and converting office buildings into residential towers. Meanwhile, the city is providing tax incentives that make it more attractive to live in and around the area.
MOYA visited the AIA Expo at the Javits Center, featuring new products, equipment, and systems. Ligia said this about her highlights:
The Expo was enormous (200,000 SF!) Although I was only able to visit about one-third of the Expo, I think the DesignWork exhibit by Eileen Fisher was particularly remarkable.DesignWorkis a socially conscious sustainable fashion company that is launching its own line of acoustic panels and architectural wall systems. They manufacture this new line from scraps of the brand’s old garments, which the company is purchasing back from their clients. They looked really nice!
Set in Radio City Music Hall (a superb venue!) Moya Design Partners’ favorite Day 1 keynotes were Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Sir David Adjaye.
Sarah Williams Goldhagen is a contributing editor at Architectural Record. She gave evidence from neuroscience that proves “how we build” profoundly shapes our well-being. Author of Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, Sarah argued that we should use this data to rethink design. Human society needs built environments that contain natural light, greenery, and other elements that we evolved to need. Authentic finishes and thoughtful construction are just as important as bold statements.
Sir David Adjaye is a leading architect of his generation. For him, architecture is as much about freedom and how we interact as it is about types and materials. He presented several projects that showed his sense of exploration. Several were small-scale but rich in textures and patterns. Particularly memorable was hisGwanju Pavilion. Working on these projects prepared him for his biggest commission to date: the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture. The best is that he transmits his love for architecture in every explanation.
DAY 2 – FRIDAY JUNE 22
Design Matters More Than You (Already) Think: Connecting Neuroscience & Design
MOYA attended this workshop by Sarah Williams Goldhagen (from Keynotes Day 1). She further explained her theory that built space can help us heal and learn faster. Designing for human experience is one way that architects can improve our world.
How to Design for Climate Change (ArchiTalk)
A panel of four architects discussed the effects of climate change. How can architects play a key role? We looked at examples of how climate affects the design process, and we brainstormed some solutions. For example, design can meet goals of thermal comfort and water management. We also heard about finding a balance between adapting to and mitigating climate change.
Keynotes Day 2
Again, we gathered at Radio City Music Hall, this time to hear Bjarke Ingels Group CEO Sheela Søgaard. Sheela is amazing! A non-architect (finance professional), Sheela has been working for BIG for the past 10 years. Her business plan helped the firm evolve from a 50-person team to five hundred, all the while becoming more profitable. She explained that at first, the architects didn’t understand why they were hiring her and why her salary was so high, but ultimately the investment paid off.
One great take-away was that Sheela convinced Bjarke Ingels to change BIG’s invoicing model to prioritize the Schematic Design Phase. She argued that it is in this phase that most of the creative problem solving is done. Thus, BIG invoices clients 50% (or more) of their fees at the end of the SD Phase. Sheela also emphasized the need to always be “broadcasting” your firm to the world.
Gabriella Gomez-Mont–Gabriella is the founder of Laboratorio para la Ciudad (The Lab), the Government of Mexico City’s experimental think tank. This program is the first of its kind in Latin America. Her energy was contagious! Gabriella works as a journalist, visual artist, director, and creative advisor to cities, universities, and companies. It was amazing to see how urban concepts are best developed by a multidisciplinary team. Architects need to always be inclusive. The Lab serves as a bridge in more ways than one; particularly in the way they use social media to advance their mission.
Both Sheela Søgaard and Gabriella Gomez-Mont were an inspiration to the MOYA team and resonated with MOYA values. Under Paola Moya’s leadership, the business side of Moya Design is one of the most important aspects of our creative growth. Running a lean and smart design firm is key. Broadcasting our work to the world promotes collaboration and innovation. We also liked Gomez-Mont’s views about having a multidisciplinary studio. MOYA has a talented team of marketing experts, copywriters, social media gurus and visual designers. Paola formed MOYA to be a dynamic group of creative people with diverse backgrounds who develop holistic design products with a strong client focus.
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The AIA knows how to celebrate! They selected an amazing venue (Hammerstein and Grand Ballrooms at the Manhattan Center) and amazing artists (En Vogue). The venue was a baroque-styled theater converted to serve as a ballroom. (Actually, there were two separate ballrooms, one on the first level and the other on the 7th floor.) It was really fun!
DAY 3 – SATURDAY JUNE 23
Social Entrepreneurship as a Practice Model
This panel of four architects discussed how their work is focused on solving social concerns. They highlighted that this can also generate profitable projects. Particularly compelling was the work of Vanna Whitney, AIA and Deanna Van Buren.
Vanna Whitney is a Senior Associate at Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects. Vanna always starts a project by asking “Who are we designing for? What are their needs and desires?” She creates outstanding design for people living on low incomes, living with health challenges, or experiencing homelessness.
Deanna Van Buren is an activist architect. She designs restorative justice centers as an alternative to prisons. She’s also been involved with designing virtual spaces for peacemaking. Deanna is the co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces in Oakland, California.
Virtual Reality: How Three Firms are Integrating it into their Studios
A panel of architects discussed the benefits of using VR. All four indicated that nowadays the technology is very accessible. The only question is whether VR will be used as a design tool or more as a means for the client to understand the design. They all agreed that VR should become more integrated into design practice. Particularly informative were the opinions of James C. Martin of Shepley Bulfinch and Ken Goulding of Sasaki Associates.
Architecture and Entrepreneurship – a Powerful Combination for Success
Entrepreneurs are the catalysts of any business or industry. Architects are trained as creative thinkers and problem solvers, but we are not typically trained to think like entrepreneurs! Paola asked the question: How do we build the next generation of architecture leaders? These were her recommendations:
Learn the importance of building your firm and most importantly your own brand.
Marketing and business development. Architects can attend business incubators before or after school. As well, The Harvard Business Review has several helpful publications targeted to managing a business.
Every day is business development day! Whether you are attending a networking event, meeting with a client, or meeting with a consultant, remember you are the ambassador for your business.
Develop your brand. What moves you? What is your mission? Work with a graphic designer to translate your brand into a consistent look. Have a social media presence and be strategic about its content.
Get published where clients can see your work. Consider doing unsolicited proposals to government agencies. Partner with developers to go after sites. These activities can develop your portfolio and create opportunities.
“I love to design! But how much does it really cost?”Understanding the art of managing people and finances.
Take time to learn your team’s knowledge. Encourage them to take ownership of projects and clients. Model the value of project management and customer relationships. Encourage your team to travel; traveling the world will propel them to be better and more creative designers. A distributed team has high production efficiency and long-term engagement. It also reduces your operating expenses.
Understand how much it costs to run your business. What is your break-even rate (BER)? What is your desired profit margin? What is your net multiplier (the revenue % generated by the firm)?Bill on-time. Effectively communicate with clients both verbally and in writing. Look for ways to save money on fixed expenses, but don’t cut costs on attorney or CPA fees; hire professionals who know about your business.
Building your career tailored to your personal goals.“Should I have a business plan even if I don’t run a firm?”
The answer is yes! What do you sell? Communicate your goals. Analyze the industry. What are the rules of the game? Who are the main players? Introduce your team. Who will be helping you? Develop a marketing plan that is true to your brand. Describe your daily activities and develop financial projections. How do you see your business growing? Be ready with Plan B options. Any plan can change; how will yours work through a different route? Learn to be flexible and quick on your feet.