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UVA AIAS Visits Design Develop Office

Finding and mentoring the next generation of professional architects is one of the primary goals at Design Develop.


We are always thinking about how our firm can be the type of place where new architects feel excited to get to work, valued for their input and challenged to try new things. With this in mind, we recently hosted a firm visit for the University of Virginia chapter of The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS).


Tabi Summers is the UVA AIAS Vice President and a third-year student at the Architecture School at UVA this year. We wanted to hear more from her about the group’s experience visiting firms and learning more about the industry as well as what young professionals are looking for as they begin their careers. She was kind enough to grant us a more personal interview and we found her answers so engaging and interesting, we wanted to share them here.


Give us some background on the AIAS group - what type of activities do you organize or participate in and what are some of the group’s goals?


The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) is a national organization of which The University of Virginia has an active chapter. The national organization recently recognized our chapter as the "fastest growing chapter in the Northeast," and named our president "Chapter Leader of the Month" in August.


At UVA, AIAS organizes several types of events in hopes of providing information about the

profession, career connections, and professional skill development. Lunch + Learns are one of

our most popular event types. We often host architecture firms to discuss their particular niche

within the profession followed by time to network and socialize. We have also held a panel with

young alumni to discuss the transition to the profession or grad school. We enjoy hosting

sketching workshops and revit and CAD tutorials.


We have several more relaxed events such as the napkin sketch competition which invites students to make a quick napkin sketch which is then put to auction to all members of the school. The funds from this auction go to the Blue Ridge Food Bank. During final reviews, we provide snacks and support for students.


This year we have also launched the first ever website for the chapter, restarted the

Design-Build program, and created a student guide, which we were invited to present to the

entire first year class at the beginning of the school year.


Can you give us your perspective of your visit to the Design Develop office?


Design Develop is an engaged architecture firm, clearly representing their core value

that architecture is a service industry. Hearing Bob describe this philosophy for the first time was

extremely inspiring to me and continues to inhabit my design sensibilities as I examine the

building occupants and neighbors outlined in my own project briefs in school. Design Develop’s

characteristics as an intimate work environment and the opportunities for project variety and

leadership are broadly appealing to students.


What are you and your peers looking for when they’re touring and researching potential employers, firms, even industries within architecture?


Architecture is a pretty dispersed industry. Unlike students aspiring for positions in tech

and banking, architecture students face an altered sense of recognition and affirmation while seeking internships. Yet, architecture students still crave an understanding that a chosen firm will challenge them to grow.


UVa students generally express interest in firms that exhibit the visual styles and design

strategies that the student has grown to prefer or aspire to in their own work. A precise

difference between academic and professional architecture seems to be a reduced sense of

wonder. Current UVa students seem to seek firms that embrace novelty through work culture,

design mission, representational style, and research pursuits.


How do you think these firm visits help students in the organization overall?


AIAS hosts a large variety and quantity of professional development and connections in

Campbell Hall, but the events that student members seem to find most significant are firm visits.

Interacting with a catalog of drawings, renderings, and especially models at a personal pace,

rather than through a powerpoint presentation, allows students to engage more deeply with the

work of the firm.


Firm visits give the opportunity to connect more individually with the designers. Experiencing office space provides valuable insight into a firm's stances on collaboration and workflow. The more candid conversations that occur during firm visits effectively demystify the profession, one of the chief aims of AIAS at UVa.


Do you think those visits bring some value to the hosting firms as well?


As someone who is still in school, I often find it funny that practicing architects are so interested in what is happening at school, at UVa, when they return to Charlottesville. Even more so, it is curious to me that so many professionals are interested in what is happening in universities generally, without personal connection.


As Vice president of AIAS and an ambassador for the School of Architecture, I often give tours to professionals or AIA Virginia representatives visiting for career events and meetings. These guests are regularly fascinated with the models and drawings produced in foundation studios. I think this curiosity relates to my earlier comment about wonder and novelty. Academic architecture is unshackled by client desires, budget constraints, and a level of structural requirements. Academic architecture indulges in diagrammatic and creative representation to an extent that becomes impractical professionally. But it is this foundational experience of testing design limits that trains the creative thinking and problem solving that is essential to the profession. Firm visits can benefit the host firm through exposure to the students’ aspirational passion for architecture and unbound creative explorations.



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