My global network of architects

As mentioned in my last post, the change of pace caused by the pandemic has had some silver linings – I’ve gotten better connected with global communities discussing and influencing architecture and construction and how we teach it. In this post, I’ll discuss architectural highlights of the past few weeks.

Pivot to Online learning with the ACSA

On May 7th, I was part of the online discussion series “Pivot to Online Learning” being hosted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) across North America. This organization has an odd name, but is a rough equivalent of the Engineers Professors Council in the UK.

The topic of the night was “New Possibilities for 1st Year Design Studio.” Video of the event is available online and you can also download the chat (by clicking here).

As the evening’s lead facilitator, Brad Grant, explained in the session’s abstract, “1st Year Design Studio is an especially challenging class to shift from the traditional teaching environment to remote and online teaching.  Introducing the design process, skill building and studio culture to beginning students remotely requires us to transform our traditional teaching practices in novel and in a variety of ways. In this session we will discuss and look to the ways used and imagined to make this leap from the physical studio setting to the online setting for the 1st year design curriculum.”

The ASCA session was 90 minutes long and we had 100 participants the entire time — the maximum number the Zoom room would hold! In fact, attendees started logging in and sharing ideas up to half an hour before the official start, and the ACSA organizers were hard pressed to wrap up after 90 minutes.

Participants were really jazzed up about sharing ideas. I was, too, and it was 2 AM Dublin time when we finished! It was truly a dialogue among peers, following very short presentations by:

  • Bradford Grant, Professor, Howard University
  • Kristina Crenshaw, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Howard University
  • Dr. Shannon Chance, Lecturer and Programme Chair, Technological University Dublin
  • Margarida Yin, Lecturer, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo
  • Theophile Ngargmeni, 1st year student, Howard University

This was an amazing experience for me. The 100 participants included so many of my past teachers and teaching colleagues. On the screen above, you can see a few — Brad Grant, Carmina Sanchez, and Ronald Kloster who I taught with at Hampton University. Mark Blizard and Shelly Martin who taught me at Virginia Tech. Andrew Chin, who I’ve been in contact with ever since I chaired the 20th National Conference on the Beginning Design Student at Hampton University in 2004. So many other familiar faces and names were in the audience — Steven Temple, Bob Dunay, Jori Erdman, Norma Blizard….

It was touching to be in a virtual room full of people who have shaped my life. As I told them, one of my biggest passions in life is Second Year Architecture. I don’t get to teach it these days, and I miss it! Those couple hours are forever in my memory. A true honor and privledge.

New topics are being explored weekly via this ACSA forum. You can view plans and schedules on the ACSA web page for the “Pivot to Online Learning” DISCUSSION SESSIONS + VIDEOS.

Architectural Engineering curriculum design

Over the past months, I’ve also been working on a project with University College London, where we’re designing two new engineering programs — one in architectural engineering and a second in electrical engineering. Our curriculum development team is coming together and we’ve started meeting fortnightly (that’s every other week for those of us who speak American English!). I’m currently focused on designing the AE.1.1 “Introduction to Architecture, Environment and Construction” laboratory module. The curriculum is for a new university in Cairo, Egypt.

NAAB service and NCARB studies

Just before the lockdown, I did a little work for the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), reviewing a university’s proposal to modify its course requirements. Serving the NAAB on visiting teams as well as smaller projects like this keeps me up-to-date with policies and procedures surrounding accreditation of architecture programs in North America and beyond (via substantial equivalency).

The lockdown has provide they type of slowing down I needed to wrap up my periodic Continuing Professional Development as an Architect as well. Although I constantly attend architecture programs and lectures, the Commonwealth of Virginia requires Registered Architects to complete learning units structured and monitored for quality in very specific ways. This isn’t so easy to achieve while living in Europe.

The easy way to earn CDP units is to attend big conference and check in at the sessions. I’d hoped to attend the AIA Europe conferences this year in Porto or Cork, but the pandemic put those plans on hold. Instead, I completed over 16 hours of study using monographs from NCARB (the National Architectural Accrediting Board) and completing online tests.

The NCARB short monographs are good quality, but the tests leave something to be desired — they don’t really assess understanding of critical concepts. Rather they often test on nit-picky wordings using multiple choice designs. But I know well that writing test questions requires skill — skill I’ve learned slowly and deliberately over time. In writing assessment instruments now, I seek to help students lock their new understandings into place as they reflect upon, write about, or calculate answers. A test, if well composed, becomes a mechanism for more robust learning.

By the end of this testing experience, I was frustrated enough that I emailed NCARB my concerns — they agreed with my assessment and fixed both problems I’d flagged. They even asked me to let them know about issued I’d found in other tests I’d taken. So now, I need to dig through my notes and send them info to help fix a couple other items.

Fulbright birthday call

In the days just after I’d completed architectural license, I attended my first AIA (American Institute of Architects) convention in LA alongside Tarrah Beebe who provided me a place to stay. I’d met Tarrah at an accreditation visit to USC, the University of Southern California. She was representing the student voice as a student leader. I told her about the Fulbright-Hays programm I was planning — bringing 25 architecture students from the USA to Tanzania to study for five weeks. She was enthusiastic, and asked her new employer for a delayed start date.

Tarrah had a birthday this past Sunday, and she invited five of us from that trip to an online birthday party. Zoom was down, but Facebook Messenger did the trick! As we are a global group of architects, Tarrah had to dial in at 7AM Pacific time. It was 3 PM Dublin time, so I tuned in from Sandymount after cycling to the far edge of my 5km radius, the extent to which we’re allowed from home for exercise. It was overcast and a bit cool outside, but I needed some sun and weekends afford the time!

Round-the-world Birthday Celebration with: Tarrah in LA; Shannon in Dublin, Ireland; Donald in Brooklyn, NY; Violet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Thomas in Bangkok, Thailand.

Why so early a call for Tarrah? You see, our colleague Thomas A. Allen, AIA, MSRE, LEED AP is currently over in Bangkok, Thailand. He’d earned a travel Fellowship from the University of California and has been able to set himself up working as an architect from a laptop. Today he’s able to serve his existing clients from anywhere in the world, and his client base is growing. He doesn’t expect to go home anytime soon. In fact, he’s waiting for the borders of Australia to re-open; in the meantime he may well visit Singapore or Malaysia.

The lovely and talented architect Violet Mafuwe tuned in from Dar es Salaam. Violet recently made a week-long series of posts on @beyondthebuilt on Instagram. She is the Creative Designs Director at Space Consult Architects in Tanzania.

A photo of Violet with students, showing them her project for a bank. She works daily on site 3D (interior and outside). The project will be completed late this year (2020).

Several of the birthday participants have been featured on Instagram’s @beyondthebuilt, including Tarrah and Thomas. In one of her posts, Tarrah wrote:

The experience that I am most grateful for was a 5 week long Fulbright-Hayes trip to Dar Es Salaam. I was asked to apply in my last semester of grad school by @shanchan7 and I said no, that I had just accepted my job at @kfalosangeles. I couldn’t even locate Tz on a map. Then a little voice told me I needed to do this.
Along with architecture students mainly from Kansas State and Hampton University, I got on that plane, knowing no one with no idea what to expect.
Our project was to work with Tanzanian architecture students at Ardhi University to come up with a vision of the informal settlement of Keko Magurumbasi. This settlement was slated for demolition and redevelopment. We were trying to help the residents show the government that it was a better option to provide infrastructure to what was already there rather than rebuild from scratch.
Besides the incredible experience of working with students from Tanzania, the collaboration among American students was a complex and powerful experience as well. There were such valuable lessons in urban design but also race, tolerance, diversity, and above all, listening.
I am still friends with many people from this trip, American and Tanzanian. One of my Tanzanian friends @vaimafuwe even came to the US to visit me! I have been back to Tanzania a few times since then, which I will get into in my second Tz post. Every time I get off the plane, I feel a little bit of home.
So I can say, hands down, this trip changed my life.

Tarrah posted many photos, including the flier I’d made to publicize the trip:

Image may contain: 1 person, text and outdoor

Another smiling face on our call, Donald Roman, is Project Manager at LIGHTING WORKSHOP INC. in Brooklyn, NY. Donald and his wife, Fabiola, were featured in the New York Times for their design flair. Donald was my student at Hampton University and addition to traveling to Tanzania on this program, we spent a lot of time together during his five years at Hampton University. These days Donald specializes in lighting design and business is booming, despite the pandemic.

<img src="; alt="<strong>The Buyers
Photo of Fabiola and Donald Roman taken by David Payr and published in The New York Times in 2013.

Though not in the snapshot above, our friend Kelly Thacker also joined the birthday call for a few minutes, dialing in from a car in Detroit, with the help of her sister who she was driving to the airport. Kelly is Associate Director Housing Operations at Wayne State University; she wasn’t studying architecture when we travelled to Tanzania but was learning to support students via university programs. In 2005, Kelly was working on her MSc in Counseling and Student Development, and she completed a PhD in the subject in 2012.

It was a great experience for us all — the trip and the birthday call — and we hope for a repeat soon!

Photo of the US and Tanzanian students and teachers together in 2005, visiting Bagamoyo. Kelly and Tarrah are center front. I’m second from the right. Donald is top row, third from the right, and Thomas it the top row, second from the left. Our photo is missing Violet, though she was with us that day.