As 2020 winds to a close, there is a chance to pause and reflect on what has been a very difficult year. As someone who recently emerged into the profession, I still struggle to tell what truly marks a new year. September’s cool breeze still holds more power than December’s ball drop. In this reflective season, stirred by an anniversary of employment, I have been asking my fellow young professionals, “What has been an experience or opportunity from the past year that you are grateful for?”
It doesn't surprise me that such a question is in my mind. VMDO proudly identifies itself as a teaching office – a place where the holistic support and education of its younger staff is among its most important work. This value stems back to our office’s founding. It was begun by a UVA professor and three of his students to effectively pair academics with practice. Today, this culture is expressed through the daily, generous sharing of information and unique passions, the open exchange between junior architects and principals, and a flexibility towards rethinking systems and processes. The challenges of this year have revealed to me more clearly the values of this place and its people. There is a fundamental feeling of care for each other.
With this preface, I offer you the reflections from some our young professionals on their experiences at VMDO over the last year:
Brady Scott: Perhaps the most unique opportunity which I was afforded was the task of rendering a series of animations through the reimagined interior courtyard designed for George Washington University's Thurston Hall in Washington, DC. Project leadership entrusted me with oversight and organization of the task, providing consistent feedback as I learned a new software and developed a strategic workflow. I was given the opportunity to share my approach and discoveries with the larger firm after project completion, ultimately developing a step-by-step tutorial for future projects with comparable ambitions. The combination of an iterative design approach, complex technical execution, and the sharing and synthesizing of acquired knowledge made for a rewarding and empowering experience for a young professional looking to find his footing in the world of architectural design.
Jing Huang: The four advocacy groups, Design Thursdays, lunch and learns, and BIM courses really bring new energy to every day of my working life. Everyone at VMDO is so dedicated and enthusiastic when teaching younger architects to become professionals and serve our community and society. We learn lessons from others, contribute, and give back what we learned to the office and younger generations again.
Mert Kansu: I am grateful for all the professional experiences the firm has helped me gain. In one instance, I was taken to owner meetings very soon after I conveyed my interest in them. From the happy hours and activities at the workplace, to personal connections I've made with my coworkers outside of work, the firm has provided a warm environment for me to grow professionally and personally. Even though my family is oceans away, I can say I have the VMDO family to trust and rely on!
Michael Spory: Washington, DC has a different feel these days – quieter streets, busier bike lanes, even busier sidewalks. After I moved from Charlottesville to Washington, DC to join the new VMDO office in the District, the pandemic shutdown changed the daily outlook of what working for VMDO DC would look like. Getting to physically bike by our site, watching neighborhood kids play, and experiencing the daily transformations of this particular urban green space brings insight and joy to the daily tasks of architecture, and guides me to imagine the best possible park and rec center that this DC community richly deserves and needs.
Cody Solberg: This balance allows young designers, like me, to broaden my tool belt and become a more well-rounded designer, thinker, and educator. I take great pride in knowing that I am surrounded by passionate, articulate, and thoughtful colleagues who champion successes and use every opportunity as a teaching tool to better our understanding of the profession and the communities which we serve.
Jack Hatcher: Being able to work both professionally and academically this past year has helped me find purpose and escape in these trying times.
David Wilson: One of the most memorable moments for me was a brief pause, when the University of Richmond Basketball Practice + Well-Being Center team gathered to reflect on our project for VMDO’s Ethos publication. It was a chance to take a step back, to celebrate our victories, and reminisce about pages left unturned. This experience provided such a clear picture of the passion and camaraderie that defines our firm, and an encouraging reminder of what I have learned along the way.
Diana Fang: Positive reinforcement is the single greatest motivator, and I don't mind having an onslaught of it on a daily basis. This, in an environment that welcomes the humor and strangeness of our diverse range of personalities, is all I could ask for. I can’t thank the University of Miami Centennial Village team enough for being flexible, sending me down every avenue of design, and letting me explore fun projects within the project.
Jenna Pye: When I interviewed for this position in late February 2020, we were living in a totally different world. I was still getting dressed for work every day. I was fumbling through Zoom calls, because how often were you really on a video call? 9 months into the Pandemic and 8 months into my tenure at VMDO, I am thankful for the opportunity to go through this unique experience with VMDO. I'm thankful for colleagues I've never met in person, who feel like close friends. I'm thankful to be learning the nuts and bolts of George Washington University's Thurston Hall. I'm thankful for the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion about equity in our profession. I'm thankful to everyone who has gone out of their way to make me feel at home at VMDO by opening their attics, basements, and kids' playrooms and for sharing wisdom and passions with me.
James Vidoni: This was a great chance to take the work of the firm on as my own. To reflect on our body of work, to advocate for our office, and to champion our mission, both inside and outside the firm, means so much.
Hana Nguyenky: I am grateful to VMDO for their ready willingness to mentor and support the interests of their emerging professionals. In the year and some months that I’ve been at VMDO, fresh out of grad school with no professional experience, I’ve been assigned and encouraged to pursue so many roles and interests:
- 15 months of CA work as the first and main project assignment
- In-house software training
- Ready access to firm’s various libraries and knowledge-building resources
- Ready access to firm’s fabrication technologies
- Support for conference attendances and certification pursuits
- Leadership roles
Above all, what I truly love about and am grateful to VMDO for, is their belief and practice in relationship building. I’ve seen and experienced VMDO jump in to lift their staff up, check-in on their well-being, come together for professional and personal celebrations, share stories, and provide support for their relationships. VMDO does all that, not as needs, but as wants and beliefs in their importance.