18 OCT 17 | AIA 2017

W8 goes to AIA Colorado!

Two weeks ago, the whole studio went to Keystone for the annual conference of the Colorado chapter of AIA (American Institute of Architects) where we all learned a TON, had a blast, won some prizes, and got left behind by Joseph on the Friday morning bike ride. Here is everyone’s takeaways from the day of the conference we attended:


While all the other W8ers were listening to session speakers, I snuck into a 4 hour leadership exercise. One of panelists was Chistof Meyer of Egg Strategy, a Boulder-based strategy and innovation consultant. Christof said something that I thought is always worth remembering and reminding my team: believe that within every project, there is the possibility to create something amazing.

Regardless of budget or physical constraints, you can still make it cool. To that end, we discussed keeping these points in mind during the design process:

  • Connect emotionally with the goals of the project, the client, and the program
  • Collect a bunch of crazy ideas, get messy, and embrace confusion
  • Value the needs of all stakeholders and do your best to integrate them into the project

To illustrate the concepts we discussed, I found these two images:

AIA 2017 architectural venn diagram

AIA 2017 architectural design process


My main takeaway was from the Lam-Wood Systems, Inc. table in the Expo Hall. They sell various engineered wood products including I-joists, Glue-lams, and LVLs. The product I was most intrigued by was their Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) system out of Canada called Crosslam. It is essentially a giant piece of plywood, engineered to act as a wall, floor, or roof. There is an outside chance we will be able to use this exciting new product in an upcoming project; we will keep you posted!

(Editor Melissa’s note: Joseph did indeed leave the W8 condo early Friday morning for a bike ride, leaving all of the other cyclists of W8 to sleep in and miss the fun…here’s his selfie proof!)

AIA 2017 Joseph


Being from Europe, Susan Szenasy hit home with her commentary on architectural copying of European (Italian in particular) vernacular that defines public spaces. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

“Architects come to Europe and love the vibrancy of the piazzas all over Italy. They copy the piazzas materials into strip malls and wonder why they don’t get the same response as in Europe.”

AIA Colorado piazza

Of course, the Italian piazzas have been developed over centuries prior to the intrusion of the automobile. Hanging out at piazzas was something that the Italians did at the end of the day with a glass of wine as they discussed their day, politics and romance. I agree with Susan that this won’t be something that can be replicated in the United States. The culture is vastly different and requires a different set of solutions…it is my experience that the US culture is not (and may never be) ready for the intimate settings of the piazzas, but it’s a feeling we as designers should try to evoke. 

(In case you mis-read “piazzas” as “pizzas,” you guessed it, we did all order pizza in the evening after we shifted from learning to hanging out.)


For me, the 2017 AIA Conference reinforced the idea that taking the time to really know, understand, and pull inspiration from the end user creates the most successful and rewarding projects. This was a common thread throughout most of the presentations on Thursday and it was refreshing and exciting to hear how great designers continually learn and relate back to the client and the end user. It seems that sometimes we see designers get a general sense of what the client wants and then let their ego take the lead. 

Joan Soranno spent years learning and preparing before finishing the Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum in Minneapolis. She had to consider what type of materials will withstand the test of time, how to use them without creating a cold, hard and depressing environment, and how to then tie this new building back to the existing chapel and landscaping in the cemetery. Apart from the aesthetics, she had to dig into the business side of mausoleums and consider the customer / end user’s needs. She had to really think about what would make someone want to make this mausoleum their final resting place, is it the beauty of the building itself? The location? The feeling of the space to the friends and family members who will visit to pay homage? Joan took the time to research and learn about mausoleums, the site, and the customer to create an incredibly stunning and successful project. (The following images are sourced from HGA)

AIA 2017 Chelsea 01

AIA 2017 Chelsea 02

AIA 2017 Chelsea 03

Niall McLaughlin spoke about designing the Alzheimer’s Respite Centre in Dublin. Like Joan, he also spent years learning about the end user. He and his colleagues would visit the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland frequently to talk to doctors, nurses, and patients to really gain an understanding of what that specific population needs. They started by learning about the science of the disease, the symptoms and effects, and common treatments. Then they started spending time with and studying people who are affected by Alzheimer’s to gain an understanding of how they feel, how they function in their current space, and what would be more comforting and appropriate in their new space. The years of preparation Niall took before designing this space resulted in a project that “alleviates disorientation, confusion, and aggression” and “promotes sociable interaction and sense of security.” (The following images are sourced from Naill McLaughlin.)

Thank you to Joan and Niall for reminding us that time spent learning and getting to know the end user of our projects is invaluable. (And for inspiring me to add a mausoleum to my design bucket list!)


This was my first time attending the AIA conference and it was a thrilling experience. What I really admired from the conference were the women speakers and the work they have done to give all of us women a louder voice in the architecture field. They were very passionate about starting a movement for female architects to build confidence and break the stereotypical norms.

In the expo hall, we all completed a networking exercise for a chance to win prizes. The winners were selected on Thursday night, and I won a day to go fly fishing with Brad Nicol. This was my first time fly fishing and I caught a 16” brown trout! 

AIA 2017 Lyris

I had a great time bonding with my WORKSHOP8 teammates and can’t wait for next year’s AIA!


Ok here we go…

It’s hard to summarize an entire day at a state-wide architecture convention (or at least in a way that would be somewhat interesting), but when I walked out of the Keystone Convention center a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the time I spent in architecture school (queue Dramatic Hamster clip here).

But I’m not talking about the architecture school experience everyone remembers with the all-nighters, the sympathy you received from students in different majors, or the occasional guest critic who would shatter your hopes and dreams of ever becoming an architect. I’m talking about the REASON we went to architecture school in the first place and why I’m still happy I made the decision to do so.

While I was in school, I sought inspiration from a lot of different sources: other architects’ work, a memory, or a different part of the world. It got me fired up and it helped me become a better designer. I don’t want to say I don’t still look to those sources for inspiration, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when contracts, budgets, redlines, and product research (the things you don’t learn about in school), are just as important as the design you are trying to achieve. It was Joan Soranno’s lecture about buildings she has designed that integrate elements of time and permanence, Hiroshi Okamoto’s lecture explaining the process of trial and error and what it takes to achieve beautiful architectural details, and Fernando Menis’ lecture describing an organic, yet systematic approach to designing with light and shadow. All of them reminded me that architecture is freaking awesome.


We may not all be designing on unlimited budgets, but we as architects are creating habitats that people experience on a daily basis, and it is up to us to make sure it gets done right. Susan Szenasy and Niall McLaughlin both emphasized this notion with their talks on walkable cities and the role that memory serves on the environment. To me this means that in every kind of space, whether it be a single family home or a downtown boulevard, we are given the incredible opportunity to form positive experiences.


My big takeaway from attending AIA was noticing the word “millennials” sprinkled throughout the presentations, specifically how the presenters used the word, often stating, “millennials do this and millennials do that.” All of this talk about millennials made me wonder: if this generation is so influential, why are other generations telling us about millennials? Why are the millennials themselves not up on stage telling us their story from their perspective?  If we are generalizing an entire generation for whom we are building a future but we don’t understand their needs from their perspective, we may end up not designing for them after all.

Also, I won a gift basket of wine through the networking raffle in the expo hall!

AIA 2017 Ivan


The AIA Colorado conference in Keystone was an eye opening experience of how different designers perceive art and culture and how it was presented through their design. While some designers built off pre-existing structures to influence a new aspect of their design, others searched for local resources for their inspiration. One project in particular, the Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum by HGA Architects in Minnesota, emphasized the elegance of light within the structure. The firm spent over four years working on this project and did not skimp on any attention to detail. The presentation consisted of a few photographs and a five minute video displaying a great combination of time lapse photography and smooth transitions that not only captured the small details but displayed the great use of natural light inside the mausoleum.  As I move toward film and production with my photography I am excited to try some of their techniques in future projects and productions out in the field.


Melissa McGinley, Graphic Designer / Business Development / Marketing Manager / Studio Manager
18 October 2017