Last week was National Architecture week, and as the economy continues to pick up in our area architects around the city are in a more intensive work period than we have seen in years. As many firms are working overtime to accomplish work for their clients, some architects are also taking time to educate and inform students who might someday pursue a career in architecture. At IKM Architects in Pittsburgh, cultivating the next generation of architects has become part of the culture.
“Our mission is to be innovative and informed and by doing so to positively impact our world” said Michael McDonnell, AIA, principal architect with IKM. “While this most directly affects our designs, our mission encourages us to reach out into the community to promote our profession, as well.” McDonnell, who is serving as President of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects for 2016, continued, “Every architect has the opportunity to make a positive impact. Encouraging young, creative minds is another way we can make a difference.”
Communicating about the profession is energizing for Matt Hansen, AIA, Associate and Project Manager at IKM Incorporated. Recently, Hansen collaborated with students from Moon and Montour High Schools working on the Energy Innovation Challenge project. This project is a design challenge with the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) and Parkway West Career and Technology Center. The program brought in students from four schools: Moon, Montour, Chartiers Valley and West Allegheny to learn about the importance of water management issues by learning about the EIC and how the storm water mitigation is addressed. Students, then, look at Letsche Elementary School to apply what they have learned to come up with solutions to address challenges at Letsche.
“The focus of our group is a green roof installation to reduce storm water runoff,” said Hansen. “The students ask thoughtful questions and think creatively about possible solutions. They are using problem solving skills they have learned in math and science and applying those to a new situation.” Hansen continued, “I really enjoy interacting with them.”
Allison Wertz, AIA, project architect with IKM, volunteered to teach an 8-week course at Arsenal school, in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, through a program called “EQUIP Architecture Backpacks” which is coordinated by Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture as part of its Architecture Explorations program.
The program pairs elementary school teachers and classes with architectural and design professionals and provides all of the materials and curriculum needed to teach the class. Each 8-week workshop is a different topic and Wertz taught “Architecture without walls” dealing with site design, landscape architecture, and urban design ideas.
“A lot of the kids in these classes may have never heard of an architect before or have no idea what we do, so it’s a great way to expose them to something new and different that they were most likely never exposed to in the past. Sometimes that simple exposure ignites a spark of interest,” said Wertz.
In addition, Wertz is also hosting a junior from Carrick High School in the IKM offices weekly this Spring through “Start on Success,” a program designed to provide mentoring opportunities for vocational exploration. The primary goal of this project, through instruction in the classroom and in the community, is to increase the career potential of students and prepare them for competitive employment after high school. The school places kids in work settings based on areas of interest, the professional serves as a mentor in the field.
Also in the office, Tami Greene, AIA, NCARB, Associate and Project Manager at IKM, not only manages the office program to mentor employed graduate architects but also does her part with the K-12 students as well. Ms. Green has hosted two students this school year in the IKM offices for a day of “job-shadowing.” On a scheduled day, each student comes in and spends the day immersed in what it is like to work in an architecture office. They get to attend meetings, sit in on design reviews, observe and ask questions.
“It does take away some of the perceived “glamour” of being an architect. Rather, it gives them an idea of the pace and detail that are required to be successful,” says Ms. Greene. “We often talk about the challenges of the 5-year college programs and the rigor of the professional architectural registration exams that follow.” Ms. Greene also visited Hampton High School to meet with Interior Design students and talk about Interior Architecture.
IKM principal architect, Michael McDonnell, AIA, participated in Upper Saint Clair Fort Couch School’s Career Day. McDonnell gave presentations to four small groups of students about the education and daily activities of an architect. “At this age, we hope to inspire them by the possibilities,” said McDonnell. “I brought my personal sketch books, project drawings, bum-wad, triangles and parallel edge. I also shared past copies of the IKM Holiday card as examples of freehand drawing.”
“We are doing our part to encourage future architects,” says McDonnell. “At a time when hiring is difficult and finding skilled and qualified professionals is a challenge, we hope all architects will consider reaching out to the community to make a difference in a young person’s life and plant seeds to support the profession in the future.”