First AIA Convention, recap: the young architect’s experience

This can be summed up in one phrase.

Mind = blown.

I was hoping to get to this post right after I returned from convention. I came back exhausted and yet invigorated – but soon lost this write-up as a priority when things like starting a new job and dealing with a fiercely energetic puppy happy for my return came up.



This was my first convention experience and – based on the first two sentences of this post – you can be assured it won’t be my last. I started out with an early morning (7am) session on Thursday about Volunteering with the AIA, after having spent the entire previous day volunteering with AEC Cares for #ProjectChicago. I was sore and tired, but learning more over the next few days about this awesome profession I have chosen kept me energized and on the move. I was able to sit in on short discussions about social media tools, listen to a panel of architects who recently started design firms talk through the ins and outs of running a small firm, engage in small group sessions about the challenges of being an emerging professional after hearing from some of the up and coming, and recently recognized, top young architects in the profession, etc… The list of awesome is perhaps taller than Sears Tower itself.

I think my favorite experiences, however, didn’t occur in the seminars and classes. They were the last minute, casual drinks or meals with other architects from around the nation who had come into the windy city for the conference; eager, just as I was, to learn and contribute.


AIAcon14-MeetupExample: I spent Friday night in the basement of Lou Malnati’s drinking beer and eating authentic Chicago deep dish pizza. And this wasn’t just any dinner, this was a meeting of the minds. This was akin to the “last supper” for me…except no one died and we’re all “disciples” of bettering the profession. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to be invited to this dinner, but I spent 3+ hours talking with (but mostly listening to) people I consider mentors, leaders, and commanding voices in the field of architecture. These are people who (besides the author of this article, Jeff – who lives in Indy too, and Chris, who’s a Schmidt friend) I couldn’t have imagined being able to meet in person a year ago. These “titans” made themselves accessible and we enjoyed just chatting and meeting each other – some for the first time, some once again since the convention last year. Mark LePage summed it up as, “getting together with friends, except some of them you might just be meeting in person for the first time.” They’re all small business owners, though small is a relative term given the influence they have in the profession.

Even some architects who run a podcast and weren’t able to make it into town for the convention called to interview a couple of people at the table. I was so engrossed in the conversations going on around me, I couldn’t keep track of who was getting interviewed or the topics of discussion. I had the joy of re-living that night from the other side of the phone when they published the interview later that weekend. 




I wouldn’t have remotely had the chance to do this had I not “sat in” on AIA chats on twitter leading up to this, or reached out and started/joined conversations about architecture with these guys (and other architects active on twitter). When you get recognized by your twitter handle (meaning you said something worth remembering…?), it’s a pretty awesome feeling. To me, that’s validation that I’m doing something right as I climb this social media learning curve of a mountain. I literally had someone whom I see as a mentor/inspiring mind in architecture come up to me at the tweet up and say “It’s so great to meet you! One of my goals at convention was to try and make sure I met you in person.” *blush* I had my own list of people like this – it’s crazy to think I was on someone else’s.

What does this mean anyway?

My takeaway from this was to continue getting involved. The magic happens behind the scenes, in the everyday aspects of architecture. As a female (soon to be) architect in a male dominated profession (another topic for another time), this is a daunting task to take on initially. I was moderately overwhelmed when I first started interacting with the giants in my field. As this four day experience showed me, however, the true thought leaders of our profession welcome the younger professionals with a beer at the ready and freely give advice and aid.

Taking part in the monthly chats, asking questions, following along as others talk about their client interactions or the behind the scenes workings of architecture as a business….these things are vital to personal and professional growth. You learn, you interact, and you learn some more. I frequently ask Bob Borson questions, from the hows to the whys, on his blog and guess what? He responds. And because of that I, and everyone else reading along, learn something new.

Who cares?

Architects are going through a weird growth stage right now. We’re like the awkward teenage boy trying to talk to the girl (the public) at the high school dance. We’re trying to figure out how to re-assert our value to the world and explain what it is we actually provide that makes our profession so valuable. That understanding all seems to start with these interactions. Talking to each other helps us vet our ideas and priorities; doing so on a public scale means a product rep or a potential client can follow along and learn something or interject a comment, too. In my mind, any discussion about architecture and architects is a good one. Taking that discussion online means anyone can be involved. Taking that discussion to your local pub, or the basement of a local Chicago pizza place, means the nearby tables also get a sense of what your profession is all about.

Oh, and the food isn’t half bad, either. 🙂

So to sum up this long-winded rambling of my #aiacon14 experiences: I had a blast. I’ll be back for more. And I’m not going to wait until next year’s convention to grow these experiences. I’ll be reaching out and interacting with Jeff, Marica, Mark, Enoch, Bob, Jes, [insert your name here], etc…because, just like that pizza-filled basement, the day to day architecture interactions are where the magic happens.

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  • Extremely enjoyable article! Thank you for sharing.

    • Lora

      Glad you enjoyed it! The convention was an amazing experience – hopefully I summed it up well for those who couldn’t attend.

  • It was just as amazing for me Lora. The people sitting around that table are the people who are going to change the profession for small firm architects… and you are included on that list. Thanks for the memories : )

    • Happy to hear you had fun. I know we were all dragging from the late night the next day, but I think it was worth it.

      Thanks again for dinner!

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