How to challenge the "existing paradigms about the practice of architecture in the coming decade"

This week starting on Wednesday (Nov 2nd-4th), I am fortunate and honored to be given the opportunity to attend the Practice Management's Conference, Architecture Exchange (ArchEX) East as an AIA Knowledge Scholar. I recognize this as a unique and excellent platform to voice commitments as well as sentiments with a focus on Practice Management as it relates to the AEC industry. I feel the responsibility to share with my closest peers, the complex ideas that will be discussed on challenging the "existing paradigms about the practice of architecture in the coming decade".

I will communicate the day-to-day events that include keynote sessions, panel discussions, one-on-one interviews, 60 educational sessions, spectacular behind-the-scenes architectural tours, engaging special events, casual conversations, and evening exchanges on some of these topics:
  • The realities of starting and operating an architecture practice, from start-up to marketing and business development
  • Analyzing the risks and rewards of the marriage of BIM and IPD
  • Statistical data related to claims and suggestions on ways to manage the risk
  • Proven strategies to retain and provide advancement opportunities to valued women professional employees preventing female “brain-drain” in architecture firms as well as understand why in Fortune 500 companies only two percent of CEOs are women, and change that.
  • Find out what it takes to make strategic planning work for an architecture firm, provide meaningful tips for participants involved in the planning process, and identify common pitfalls to avoid.
  • Ownership Transition process and the tools necessary to begin – or improve – that  process in your own firms
Join the discussion and follow along by “liking” the AIA Practice Management Knowledge Community Facebook page today.

Please use me as a voice and avenue to bring your thoughts and ideas to ArchEX. In return, I will give you a play-by-play experience of what is transpiring during the conference.
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Lira Luis exhibiting at a.DOT

Introducing Lira Luis, No.18 of 52 Artists exhibiting at a.DOT | Chicago Artists Resource

Chicago Women in Architecture
is pleased to announce

Lira Luis

No.18 of 52 Artists participating in this years

To get to know each of the 52 Artists better the CWA asked each of the participants a series of questions, the following are Lira's Responses...

CWA: How does architecture drive/inspire your artwork?

LL: I relate art in any form, to the statement “The mother art is architecture” by Frank Lloyd Wright. I see architecture as a celebration of space and the movement of people in it. In order to define this space, there needs to be light.

I’ve always been fascinated by light and how it hits surfaces, objects, and people. Every light is different just as the light in Manila is different from the light in Chicago. As an architect, my sensitivity to light is instinctually heightened, inspiring my work in portraiture and figure drawings. It is the contrast between light and dark that creates a sense of presence.

In the same way, every person is different. Each has certain light and dark contrasts in his/her personality that I try to capture as my pencil hits the paper. As an artist, this is what my art wants to represent--a balance of that dichotomy expressed in every line, stroke, or smudge.

CWA: What parts of your training and experience do you apply to your artwork?

LL: Architecture has trained my eyes to look at things, spaces, or buildings differently. At varying times of the day, a building will look different even if you’re viewing it from the same spot. This is why buildings need to be experienced in order to understand it.

In drawing people, I view them with the same set of eyes as the way I view buildings. Portraiture and Figure Drawings are a celebration of people.

People reveal changing moods that define their personalities at any given day. To capture distinct personalities and make those come alive on paper, I realized that I needed to experience the person in order to be able to draw him/her. This is also the reason why most of my subjects are limited to those with whom I have perceived connections.

"architects. Doing Other Things", organized by Chicago Women in Architecture is part of Chicago Artists Month 2011, the sixteenth annual celebration of Chicago's vibrant visual art community presented by the Chicago Department of Tourism and Culture. For more information, visit www.chicagoartistsmonth.org.
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Tip #7: Share the victory

The whole victory in the Curbed competition was a result of a collective effort. While I may have instigated the journey, the final outcome of earning a landslide total of 7,538 votes within 58.5 hours was not an individual effort.

I advocate a new kind of leadership that is more collaborative. A secure individual will understand the "brilliance of allowing others to share the glory by listening to a variety of ideas to find solutions" to win. Also, sharing the limelight doesn’t mean whoever started it will get less of it. Not so. Sharing credit as a leader doesn’t diminish your share of the recognition. It only enhances it. “Never pass up a chance to let your audience shine.” By sharing the limelight and potential glory, we learn to be more collaborative.

Here's a recap of the 7 Tips.

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Tip #6: Make it fun to vote for you

One of the things that make a journey fun is adding an element of excitement. You’ve got to enjoy what you are doing in order for others to get excited about voting for you. Also, I lowered my expectations for the final outcome of the Curbed competition. While I’m one to want to win, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t. This allowed me to enjoy the ride. This was the joy that I wanted those who were joining me in the ride, to experience, too.

In retrospect, there are 3 things that contributed to the fun of voting and enjoying the ride for everyone.

1. The online poll system that Curbed used was simple and easy to share with others. The online voting platform they used is the Google Chart Tools. It’s powerful, simple, and gives a visual display of voting results via pie charts.
    2. As instigator of sharing the voting link, I also adopted a laid-back attitude about the whole thing. No threats were made, if they didn’t vote for me. In fact, some of my friends ended up voting for my competitor in some rounds because they became fixated with a specific color assigned to me in previous rounds. When I was assigned a different color in subsequent rounds, the voting process seemed “automatic” to them that they just searched for the previous color (There were only 2, either red or blue) and clicked on that color. The whole time, I actually found this amusing. Even one of my close friends also committed the same error.  

    3. Make the process of voting an adventure. I did this by telling stories and by being flexible about the whole thing along the way. There was never a dull moment during the 7-day journey.
      Here's a recap of the 7 Tips.
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      Tip #5: Allow for freedom of speech

      For every point, there would be a counterpoint. This creates balance and a point of view that is truly unbiased. Expose both viewpoints. Never suppress either side.

      During the course of the tournament at Curbed, there was no shortage of “lively” discussions in the comments section. This became more “lively” when we kept on winning at every round and exceeding our previous record of votes. It was when we were winning that people have started to notice. When this happens, you’re naturally opening the doors for both praise and criticism. In every game, there is a winner and there is a loser. There’s no way around this. In the process of winning, it was evident we’ve upset some people who were also after the same thing.

      Whether you are on the winning side or on the losing side, it’s important to allow others to speak their mind or voice their opinion. Listening to another’s point of view can put a different perspective on your own.

      There are 2 types of criticism: Constructive and the other one  driven by Complaining/Whining. Constructive criticism can be used to help improve our game. The other kind of criticism wastes your time. Learn to recognize the difference.

      I’ve learned early on in life, I can’t please everybody. I told myself, "This was my game. I can't live by the rules of someone else's game."

      During the tournament, there was still the competition to be won. Focusing on other people’s perception of me will only take away my focus on the goal--winning. Also, most of the criticisms in that "lively" discussion were posted by "guests" who are hiding their true identities. I don't see it time well spent to be bothered by comments of unidentified characters. What's the point?

      If you don’t want to win, then you might as well withdraw from it because you’ll only be wasting your time. Why be in a competition if you’re not aiming to win?

      When you’re trying to accomplish something, always expect and prepare for an opposing view. However, believe that everyone, even you, deserve the chance to fly! Go, defy gravity today.

      Here's a recap of the 7 Tips.
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      Tip #4: Make the process about them, your audience, and not about you

      In the book Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, it states that “Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like Mad Men.” This was my thought process during the bracketed tournament of Curbed.com.

      I remember from Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, it says, “to be interesting, you’ve got to be interested.” I dissect and quote some of the principles I used.

      This was how I made the process about my audience and not about me:
      • Give honest and sincere appreciation.
      • Become genuinely interested in other people.
      • Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
      • Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
      • Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong."
      • Begin in a friendly way.
      • Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
      • Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
      • Appeal to the nobler motives.
      • Throw down a challenge.
      • Praise every improvement.
      • Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.
        The best way I learned how effective these principles were, was when we started to win at every single round in the competition.

        Here's a recap of the 7 Tips.
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        Tip #3: Fully engage your audience

        To win the Curbed competition, do you really need to "vote for yourself many times in consecutive 24-hour periods"? Or; would you really want to spend "an IT staff’s billable hours (and we all know the hourly rate is expensive) to write a program that automatically votes, 7542 total"? These are some of the opinions raised during the course of the competition.

        I would think there are better uses for those times. This competition was best won by engaging supporters versus spending the time supporting one’s self with more than 1,000 computers in tow.

        If we analyze the bracket of wins, we will see that at every round, the bar is continually raised. It exceeded the previous record of votes. Notice also the consistency of the market share of votes generated. It's consistently more than 3/4 of the total votes.
         Let's look at the graphical pie charts closely.
        Round 1 started with 83.3% of 461 total votes.
        Also in Round 1, we've already set the tone on how we would play this game.
        "Also of note: architect Lira Luis, an alumna of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin school, earned the most votes overall." - Curbed

        Notice the big jump in total vote-count from Round 2 and Round 3. This was the turning point. The engaged audience has gained voting momentum.
        There's still a steady increase in total vote count.

        By the time we hit Final Round, the audience who have stayed with me in the journey have already invited others to join in the fun. The overall result is a snowball effect of 7,542 votes.

        Here’s how to develop a highly-engaged audience:

        In Twitter, some people judge your “influence” by the number of “followers” you have in your account. I’m a bit wary of the “follower-counting” culture. Number of “followers” don’t mean a thing if all they do is follow you and don’t really care to listen to what you have to say. One of the ways to test if your “followers” are truly listening is to ask them for support. If they support you, then you know they have been truly following you all along and holding on to every word you tweet. By the time you ask for help, they’re more than willing to give it to you. I found this was the case, when I first assessed the Social Media tools I have to work with as mentioned in Tip #1.

        In blogs, while some may have people commenting on the posts, the question to ask is, are those comments posted by the same people every time? If you’re not developing new commenters at each new blog post, do you really have a highly-engaged audience?

        1. Participate in Social Media groups.
        2. Chime in on discussions.
        3. Contribute insight and possible solutions that add value, not simply vent criticisms in Twitter chats.
        4. Keep your audience informed at every step of the way. 
        Here's a recap of the 7 Tips. 
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          Tip #2: Identify your audience

          The Curbed competition involved 32 architects, interior designers, or decorators who were pitted against each other in “a massive, weeklong, sports-like showdown” (as described by Curbed).

          I knew right away that the last thing I should select for an audience would be my fellow architects, interior designers, or decorators. Why? Because we all belong to the same industry. That would be like Coke asking support from Pepsi.

          I identified a target audience and categorized them in 3 levels. Level 1 will be those who will most likely vote for you with no questions asked. Level 2 will be those who will probably vote for you if you give them a good reason why. Level 3 will be those who will vote for you because your Level 1 and Level 2 audience asked them to.

          I was in a crazy situation. At first, I was alone in this journey. This video by Derek Sivers was the inspiration behind empowering my audience. It quickly turned into “mini-versions” of this "movement" that finally led into a snowball of supporters, that reached more than 7,000 at the final round.

          Here are some of my early and strongest supporters:

          Level 1. I sent out a few emails, tweets, and direct messages to some of my closest friends. These included my former alma mater, the School of the Holy Spirit in Quezon City, Philippines and my friends outside architecture. The “movement” scenario explained by Derek Sivers, was soon replicated in those people to whom I reached out. There became several lone nuts in each group, and subsequently the first followers/supporters: Reena Castro from batch '91 and Yasmin Conception from batch '92 picked up on the idea to share this with the rest of the alumnae group in Facebook. They were all game enough to vote for me, no questions asked. This was during the first few rounds.

          Level 2. After winning the first couple of rounds, I challenged my supporters to see how far we can take this thing. I gave them a reason why.

          “Regardless of whatever differences you may have, once you appear before a global audience, we automatically forget all that and bond together. While of course there are a few bad eggs rolling around, I think this is something instinctive to any Filipino, and is something to be proud of,” says Ana Alexis, who voted and campaigned from the UAE.

          Level 3. Soon, we found that my friends asked their friends to join in the fun.

          Jorjette from batch '92 shares, “I have some networks overseas which I have tapped as well by sending the voting link by email and giving it a personal touch which made the recipient see the importance of their participation and made them feel the passion I had for this journey. As such, they in turn sent out emails to their colleagues, friends, and relatives which led to a global snowball effect.”

          The last people who I let in on the fun are those in my industry. When they saw the visual diagrams of the pie chart and they saw I was winning, their natural instinct was to vote for the person who would imminently win.

          So that’s how I identified my audience, who eventually became my strongest supporters.

          Here's a recap of the 7 Tips.
          Read full post »


          Tip #1: Do an inventory of Social Media tools you have.

          This was the first thing I did upon learning that I was thrown into a competition by a well meaning colleague. My instinct was, this could probably be won through the power of Social Media. I immediately assessed the tools and skill set I could use.

          1. The Skill Set

          Last May, I spoke at the American Institute of Architects’ National Convention about “How to Leverage Social Technologies for a Sustainable Practice”. It was selected as a featured course in the 2011 Virtual Convention. It was also chosen as one of the “Best of New Orleans AIA National Convention”. I thought to myself, this Curbed competition could be a great opportunity to demonstrate and practice what I preached at that convention.
          Image from AIA website

          Image from AIA website

          2. The Tools

          Facebook. In Facebook, my audience is a mixed bag of friends, clients, colleagues, and family. This is also the platform where I’m most active. This account has a network of more than 1,000 friends.

          In addition to my own personal profile, my company maintains 2 business pages: “Frankly Speaking It’s The Wright Way” and “Aspen/National Geographic Environment Forum Scholar”. Each page has an audience of nearly 500 each.

          I am also part of 3 Facebook groups, 2 of which have nearly 2,000 members each, and 1 with 1.4 million members.

          Twitter. In Twitter, my audience is mostly in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries. According to Klout, the standard of influence, I am influential about 1 topic: Architecture. My style of engagement is that of a Specialist where the content I share is industry-specific that is received by a highly-engaged audience.
          Image from Klout
           I’ll elaborate more on this later for Tip #3. Overall, I grew my following organically--meaning I didn’t start following hundreds of people immediately in order to be “followed” back. Right now, I have earned more than 1,200  “followers".
          Image from Klout

          LinkedIn. In LinkedIn, my audience is strictly business contacts. I have nearly 500 contacts in this account.

          Google+. This is a new tool for me and I’m still discovering and learning as I go. I’m not nearly as active in GPlus as I am in Facebook, simply because most of the audience I interact with on a regular basis have not caught up with this new kid on the block.

          So there you have it. These are the tools I leveraged during the Curbed competition.

          Here's a recap of the 7 Tips.
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          7 Tips on Winning Hottest Architect Competition with 7K Votes

          Early this week, Curbed National, a website focusing on interior design, decor, and real estate news located in the country’s vibrant urban centers, announced:
          “It’s Official: Lira Luis is Hottest Designer/Architect of 2011!”
          (It does look like there's dandruff on my hair, but really, it was snowing outside when my photographer Chris Vaughn took this. Ask my stylist Lillian. She was there. Now don't I sound defensive, do I?) Image from Curbed.com
          Lira Luis' 7,538-to-Lindsey Coral Harper's 2,307
          Whoa, how did that happen? Some probably asked. I asked myself the same question.

          At the commencement of the tournament a week earlier, I had just finished a strategy meeting with my business coach. As I was skimming through the Tweets of the day, I saw one of my Twitter friends mention about voting for me in a contest. I wondered what it was and so clicked on the link. I nearly choked on my lunch when I saw that I was one of the 32 nominees at Curbed’s Hottest competition. It turns out, a well-meaning colleague had nominated me but failed to inform me quickly enough before I picked up the news via Social Media. I read who else was in it. Right off the bat, I recognized some of my competitors.

          Tom Kundig -  I have heard of his firm, Olson Kundig Architects from a colleague. He said their work is one of the most interesting in Seattle. I’ve been following their work ever since.
          Bjarke Ingels - I met him personally in Chicago during an Architecture & Design Film Festival earlier this year.
          Neil Denari - His name and his work have often been mentioned by industry colleagues. I happen to like some of his work too.
          David Bromstad - I may have seen him on an episode of the show HGTV Design Star on HGTV cable network.

          My theory: Social Media can even out the playing field for all 32 contestants.

          Here are 7 tips that made it happen:

          1. Do an inventory of Social Media tools you have.
          2. Identify your audience. Categorize them in 3 levels. Level 1 will be those who will most likely vote for you with no questions asked. Level 2 will be those who will probably vote for you if you give them a good reason why. Level 3 will be those who will vote for you because your Level 1 and 2 audience asked them to.
          3. Fully engage your audience.
          4. Make the process about them, your audience, and not about you.
          5. Allow for freedom of speech. Learn how to handle and accept criticism.
          6. Make it fun to vote for you.
          7. Share the victory (and possibly) the limelight with your audience.
          Beginning on Labor Day Monday, with subsequent blog posts the following days, spread out in 7 days, I’ll illustrate in detail, with matching graphics, how the process led to a landslide victory and how it has helped my business now. Still think engaging in Social Media is a waste of time? Follow my posts next week and see for yourself.
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          Is Retention Really A Gender Issue Exclusive To Women?

          I'm an advocate of Women's Issues and achieving balance in leadership, however, I don't think "retention" is an issue EXCLUSIVE to women in architecture in this day and age. How many men have been forced into exodus from architecture in recent years? It's a time in our generation's history where newly grads or interns, regardless of gender, couldn't get the exposure to practice in the profession because of scarce opportunities. This is time, as a profession, we will never get back and we'll only begin to see the effects when it creates a void of architects with a specific skill set, years later when construction picks up and we're in need of them. RETENTION in architecture industry is NOT a gender issue. LACK OF BALANCE in leadership is.
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          Architect Barbie Adventures: Meeting Mr. Wright

          One of the first things people do when they decide to become a homeowner is to go see houses in which they would want to live. We all have dreams about what would that ideal house be like. It is probably the single most expensive purchase one will make in a lifetime, and as such carefully thought-out designs need to be made.

          photo by Elizabeth Melas

          The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Mattel understood the importance of good and responsible design when they launched the Architect Barbie Dream House Competition. So when I received an Architect Barbie doll from the AIA, I asked myself what it meant for me as a female architect. Was this doll intended to represent my gender and my profession; or was it intended to convey a message beyond the predominantly pink color and perfect vital statistics?

          Maybe Architect Barbie is there to connect people, from a girl who sees a photo of it in a magazine and begins to dream about being able to design and build her own house; to the parent wanting to send a message to a child that they can be whatever they dream to be and how women can play significant roles in society.

          These Boots Are Made For Traveling

          Architect Barbie was first introduced at this year’s American Institute of Architects National Convention in New Orleans, “Career of the Year” of Mattel. This Barbie line is an attempt to encourage girls to think about architecture as an attainable career goal. With that in mind, this doll packed her bags and gathered some friends in the industry for a visit to a historical landmark that is considered the summer home of one of the greatest architects who ever lived, Frank Lloyd Wright. What better way to travel there than to set an example for sustainable practices that minimize impact on the environment--carsharing! It is is a model of carpooling where people rent cars for short periods of time. Evidence indicates that carsharing can provide numerous transportation, land use, environmental, and social benefits. It helps reduce traffic congestion and pollution by keeping more cars away from city streets and highways. In Chicago, several architecture firms like Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architects, Burns + Beyerl Architects, Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, and Perkins+Will, have adopted this concept of sustainable travel, as shared by Carolyn Hahn, Marketing Manager at Zipcar.

          Carsharing as an environment-friendly travel option.

          Barbie at Taliesin’s 100 Years

          This year marks the 100th anniversary year of Taliesin, which means “shining brow” in Welsh. “Taliesin represents more than just great design--it exemplifies Wright’s philosophy that the true sense of organic architecture is the integrated oneness of the land, the building, and the spirit of life,” as written by the Taliesin 100 Years Host Committee. As Architect Barbie sits by the catwalk at The House, maybe pondering how she could make her own dream house sympathize with the environment, I recall reading Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Robert Campbell's reflections about Taliesin in this way: ”...maybe the greatest single building in America.”

          Top left and right photo: Architect Barbie at the Taliesin catwalk, Bottom photo: Inside The House, leaning against the mitered window.
          Photos by Elizabeth Melas

          Taliesin features the mitered corner window that Mr. Wright pioneered, which Architect Barbie quickly discovered. Frank Lloyd Wright, in an interview with Hugh Downs in 1953, described it this way: "The corner window is indicative of an idea...that the box is factious--the architecture of freedom and democracy needed something besides the box...While the corner window came in as all the comprehension that ever was given to the act of the 'destruction of the box'. The light came in where it never came before. Vision went out and you had screens instead of walls. Here the walls vanished as walls and the box vanished as a box and the corner window went around it but the idea of the thing never followed it. It became merely a window instead of a release of an entire sense of structure." Now that Architect Barbie got an overview of what it means to build using organic principles, she can go back to her studio and apply the lessons learned. The experience then becomes an example of what the Taliesin Fellowship is about--learning by doing.

          Architect Barbie back at the drafting table. Photo by Elizabeth Melas
          Taliesin Preservation is hosting events for the Centennial Celebration all summer and into the fall.  For more information, go to www.taliesinpreservation.org

          During the course of the travel, I realized that Architect Barbie has become more than an abstract representation of gender or profession. She has the potential to speak a universal language among girls and architects alike, demonstrating ideals that we profess as architects and sharing those with a younger generation who will eventually be the future architects. In simple expressions such as a toy, any generation can relate and perhaps begin to understand where we first learned how to dream--through playing.

          Elizabeth Melas has been an accomplished photographer for more than two decades. She has had exhibitions of her work in Chicago, New York, and Paris. Early in her photography career, she developed a new technique using infrared film. She was selected as a fellow to The International Women's Forum Leadership Foundation, a prestigious award granted to professional women who have established themselves in their chosen field. Get LinkedIn with her.

          Lira Luis, AIA, RIBA, NCARB, LEED®
          AP, is principal architect at Atelier Lira Luis, LLC. She believes in transforming the world and society through designs that are sensitive to sustainability and address social responsibility. She was National Geographic's 2010 Aspen Environment Forum Scholar and reigning 2010 American Institute of Architects (AIA) ATHENA Young Professional Awardee. This year she was Tile of Spain's Reign In Spain winner and i4Design Magazine's Suite Sixteen Awardee. Follow her in Twitter: @liraluis or Get LinkedIn with her.
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          The People Have Spoken

          I just returned from a remarkable trip in New Orleans for the American Institute of Architects' National Convention. I presented together with Jennifer Lucente (Chicago Architecture Foundation) and Megan Morris (Medized), a topic on Social Technologies and how architects, engineers, and contractors can apply them in the industry.

          Here are some of the feedback received from those who attended Session FR364 "How To Leverage Social Technologies For A Sustainable Practice":

          Fantastic high-energy video and presentation on Social Networking (for architects) by Lira Luis. Loved the music. One for all to see at the AIA National Convention 2011 - Tara Imani, Architect, Tara Imani Designs, LLC

          ...I found your presentation a standout in that it triggered in my mind the potential of social media to help us design our facilities. Thanks again! - Carlos Azalde, Director, A&E Remodel Construction for Taco Bell Corp

          Interesting questions in the (SM) session but good answers by presenters Lira Luis (Atelier Lira Luis, LLC), Jennifer Lucente (Chicago Architecture Foundation), and Megan Morris (Medized) - Andrew Hawkins, Principal Architect, Hawkins Architecture

          Excellent session at AIA National Convention 2011 - Steve Mouzon, Principal Architect, New Urban Guild/Mouzon Design

          Great job tonight with your social media program (for architects). Thank you! - Carolyn Bligh, Principal, Bligh Graphics

          Your presentation was very enlightening for this 51 year old architect, who is struggling to come to grips with how to engage social media in my life and practice. - Michael D. Hovar, Architect, Amtech Building Sciences, Inc.

          Follow this webpage For more information that can be downloaded.

          We thank you for spending your prime time Friday night with us to learn about the Social Media revolution that is redefining the way we connect in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries.
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          Reign in Spain: A Breath of Fresh Tile Selections at Cevisama

          During the 2011 Cevisama, the International Ceramic Tile and Bath Furnishings Show in Valencia, Spain, I was enlightened to a breadth of options that tile products now provide to our industry. One of the products that caught my architectural eye is a ventilated facade system that utilizes ceramic and porcelain tile for cladding. It brought back memories of driving in Arizona and seeing this product used at the Wilkinson Floor Covering Corporate Office & Warehouse in Tempe, designed by Michael P. Johnson...

          >> Continue at TalkContract.com
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          Reign in Spain: I Tripped, I Saw, I Appreciated

          The Reign In Spain A&D Tour kicked off in Zaragoza, Spain, famous for its folklore, gastronomy, and architecture. And I got to know the Old Town Zaragoza and its history up close and personal—I tripped over a crater while walking on the cobblestone streets as I looked up and admired the Baroque architecture of Nuestra Senora del Pilar Basilica and the Gothic-Mudéjar architecture of La Seo Cathedral. This was as close as I could get to viewing and analyzing the cobblestone paving material that was ubiquitous in Zaragoza. I remembered that particular street was laid out in a running, bond paving pattern.

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          A Tribute To Taliesin's 100 Years

          As Taliesin celebrates 100 years since its construction, I look back at my own memories of what it was like when I first set foot at this historic landmark considered one of the best examples of Organic Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright encouraged the apprentices at Taliesin to tap into creative writing way before blogging ever existed, as part of a multi-faceted architecture experience. This was yet another exercise of Frank Lloyd Wright's vision that was so ahead of his time. This article was one of the first pieces I wrote shortly after arriving at Taliesin in Spring Green. It is taken from the Wisconsin River Valley Journal, September/October 1997 Vol 5, Issue 2:
          Between 1934-37 the Wisconsin architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his Taliesin apprentices wrote columns printed in Wisconsin newspapers. Wisconsin River Valley Journal continues the tradition. This issue's contribution is by Anna Lira V Luis, a Taliesin apprentice from the Philippines. She is pursuing her master's degree from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.             - Wisconsin River Valley Journal
          More. To read the columns of 1934-37, see "At Taliesin," Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship. Southern Illinois University Press, 1992. - Wisconsin River Valley Journal

          Taliesin Break Away

          A few months back, I decided to break away from a very typical architectural lifestyle. Being a practicing architect from the Philippines, I would go through the normal routines of the profession---designing, revising, designing, revising, and doing more designing and revising! I guess no matter what part of the globe an architect practices, these are inevitable aspects of the profession. The more I get involved with architecture, the more I want to comprehend its complex nature. With this yearning, I packed my bags, gathered my guts, and flew willfully to Taliesin to satisfy my thirst for architectural knowledge.

          Although much of Taliesin was in deep slumber when I made my entry, I was greeted by the stunning Hillside studio. I could not believe that I was actually inside this picture perfect structure that I had only seen in pictures! I remember vividly that sleepless first night at the "shining brow". I had mixed emotions. I was excited with what the next day would bring. At the same time, I was concerned with what I could make of it.

          The very first morning, I decided to explore the magical mystery of the school. Possessing a very academic background, I started to look for my classroom---just as a normal graduate student would on the first day of classes. There was none. Yes, there are no classrooms, because every corner of Taliesin is a classroom! Learning is achieved by experience. The concept of "learning by doing" is so foreign to me that it sparked my interest. I have wanted to break away from the confines of a four-walled classroom, and take a more revolutionary way of learning. It is because my academic background has trained me well enough to be a good student that I now want to know the meaning of apprenticeship. The challenge is how to apply the theoretical knowledge in actual practice and learn from it. I realized that even a very mundane tast such as scraping paint off the ceilings can become a source of information. It is during these times that I have the opportunity to view ceiling and roof connections that would be helpful in drawing details of these. It becomes much easier to draw something that is familiar just because one has seen it before.

          There is so much to learn not only about the buildings in Taliesin but also the environment. It is amazing to realize that even the trees and sparrows relay knowledge and inspiration. The community setting supplements the learning process of apprentices. Activities are geared towards their relation to architecture. As a result, Taliesin-trained architects become equipped with a more well-rounded architectural sense. The place is a haven for artists desiring to have architecture as a means of expression. Never in my academic training have I experienced architecture in its purest intensity, the way Taliesin has let me. No other place educates the way Taliesin educates.

          The knowledge I absorb is worth the thousands of kilometers I traveled to acquire it. I am being molded to become an architect armed not only with theoretical knowledge but also practical training. When the time comes for me to leave the place, I would know that every minute spent in Frank Lloyd Wright's "organic classroom" would remain with me. A part of me has become a part of Taliesin, and a part of Taliesin has become a part of me.

          Mr. Wright may no longer be around physically, but his creative spirit is very much present today as it was during his lifetime. His contribution to architectural education by way of Taliesin will continue as long as nature continues to educate. Taliesin breaks away from the classroom just as Mr. Wright broke away from the box. 

          About Taliesin

          Taliesin is the home of the Taliesin Fellowship, a group of architects, artists, educators and architects-in-training continuing the work and learning program begun by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright at their home and school buildings near the Wisconsin River near Spring Green. The buildings and the 600-acre campus they are located on are known together as Taliesin. The name is Welsh and literally means "shining brow." - Wisconsin River Valley Journal
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          The ‘Wright’ Tile to Make a Mark

          When the folks at Tile of Spain told me to pack my bags for the “Reign in Spain” A&D Tour, a new a new CEU education program, to represent the U.S. Architecture and Design community, I was more than excited to learn about a new trends in tile. Ceramic, natural stone, and bathroom design are converging, provoking the A&D community to think about these elements as “much more, as a part of you,” perhaps like “your skin.” Let me digress…

          >> Continue at TalkContract.com
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          Pastry Puffing Out Architecture

          During a recent screening of the documentary Kings of Pastry at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago's theater district, I had the pleasure of asking one of its leading characters, Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer from where his design sources come. He tells me he's a big fan of the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, stating that he studied the processes and techniques of glass blowing, and incorporates them in some of his culinary sugar sculptures.

          Kings of Pastry fell on my radar when I saw this image:
          The expression on the chef's face reminded me a lot about architecture school when I had to build scaled models, trying to make sense of how to construct undulating forms out of bass wood. In this case, the chef uses chocolate as his medium. It made me think, constructing something out of foam core, bass wood, and paper was crazy enough, what is driving this chef to achieve something similar with a medium that has a potential to melt and carries an expiration date? So I watched the film:

          The film centers around the process of becoming a M.O.F. (Un des Meilleurs Ouvrier de France) and chef Jacquy Pfeiffer's journey to become one. Getting those 3 letters meant becoming recognized as the best craftsman in France. Those who pass this competition, currently held every 4 years, are honored with a medal during a ceremony at the the Sorbonne and Élysée in the presence of the President of the French Republic.

          I see  similarities in the process of becoming an architect, and in the USA, achieving the coveted 3 letters "A.I.A" (American Institute of Architects) at the end of your name.

          Here are some parallels between the process of getting The "MOF" and The "AIA":

          1. "If you wear those collars and you're not (a MOF) you can go to jail," says chef Sébastien Canonne, MOF. For architecture, the public can distinguish whether an architect is licensed or not, if they are members of the AIA. There are different membership categories. The most common are Architect Member and Associate Member. The Architect Member will usually use the letters "AIA" at the end of their names, signifying that they have passed the AREs and have been granted with an architectural license from a U.S. licensing authority. The Associate Member will usually have "Assoc. AIA" at the end of their names, and are not yet granted an architectural license. Similar to the MOF, if an architect uses "AIA" and one is not, that person is subject to civil or criminal liability.

          2. Both require grueling processes to achieve. For the MOF, the chefs are subject to a 3 day test. For the Architect's License, one needs to take and pass 7 exams (it was 9 when I took it).

          3. Both can be an emotional experience. As The UK Guardian has put it, "I never saw so many strong men sobbing at once," in reference to the MOF. The rigor of studying for the Architect Registration Exams can put a toll on the relationships of those who are taking it.

          4. "There is no monetary reward for achieving the MOF title" says chef Pfeiffer. In architecture, there is also no monetary reward for becoming licensed and getting the AIA title. In fact, to maintain the title, the architect will need to pay for annual dues and license renewal fees.

          5. I checked out the salaries for beginning chefs, the equivalent of intern architects and both are in the same ball park.

          At the end of the day, it's really about what you are passionate about. There are so many opportunities to learn from various disciplines and apply those thought processes to whatever it is you're passionate about. For chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, he goes to museums a lot, studies about artists, uses inspiration from different art forms, and uses all these concepts and sources to improve his pastry craft. For architects, a similar cross-disciplinary mindset, where everything is a source of learning and design, can be a useful tool in paving the way for innovation.
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