Session 2: Professional Practice

Date: November 4, 2016
Location: Herman Miller Washington DC
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00pm
Led by: Albert Hopper, AIA, LEED AP and Yanwen Xiao, AIA, NCARB

Session 2 PDF


Albert Hopper and Yanwen Xiao organized Session 2, held at the Herman Miller Showroom.  The session consisted of multiple presentations and discussions focusing on the legal and financial considerations of entrepreneurship and partnership, firm start-up experiences and firm management.  The team augmented speakers’ presentations with video clips and an interactive group activity.


During lunch, Herman Miller staff discussed new research on the power of space to create adaptive environments within the healthcare industry that are better for patients and for business.  Following this introduction, the group watched a short video featuring Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group. During the TED Talk, Michael discussed his early career inspirations. These inspirations ultimately led him to become a founding member of the MASS Design Group, which has a philosophy centering on the notion that “Design Can Heal.”

After the video, participants interacted with three local architects who discussed their experiences founding their own firms. Greg Kearley, founder of Inscape Studio and Inscape Publico, discussed the vision and mission that led him to create his firm as well as Inscape Publico – a nonprofit architecture firm that provides professional architecture services for other nonprofits and the people they serve. Carmel Greer, founder of District Design, discussed the challenges she faced starting her own architecture firm in 2010 and how she has grown professionally over the past 6 years. Mark Lawrence, cofounder of El Studio, discussed the founding of the firm and balancing those responsibilities with teaching in academia. Together, these speakers reflected on the lessons that they learned while starting their own firm and discussed the sacrifices and practicalities of being an entrepreneur.

Matt Gaziano, attorney at Lee & McShane PC, built on the panel discussion by reviewing many of the legal and financial considerations architects face when taking an equity stake in a firm or starting out on their own.  Matt provided a framework for evaluating a contract when offered equity in an existing firm, focusing specifically on: due diligence; bylaws; governance; valuation of a firm, and; non-compete agreements. Matt also reviewed the basics of starting an architectural firm including: corporation; licensure; professional liability insurance, and; governance.


Switching gears, the scholars split into three groups for a breakout session exploring motivational misconceptions.  Each group was presented with a hypothetical situation around two different types of management styles. Scholars were asked to discuss and select the type of management style that would motivate the most people to produce a desired outcome. The questions were derived from social science research on how people are motivated. The group watched A TED Talk video by Daniel Pink that challenged many preconceived notions of how people are motivated. Daniel Pink concludes in this presentation that the best way to motivate people is through utilizing intrinsic motivational techniques that promote autonomy, mastery and purpose instead of financial incentives.


Yolanda Cole, founding Partner of Hickok Cole Architects joined the session as the keynote speaker. Yolanda discussed her career path and the decisions she made that lead to co-founding Hickok Cole. She discussed marketing, innovation, business development and how the firm continues to evolve through internal programs such as ILAB which promotes innovation by offering staff the opportunity explore passion projects during their office time.


Session 2 provided participants with an understanding of the challenges architects face when starting their own firm and different ways to overcome obstacles and build successful and fulfilling businesses. Many speakers noted the importance of strategic marketing and networking to help grow a business. The session provided an overview of the legal, financial and jurisdictional requirements for starting a firm. The speakers, breakout session, and videos also explored the challenges of being responsible to employees for more than a paycheck and fulfilling a desire to create forward thinking and socially engaged practices.