When I saw Discovery Elementary School I knew I had a serious problem. This was, hands down, the most exciting work I’d ever seen: a neighborhood public school - equal parts teaching tool, laboratory, and children’s museum - that integrated student-centered learning and net-zero energy strategies into the building and curriculum! I was ready to sign up that moment, except for one small problem: I’d never designed anything like a school.
The following August, Charlottesville became a stage and synonym for extremist violence. Resolving our national trauma was well above my paygrade, but I wanted to help. Through volunteering, non-profit board service, and local leadership development programs I discovered a talent and passion for bringing people together to solve problems. I helped start a community wealth building program to address inequality and founded two professional networking groups to connect volunteers with critical local needs. Suddenly, I was surrounded by change-agents doing good in my community, and some of them worked at VMDO.
The final straw was a one-two blow of the 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report and David Wallace Wells’ gut-punch of a book, The Uninhabitable Earth. Profoundly affected by what I was reading, I imagined the day when my kids would ask, “Why didn’t you try to stop this?” At its best architecture enables our most vital pursuits – education, arts, worship, governance – but I now believe that architecture- and business-as-usual are not benign. They are harming our society and the fragile climate that sustains life.
My path clear, I could no longer resist the call to change my career trajectory – to leave a job and colleagues I’d loved for thirteen years – to design sustainable places at VMDO. Now, the work that fulfills my heart is the work that fills my days. I feel instantly at home in this team of talented, curious people committed to building resilient communities, improving education at all levels, and strengthening our civic bonds so that all can thrive. I’m eager to find and grow our collective of clients and partners who see sustainability as part of their everyday life and built environment, and to help young designers become effective leaders and architects for change. Together, we can put our shoulders to the wheel of history and give it a shove.
Above Image: The AIA Central Virginia Emerging Professionals Group volunteers their time to imagine new play-and-education spaces for Walker Upper Elementary School in Charlottesville.