Optimism for the next generation

Photo: Tim Matthews

What’s on the minds of the next generation of architects? Last December, student  members of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) filled the halls of Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel, eager to converse about emerging possibilities and their future role in strengthening the profession. These excited and nervous students exchanged thoughts with peers, intern architects and established local professionals. The discourse was energetic, the topics engaging, and there was an overall sense of optimism in the air.

As a recent graduate and past AIAS chapter president, I was invited to attend the conference and present a keynote alongside design strategist Sharon Vanderkaay, Associate AIA, on the theme of “Stay Sane, Save Time: Work with Human Nature.” Our conversation delved into some of the self-limiting norms of our industry and what new architects can do to enact change for the profession—and for their careers. As someone who just began working in the industry, I had many questions for Vanderkaay. We talked about the value of learning negotiation skills, what young architects can bring to the practice, and working with clients to create advocates, rather than simply selling or defending our ideas. Vanderkaay cited examples of leading architects whose interactive practices support the belief that we’re all in this together. These architects work with human nature—the ways that people naturally digest new ideas and make high stakes decisions.

Architecture is a demanding industry, and Vanderkaay explained the need for young architects to advocate for themselves and invest in themselves. If we wait for others to change or to give us opportunities, we will end up waiting for a long time. Valuable skills like negotiation, communication, and leadership—all of which are rarely taught in architecture school—can enhance our abilities as designers.

Photo: Tim Matthews


A good example of this need to pursue agency is the intern’s dilemma. The most recent public survey about the internship program—the 2014 OAA white paper “Becoming an Architect: Sustaining our Future”—explains how many interns are dissatisfied and struggle with getting help from the OAA and from their firms. While this survey may seem negative (and even irritating), it is important for interns to look at this optimistically as a tool for improvement. If it’s likely that an intern will struggle with these issues, what tactics can they take to improve the situation? Certainly, negotiation skills can greatly help. Working with a principal or partner to identify mutually beneficial goals is important. Similarly, seeing opportunities and speaking up—rather than waiting for someone to act on your behalf—is another great skill to have.

I faced a similar issue when I was looking to become involved in residential projects at my firm. I mainly do institutional work, so I had to learn to negotiate, be persistent (but not pester), and advocate for how my skill set could benefit the firm in this sector. It took a couple of months but, one fateful day, I became the intern in charge of the new cottage project at the office!

Photo: Tim Matthews


Vanderkaay’s talk was presented in an environment of students trying to take hold of the profession and change it for the better. Emerging professionals like Luke Viscusi (from the non-profit Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, California) also presented, demonstrating how architects have the skills to take any path they set their minds to. Viscusi shared tips for getting hired by non-traditional design firms, resources for how architects can step outside the studio to create better communities, and the story of his own journey into place-based practice.

Similarly, another panel featured young professionals who were animated in discussing their journeys in architecture and their perspectives on the future of architecture in Toronto. These emerging Toronto designers shared how they found their own niche fields through attempting to address challenges within the profession.

AIAS Forum was an empowering conference. It rejuvenated my passion for the industry and reminded me that opportunities for discourse are critical to improving the profession and our own careers.

You can learn more about the conference at https://aiasforum2019.com/

You can hear more from Sharon Vanderkaay at https://vanderpalette.com/

Abhishek Wagle is an architectural designer at Taylor Smyth Architects.