ARCHITECTURE New York State | Q4 | February '23

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The Tri-State Small Firm Symposium and the Tri-State Legal Series, shared information and resources for small firms to learn how to operate more effectively and efficiently, and covered issues affecting the architectural and design professions. Several subject matter experts who presented during these successful programs share their knowledge, best practices and expertise in this issue. Whether you want to refresh your memory from the sessions you attended or learn something new, this issue is packed with valuable information and resources that relate to the business of architecture.


President’s Letter 5

Executive Vice President’s Letter 6

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Critical Skills that Change Culture, Build Trust and Cultivate Leadership 8

From Mission to Elevator Pitch: How Knowing Your “Why” Builds Firm-Wide Business Development Confidence 12

Ownership Transition Options for Small Firms 16

To Win Approvals for Innovative Design: Connect Through Storytelling 18

Data Driven Design: Preparing for the Hybrid Future of Work 22

Maintaining Design Integrity with Data-Driven Decision Making 26

Make the Shift – Including Proactive Marketing in Your Reactive Strategy 30

The Restorative Impact of Perceived Open Space Architectural Illusions Give New Life to Isolated Interiors 34

The Architect’s Decision to Perform Construction Administration Services and How to Manage the Risk 38

Insurance Agent Insights - Circumstances: The Pitfalls and Strategies of Dealing with Claims Before they Become Claims 40



On January 26, I had the privilege of installing the incoming Board and Officers during the Installation Dinner. As I wrap up my year as President of AIA New York State and reflect upon 2022, I feel a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment, particularly as we continue to navigate the outcomes of a pandemic that still impact the way we work and interact with one another.

Whether it has been collaborating with my fellow board members, staff, or member volunteers, I am fortunate to be in the company of knowledgeable and dedicated leaders.

I am encouraged at the prospects that 2023 will bring for the American Institute of Architects, AIA New York State our local chapters and the communities we serve. Some of the efforts we embarked upon last year include:

• Submitting testimony to the NYS Climate Action Council on the Draft Scoping Plan;

• Advocating to implement NCARB’s ARE ESL accommodations;

• Participating in COP27;

• Offering 68 education programs, online seminars and symposiums including the Tri-State Legal Series and award-winning Tri-State Small Firm Symposium in conjunction with AIA New Jersey and AIA Pennsylvania;

• Creating publications that offer subject matter expertise on connecting community, climate action, education and the business of architecture;

• Releasing podcasts as part of our Visibility Campaign that celebrated Black leaders, revealed hidden histories of female architects, discussed an architect’s alternate career path and an architect’s role in healthy communities;

• Reigniting a Board Project that will showcase projects from our 13 chapters that impact their communities;

• Recognizing the efforts of the Unified Task Force City & State through awards from ESSAE, ASAE and AIA; and

• Initiating our Governance Review Project so that we may streamline and implement best practices for a stronger organizational and governance structure.

If you’d like to see a more comprehensive list of accomplishments, along with some of the initiatives we are looking forward to in 2023, you may view the 2022 Annual Report video by clicking here

Thank you for your continued dedication, loyalty and support. It was an honor serve as your President, and I look forward to continued success in the year ahead with continued efforts to promote the profession and practice of architecture.

Let us continue to march through 2023 with pride of what we have accomplished and the drive to make this year even more amazing.




Enthusiastic Board and Officers Set Tone for 2023

We’re Back!

After kicking off the past two years in a virtual setting, the January cold did not dampen the energy and enthusiasm during this year’s in-person Board Orientation and inaugural meeting in Albany, NY. During orientation, the Board adopted a quote as their motto from Peter Drucker, a widely-known and influential thinker on management—“Systematic change requires a willingness to look on change as an opportunity,” and at the onset of the Board meeting, participated in a lively conversation with AIA President Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA.


An experience for today that makes a difference for tomorrow is one way to look at Board service. Decisions are made through a combination of data and historic intuition that Board members and Officers bring to the table. They interact with leaders from across New York, serving over 9,000 members that make up AIA New York State. By the end of the year, a solid cohort emerges, using the Strategic Plan as their map. The Board works as a unified group, putting aside chapter and firm boundaries to best serve the members of AIANYS.


As a requirement by the American Institute of Architects and a best practice, Board members are provided resources that outline both legal and operational responsibilities including fiduciary responsibilities and modules on Anti-Trust and Harassment. The sessions are provided by attorneys both known nationally and throughout New York State.

AIA New York State’s Legislative Counsel, Richard Leckerling, Esq., and Kevin Quinn, Esq., of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, advised the Board on lobbying requirements. Erin Callahan, Esq., also of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, provided a session on Harassment. Anthony DiBrita, Esq., of Zetlin & DeChiara, acts as AIANYS’s Legal Counsel, providing guidance on projects. A lighter part of the Board Orientation included team building exercises and social events that conclude with the Installation of the Officers and the Board.

This year, projects on the boards include a review of the Governance and Organizational structure of the State Component; launching a new website; a laser focused Legislative event at the New York State Capitol and locally; a rebranded offering of AIANYS Podcasts; and the development of several practice focused conferences that range from Legal and Marketing to Affordable Housing and Connecting Neighborhoods.

In 2023, the Board will focus on three different strategic discussions—Empowering the New Workforce; Next Gen Professionals and Automating Work x 2. They will also continue their discussions on the impact of Climate Change.

The 2023 Board of Directors is a group of dedicated architects and design professionals who travel to Albany several times a year, spend time in lively discussion and cordial debate, all for the betterment of the practice and the organization.


Serving on the 2023 Board are:


President | Paul McDonnell, AIA

President-Elect | Willy Zambrano, FAIA

Immediate Past President | Pasquale Marchese, AIA

Vice President, Government Advocacy | Giuseppe Anzalone, AIA

Vice President, Education | Jeffrey Pawlowski, AIA

Vice President, Communications & Public Awareness | Casey Crossley, AIA

Treasurer | Andrew Harding, AIA

Secretary | Tonja Adair, AIA


Director | Sarah Bruce, AIA

Director | Danei Cesario, AIA

Director | Kritika Dhanda, Assoc. AIA

Director | Richard Kruter, AIA

Director | Andrea Lamberti, AIA

Director | Christopher Less, AIA

Director | Julian J. Misiurski III, AIA

Director | Jacob Rivalsi, AIA

Director | Michael Short, AIA

Director | Richard Stott, AIA

Director | Nell Taranto, AIA

Director | Seth Wiley, AIA

Director | Charles Woodcock, AIA

Director | Mi Zhang, AIA

Associate Director | Leah Przybylski, Assoc. AIA

Student Director | Jaifer Sultan

New York State Representative to the Young Architects Forum | Wei Wang, AIA

New York State Representative to the National Associates Committee | Ayo Yusuf, Assoc. AIA

Also, elected to serve as a New York State Member to the AIA Strategic Council, Ex-Officio Members of the Board is Peter Wehner, AIA. He will join sitting members of the Council, Victor Han, AIA and Graciela Carrillo, AIA.

If you are interested in learning more about AIA New York State Board service or becoming involved with AIA New York State, please contact Georgi Ann Bailey, CAE, Executive Vice President, AIANYS at

We are looking forward to a terrific member centric year filled with anticipation and a positive outlook on what the Board, the Officers and the AIANYS team of staff specialists will achieve together.




In a world where companies lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each year because employees, customers and stakeholders walk out the door, it’s time to pay attention to what matters most, and more than ever: your people. Making simple and powerful shifts that get to the heart of real leadership, humanize interactions to improve morale, and increase long-term profitability are the keys to changing and elevating workplace culture and productivity.

Empathy, emotional intelligence and servant leadership have always been important skills for leaders to hone, but given the overwhelming change our world has experienced throughout the pandemic and beyond, these skills have taken on a more critical meaning and level of priority.

The pandemic continues to affect us individually, organizationally, and societally. We have been forced to discover new ways of operating and collaborating together, navigating challenges like remote work, layoffs and furloughs, and increased mental health issues. This moment calls for a more thoughtful leadership approach: one that focuses on connecting and serving those around us.

You may be someone who has always recognized the benefits of empathy in regard to relationship-building and general positivity, but new research informs us that empathy greatly impacts other areas of bottom-line wellness, from innovation and creativity to employee engagement and retention. Outstanding leadership requires a blend of many skills and strengths to


curate an environment that is both high-performing and joyful, and recent studies show that empathy lands at the very top of the list.

Why has empathy become so critical? The fact of the matter is that people are more stressed than ever, and data suggests that it is indeed related to how our professional and personal worlds have been flipped inside-out during the pandemic.

According to a global study executed by Qualtrics, 42% of people have experienced a decline in mental health. More specifically, 67% of people have experienced increased stress, while 57% have increased levels of anxiety, and 54% say they are emotionally exhausted. Research by Georgetown University shows that workplace incivility is increasing and the effects are extensive, including suffering performance and collaboration, as well as deteriorating customer experiences and increased turnover.

How do we navigate these pain points for our teams, which we know affects not only how they interact at home and at work, but also trickles down and affects our customer experience and turnover in the company? A recent study by Catalyst found that empathy significantly and constructively impacts elements including innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, work-life balance, and cooperation.

According to this study, 61% of employees reported that when their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to be innovative, compared to just 13% of employees who had less empathetic leaders. 76% of people who experienced empathetic leadership said that they were engaged, versus only 32% of employees who experienced less empathy. Research done by Evolutionary Biology shows when empathy is present in making decisions, it leads to increased collaboration and elevated levels of empathy amongst people. In other words, the use of empathy leads to more empathy.

It is important to note that leaders do not need to be experts in the area of mental health to demonstrate effective levels of empathy. Simply checking in, asking intentional questions and picking up on cues from those around them makes a differ-

ence. Or, when considering an employee’s behavior, a leader can take time to consider their teammate’s thoughts via cognitive empathy. For example, a leader might consider, “if I were in their position right now, what would I be thinking?” Leaders can also leverage emotional empathy and focus on the employee’s feelings, asking themselves, “how would I feel if I were in their position?”. The most important component of empathy is taking action. People trust leaders when there is alignment between what the leader says and how they behave.

Emotional intelligence is also a highly important leadership skill, especially in the current state of the world. When you have high emotional intelligence, as a leader, you are able to influence increased employee engagement, retention and performance.

Emotional intelligence in action means that leaders understand the effect they have on their team, they have enhanced communication and listening skills, they demonstrate their ability to manage their own emotions, even in times of stress, and they are capable of understanding the emotional state of others. However, one cannot have a high level of emotional intelligence without having a high level of self-awareness. It is important that leaders are aware of their strengths as an individual so that they are conscious of moments where they need to reduce one strength and activate another. Strength assessments help us get to know ourselves better, which is critical when developing emotional intelligence, because self-awareness is the foundation for emotional intelligence, or your ability to effectively “read the room.” It is also beneficial

to have current and future employees take these assessments so their competencies, or learned abilities, become clearer. The third method of improving workplace culture and productivity is servant leadership, also known as service before self, or rising by lifting others. A servant leader’s focus is primarily on the well-being and growth of those around them. They are power-sharers, not hoarders, and tend to put other people’s needs above their own in order to enable their team to grow and thrive to the best of their ability.

Becoming a people-focused leader begins with communication that is rooted in vulnerability. Researcher Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” Brown says that vulnerability is the source of empathy and authenticity. The best way to achieve honest, open communication is to lead by example and not be afraid to show others that you’re willing to be vulnerable and human, too.

It’s not only important to communicate and engage with others vulnerably, but also consistently and transparently,

“ People trust leaders when there is alignment between what the leader says and how they behave. ”

especially in a state of instability and crisis, where people are searching for certainty and safety. Offering clarity, direction, and reassurance about a person’s job, the organization and their future, builds trust with the leader. Sharing updates is important, but so is involving your team in finding a solution. Including your team not only keeps people invested in the outcome of the collective future of the organization, but it also demonstrates transparency, which is critical during times of uncertainty.

When you have check-ins with your teammates, ensure that some of your time together is spent simply checking in without a motive of persuading them to do something; you’re seeking to better understand how they’re doing and how you can better support them. These conversations also serve as an opportunity for you to dig into what their “why” is: What drives them? What motivates them? What beliefs do they have about the work they do? Why are they personally invested in being part of the organization? Understanding what motivates each person on your team allows you to customize and optimize the way you serve their needs. When you feed their why, or their mission, they feel more connected to their work and their overall work experience.

Empathy, emotional intelligence and servant leadership are not brand new skills or strategies, but research tells us that these

Courtney Stanley is recognized globally as an award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker and event emcee, and is the creator and host of the podcast for leading women in business, Dare to Interrupt. Courtney has spent more than a decade helping professionals, entrepreneurs and organizations engage in game-changing, impactful conversations that empower individuals to tap into their true potential, improve team and culture dynamics, and drive meaningful change. With a background in experience design, leadership studies and business strategy, Courtney empowers people from all walks of life to lean fiercely into the power of leading with empathy, advocating for themselves and others, and seizing silver lining opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Her mission to inspire professionals through vulnerable, meaningful dialogue has resulted in changed behaviors and altered approaches to leadership across the world.

Social Media Information:

TW / FB / IG: @courtneyonstage

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Imagine: a project manager at your firm meets an ideal client at a networking event. It’s just the two of them at the cheese board…

Ideal client: “So (looking at nametag), what do you do? I’m unfamiliar with your firm.”

Project manager: “We’re architects based in (insert city). We do commercial, residential, institutional… pretty much everything.”

Ideal client: “Interesting. Well it sure looks like it’s going to be a beautiful weekend…”

[End scene]

If this sounds cringingly familiar—perhaps you’ve been in this situation, or can imagine it happening with team members —your firm would benefit from some soul searching. Exploring your mission, vision, and values will lead you to a better understanding of your firm’s differentiators, value proposition, and elevator pitch.

Think about this in non-marketing speak: it’s the clearly expressed passion that exudes from your team members when asked about where they work. It’s not a script, it’s a conversation starter…and every new relationship begins with one good conversation.

Can you see how a firm that has clearly defined their why, what, and how would have an advantage at the cheese board?


Leadership expert Simon Sinek said it best in Start With Why, and later in a 2014 TED Talk, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe… People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it, and what you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.”

Great architecture firms hire (and retain) people who share their beliefs, work with clients who reflect their values, and design projects that manifest their world view. Though this might sound lofty and out of reach to a small firm struggling to maintain its pipeline, think of it as an aspirational goal achieved through incremental steps. The first step is understanding why your firm exists.


Your mission statement is an outwardly-facing description of what your firm does, and why and how it does it. Your vision statement is more aspirational and is used internally as a rallying cry; it defines where you’re going and what you want to achieve. Your values describe the qualities your firm collectively embodies in its culture, relationships, and projects. Each is equally important when crafting the profile of why your firm exists, and the value you aspire to bring to your clients, community, employees, and ultimately the imprint your firm leaves on the world.



The best mission statements are short, succinct, and memorable. Think of it as a message that is boldly featured on your website, and supported by a descriptive paragraph. To prompt this exploration, ask yourself and your leadership team:

1. What was your main goal/intention when founding your firm?

2. What do we do? What is unique about it?

3. How do we do it?

4. For whom do we do it?

5. What value are we bringing? How do we benefit our clients?

6. What are the basic beliefs, values and philosophies that guide us?


Visualizing the evolution of your firm sets a common goal to work toward. Can you imagine a firm where the principals each had a different vision? Or the staff didn’t know the owner’s vision? Even more so today, people want to feel that they are working toward a bigger goal. A clear vision statement aligns everyone and makes a firm stronger. Use this fill-in-the-blank exercise to craft your vision statement:

In 5 years (MY FIRM) will be __________. When I walk into the office I will see _______________. We will be working on _________and telling our ________ how we ________. Our office will be unique because ___________. This will help us achieve _________.


Establishing values aligns intentions with actions. Your values should be at the core of everything your firm says and does, including interactions with colleagues and clients. Values help you decide what projects to take, who to hire, and even when to break up with a client. They can take any shape you like, as long as they are authentic to your company.

Use the following list of values to guide your thinking. Start by crossing out the values that do not resonate with you. Write in any values you would like to consider that aren’t already on the list. Circle the top five values that resonate with you, and adjust until they accurately represent your firm’s culture.


After your spirited mission, vision, and values exploration, you’ll be ready to tackle your differentiators and value proposition. Differentiators describe exactly how your firm stands out from your competitors. Your value proposition specifically communicates the unique value your firm brings to your clients —it’s why you’re not competing based on fee.

Avoid the words “collaborative, award-winning, client-focused, and creative.” Almost every architect claims to have these qualities. You’ll be well-served by digging deeper.

If you’re struggling to identify your differentiators or value proposition, one technique is to involve your clients. This works best if you can find a neutral third party to conduct four or five short interviews. Have them ask questions about the experience of working with your firm, such as:

1. What did you appreciate most about (FIRM)?

2. How was (FIRM) different from a) other architects you’ve worked with, and/or b) your expectation of working with an architect? (Question depends on client type)

3. Did (FIRM) add any unexpected value to the process and project?

4. Was there anything that (FIRM) could do differently to improve your experience?

Note: If your clients use the terms “collaborative, client-focused, or creative” to describe you, ask “how so?” Being able to elaborate on these descriptors might yield more tangible information to work with.



“Founded by an Air Force veteran, IDG approaches each project with military precision: listening, strategizing, and executing, while faithfully meeting every deadline.” (Interactive Design Group)

“RoehrSchmitt Architecture was founded on the belief that at its core, good design requires taking a fundamentally optimistic view of the world...We come to work each day jazzed to find that sweet spot where the interplay of quality and value is balanced and optimized, where work and play are virtually indistinguishable.” (RoehrSchmitt Architecture)

“Our clients appreciate that ThoughtCraft’s design approach is both structured and spirited, yielding wildly unique outcomes. The results are specific to time and place, anchored in concept, layered with meaning, and built with precise details that are communicated through a solid, thorough set of drawings.”

(ThoughtCraft Architects)

Can you see how each of the above value propositions paints a clear picture of each firm? Can you feel how they are different from each other?


You’ve put time into defining your firm’s mission, vision, values, differentiators, and value proposition. Since you understand your firm better, you’ll have stronger messaging to include on your website, social media, and proposals. But how does this translate to an elevator pitch? Great conversations don’t start with a memorized script.

Consider this formula to get comfortable with your elevator pitch:

1. Who you are and what you do at (FIRM).

2. What (FIRM) does.

3. How (FIRM) is different.

Using the insights gained from exercises in this article, craft a general response to numbers two and three in this section.

Share it with your team and include it as a regular part of onboarding new employees. Talk to your staff about how you use firm mission, vision, and values as part of business decisions and your hiring process. If these concepts are ingrained in your firm culture, then no one will be at a loss when asked about your firm. They’ll be thrilled to share why they work at the best firm in town. l

As a member of the leadership team at CVG, Emily helps guide the firm in its mission to help small and midsized architecture firms be better businesses. She brings over 20 years of architectural marketing experience to CVG, with a focus on discovering a firm’s authentic personality and using it to drive strategy. Her in-house experience includes over six years at Union Studio Architecture & Community Design and nine years at DBVW Architects, both architectural firms in Providence, Rhode Island that have experienced significant growth. She received an MBA from the University of Rhode Island, a Master of Industrial Design from Rhode Island School of Design, and a BA from Colorado College. Emily is based in Detroit, Michigan. To schedule a free business consultation with CVG, email Emily at emily@

Emily Hall, Partner, CVG

The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe…”
Simon Sinek


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The last three years have wrought major changes to how we do business, where we do business and, even, if we do business at all. While much press has focused on the younger generations leaving the workforce, the pandemic also caused many work force veterans to seek an exit strategy or, at least, put the wheels in motion for a smooth transition of their businesses to the next generation. It is never too early to understand and prepare for ownership transition, particularly for those practicing in small firms.


Internal Sale. Many design firms transition ownership internally, whereby an existing owner or owners sell their ownership interests to others in the business; this type of internal transition is a sale of some or all of the firm’s equity. Most often, this involves older owners transferring ownership to the next generation. An internal transition is typically least disruptive to the business overall and provides the greatest continuity for the existing business while allowing it to evolve.

In small practices, firm founders or other pivotal owners may spend five to ten years transitioning ownership to the next generation. The lengthy time frame allows for a purchase and sale model that is financially viable to both sellers and purchasers. In these cases, there is usually an annual payment from buyers to sellers. Ownership may transfer as payments are made or it may not transfer until all payments have been made. In my experience, the financial deal for the sale of a practice is only the starting point. To maximize the chances of

a successful transition, existing owners will also commit to a management transition plan during the buy-in period. By the mid-point of the buy-in period, the new owner(s) should be taking on meaningful duties with respect to firm management and business development.

ESOPs. Beginning in 2024, New York design professional corporations (DPCs) can be wholly owned by employee stock ownership plans. ESOPs, because they allow for ownership by all firm employees (and require ownership by a substantial percentage of those deemed non-highly compensated employees), licensed or not, may be quite attractive for recruiting and retention purposes. The establishment of an ESOP can serve as an exit strategy for existing firm owners, and the economic relationship between sellers and buyers is less direct than in a traditional purchase and sale in that employees are not paying for shares but are awarded shares based on their salary and/ or tenure with the business. This option may be prohibitive for small practices, due to the legal and accounting fees involved in establishing an ESOP and the ongoing requirements to have a trustee or trustees (more than 75% of whom will need to be licensed professionals in order to comply with NY legal requirements), who are required by law to protect the financial interests of the employees.

Third Party Sales. There is a robust marketplace for successful design professional practices. Potential purchasers may be looking to acquire project typology expertise, a new geographic toehold or, simply, employees. As a general rule, sales to external parties will be more lucrative for sellers than will

PAGE 16 | FEBRUARY ‘23 3

internal ownership transitions. Moreover, if firm owners do not have a clear transition plan or next generation of potential owners in place, a third-party sale may be their only option to realize some financial remuneration from the practice they have built.

External purchasers may purchase either the stock or assets of a seller. If the transaction is structured as a stock sale, the purchaser will pay either cash to or exchange its own stock for the stock of the sellers. A stock purchase means the whole business entity is sold, including its liabilities. It is very important for New York practices to consider and plan for the licensing implications of a stock sale; in almost all cases, design professional practices authorized to provide services in NY must be owned primarily by licensed human beings. This means, for example, a NY professional corporation or D.P.C. cannot be purchased and operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of another business entity.

If a purchaser buys the assets of a business, liabilities often remain with the seller business and the owners of that seller business entity do not change. The seller business entity is usually left as a non-operating entity with the sole purpose of addressing any remaining liabilities and winding down. Asset sales mean that only the assets and liabilities specifically included will be transferred to another business entity; typically, this will include substantially all the operating assets of the business, but some liabilities may be left with the seller e.g., leases, loans, tax liabilities and legal claims against the seller. In addition, since the seller business remains behind and the purchaser is a different entity, it is important to develop a clear path and allow adequate time for project contracts to be assigned or novated to the purchaser (which may require the consent of the other parties to the contracts).

The third party sale can be more disruptive to a practice than an internal transition for numerous reasons. First, there may be a very quick branding shift, in which the name of the seller firm is combined with the purchaser for a short period of time or the seller’s brand disappears entirely upon the sale. Second, if the seller firm is physically joining forces with a third-party purchaser, there can be cultural changes to get used to and the buyer may quickly make personnel changes in the name of

economic efficiency. Third, the sale of a business, whether it is a stock sale or an asset sale, may trigger requirements for client approval under many projects contracts, particularly for those firms that work in the public sector.

Which ownership transition is most appropriate to any firm will depend on many factors such as the financial health of the firm including its backlog and management of its finances, whether or not the firm has a capable next generation, and whether the firm’s specific practice areas or geographical reach might be attractive to potential purchasers. It is healthy to think about potential exit strategies from time to time, regardless of how close the firm owners may be to the door, and whether management and growth decisions are in line with creating an attractive and healthy business for a potential purchaser. Although it may be true for the Rolling Stones, in this case, time is not on your side. l

Patti Harris provides legal and business counsel to design professionals throughout the United States. A serial entrepreneur, Patti is the Founder and CEO of LicenseSure LLC, which provides business and licensing compliance services to design professional firms. Patti is Special Counsel to Zetlin & De Chiara LLP, the New York City-based construction law firm, where she served as Managing Partner from 2000 – 2013. Patti started her career as a corporate attorney with two New York City law firms and her legal practice focuses on mergers and acquisitions, ownership transition, M/WBE issues and licensing issues.

Patti frequently speaks and writes on industry-related issues, particularly with respect to licensing and transactions. She was a chapter contributor in the “Design Professional’s Guide to Construction Law,” published by ABA Construction Forum, Spring 2021 and has recently presented at the American Society of Landscape Architects 2022 National Convention, the Center for Architecture in New York, NY and on EntreArchitect’s Context & Clarity podcast. She is past Chair and a Board Member of the Global Design Alliance and General Counsel and Executive Committee Member of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. She has been named a Super Lawyer in 2021 and 2022. Patti graduated with a B.A. in Government from Pomona College and a J.D. and M.B.A., with distinction, from New York University; she is a LEED Accredited Professional.




This article summarizes the presentation, “Progress Through Storytelling” at the 2022 AIA Tri-State Small Firms Symposium with Derek Bridger, Zoning Officer/ Assistant HP Officer, Municipality of Princeton, New Jersey; Pablo David, VP, Government Affairs & Community Relations, AJ Capital Partners.

Small firms are the main drivers of smart development, especially in the communities where the practitioners live and work. But too often a great idea fails to win approval because of a natural tendency by stakeholders to resist innovation, coupled with a failure to see through the architect’s eyes exactly how the project would benefit the community and project stakeholders. This is common both in big cities and smaller municipalities with historic neighborhoods, where requests for permits and variances are often rejected even when the proposed design harmonizes with the context and the solution is badly needed. To make a positive impact practice leaders have to be highly effective communicators as well as excellent designers. By employing tried-and-true storytelling techniques and principles, small firms can become empowered to make compelling cases to approval-granting agencies and win critical entitlements for projects.

After a virtual presentation on this topic titled “Progress Through Storytelling” offered at the 2022 AIA Tri-State Small Firms Symposium, the discussion that followed in the Q&A portion revealed that small and emerging practitioners are

particularly concerned that they may not have the resources to compete with larger firms. But access to resources is not critical for winning approvals. If your design solution is the best one, it’s not manpower or marketing assets that will win the day.

Far more important is making a connection with the individuals who constitute the planning or zoning commission, the historic preservation board, or whatever entitlement-granting authority you may present your design to. What they want to know is that you are aware of the issues they contend with and working to resolve them to everyone’s satisfaction. Knowing your audience and offering them a compelling story is worth far more than a litany of exhaustive analyses and technical information. And visuals are important, but a hand drawing can be just as effective as intricate computer models and 3D walkthroughs, which are expensive and time-consuming to produce.


As architects we are trained in school to communicate ideas through detailed descriptions of imagined, as-yet-unbuilt places. In our pursuit of design excellence and real world experiences we often forget this important tool, one that is essential to successfully realizing innovative architectural solutions. To reclaim this tool, we can take a lesson from the basics of journalism and remember the five W’s – who, what, when, where, and why – and the H of “how” as well. Answering these questions for the audience cuts through the courtroom feel of typical entitlements presentations and shows that you under-


stand the potential impact and both the positive and negative criteria, communicating far more effectively than technical descriptions and construction documents.

In the case of entitlements, the who and the why are usually closely connected. Knowing who the individuals are you’re speaking to and who they represent in their official function means that you also know why they are vested in the project outcome. This was especially important for my firm’s conversion of Aaron Lodge No. 9, a historic meeting house at 30 MacLean Street in a residential neighborhood near the center of Princeton, NJ into a ten-unit mixed-income multifamily residence.

Aaron Lodge No. 9 remains an important part of the history of the municipality’s African-American community, and members of the still-active Masonic chapter who were consulted on aspects of the façade’s preservation and architectural details became an integral part of the story presented to the local historic commission. In addition to being the who—or at least one of the groups the project would impact—they also helped form the reasons why the preservation of the façade mattered, and why giving the building a new life (not to mention introducing much-needed rental options) would be a plus for the neighborhood. 30 MacLean Street also provides a good example of the when part of the story, which included attention not only to the project timeline and construction schedule but also how the project would connect residents to their neighborhood’s history through revival of a locally iconic structure. The where, likewise, is about more than just an address. This is an opportunity to show your familiarity with the site constraints, the geography and, most importantly, the surrounding context. We recently presented for use entitlements for Home-

works, Trenton, a non-profit providing dorms for young women in high school to support study and achievement. Our presentation cut through concerns about a dorm project—often considered a non-starter in a residential area—to talk about why the project was not only essential but ideally suited to the chosen site: a distressed property in need of redevelopment, set back from the street, close to the homes and schools of the girls it would serve, and adjacent to a historic park.

In all cases, the what question is best answered for your audience as the big picture—or perhaps more essentially as the “need.” This is the thrust of your story: What function does it serve for their community? What does your design solution do differently from others to answer that need? What will be the overall effect when it is done? Presenting the what will have the greatest impact on whether you establish a connection with your audience.


But the what is not as challenging to convey effectively as the how. This is where many will falter in making their case by falling back on technical schematics and plans that are hard for the lay person to understand. Sharing with the entitlements authority how your design works, and how it can be accomplished, may depend on the strength of the visual assets you bring. Again, this is not to say you need expensive-to-produce detailed renderings or 3D animation. Most important is that your graphic elements make it easier for the audience to understand the how.

The “Who” - Members of the Masonic Chapter The “Who” - Homeworks The “Where” - 30 MacLean Street

For Homeworks, Trenton, our presentation’s most effective graphic showed additions on the existing structure and proposed street access as super-imposed drawings on an aerial photo, also showing the adjacency to the park. A rather complicated design for interlocking flats and split-level units proposed for 30 MacLean street was shown over the course of several slides as color-coded blocks dropping one by one into a stacked formation within the outline of the existing building, reminiscent of a game of Tetris. These visuals were simple to produce in-house, and convey clear meaning to the uninitiated.

As a last word on the subject, stay flexible and nimble. The connection made through the story you tell is the important thing, not any one component of your presentation. So if you’re not sure there will be support for an audiovisual presentation, bring hard copies of your deck to pass around—in fact, bring them even if you are sure, just in case. If you can bring your own projector, do it, and if they don’t have a screen use a plain wall. In short, do what you have to do to tell your story, and make that connection. l

Joshua Zinder, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C is the founder and managing partner of integrated design firm JZA+D. Amassed over 30-plus years, his design portfolio includes residential, mixed-use, office, hospitality, institutional, academic and government environments. Active in his community of Princeton, NJ, Zinder is also a co-developer of multiple commercial real estate properties. He currently serves as New Jersey’s representative in the AIA Small Firm Exchange, and previously served as 2021 president of AIA New Jersey.

30 MacLean Street. Photo Credit: Ricardo Barros courtesy of JZA+D The “Where” - Homeworks The “How” - 30 MacLean Street Stacking Diagram The “How” - Homeworks

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Accounting for mental health in the workplace may initially seem like a tall order, but a number of elements—all of them quantifiable and customizable—can be optimized to foster greater satisfaction, a sense of community, and higher productivity amongst workers. Among those potential improvements are the creation of multisensory environments through which workers can connect with nature and each other, the introduction of wellness programs that support workers’ mental, physical, and social health, and a more holistic structuring of time and space in the office. Having collaborated with clients and industry peers on over two and a half years of research related to mental health in the workplace, PLASTARC is equipped to help organizations identify these kinds of opportunities.

It’s impossible to deny that the pandemic has revolutionized hybrid and remote work experiences—across industries, teams and leaders alike express evolving perspectives on office space and mental health. The cultural re-framing of remote work in particular, and its ability to match or even exceed in-office productivity, has profoundly altered people’s expectations. Today, most workers expect to go into the office less frequently than they did before COVID-19. And while many have thrived while working from home—enjoying flexible hours, more free time, and the ability to take walks and get more sunlight throughout the day—others have struggled due to a newfound lack of structure and in-person time with their colleagues.

Before the emergence of COVID-19, mental health was not always viewed as an important component of workplace pro-

ductivity. Today, though, it is almost universally considered essential. Just as a serious knock on the head can inflict a concussion, chronic job stress can have a lasting impact on the brain. Its effects are cumulative over time, and can eventually be catastrophic when left unaddressed. If employees are mentally unwell, they cannot respond critically to assigned tasks or issues that need attention, and mistakes that at first appear isolated could become standard. It’s a story we’ve heard all too often: corporate culture can enter into a toxic cycle when workers’ needs are not addressed and managers’ goals are not met. Amidst all of this, employee attraction and retention becomes increasingly difficult—if they don’t find their work enriching or fulfilling, employees are more likely to seek greener pastures.

Mental health considerations range from the architectural (Is there enough light? What does the workspace look like? Are there adequate health and safety practices?) to the organizational (Are there clear communication channels? Are management practices consistent? Do support systems for employees exist? Are work hours flexible?). It’s also worth noting that


seemingly mundane material factors, such as the quality of light in the office or floor layout, can profoundly impact overall mental health. PLASTARC uses tactics like staff surveys, visioning sessions, leader interviews, utilization data, focus groups, and workshops to create workplace design recommendations that are tailored to each client’s specific needs. By evaluating factors such as temperature, visibility, and access to daylight, one of PLASTARC’s clients—a multi-national fitness brand—transitioned from a traditional work environment, with rows of desks and cubicles, to an activity-based environment filled with natural light, color, and a wide array of shared work settings.

Some problems can be easily addressed with training, assessments, new policies, and community initiatives, but it would be misguided to assume that any sort of panacea exists. A workforce that spans across generations, ethnicities, abilities, and other identities will present an equally diverse range of needs. It’s especially important to take neurodiversity into account while using space, technology, and policies to cultivate a more inclusive workplace. Several issues that were previously ignored have come into focus as a result of COVID-19—it therefore behooves leadership teams to confront these issues before a crisis befalls their workplace. Each organization must identify and evaluate its specific needs in order to design a holistic approach that will serve both the company and its employees.

carefully balance learning opportunities with an abiding sense of inclusion and community. Done well, these efforts build empathy and create new channels through which previously disenfranchised voices can share their perspectives. Through this open exchange, a common vision between management and staff emerges.

The idea of “psychological safety” is also becoming increasingly relevant in the modern workplace. A shared sense amongst team members that they can admit personal vulnerabilities or own mistakes has a direct impact on outcomes such as workforce productivity, voluntary turnover, and discretionary effort. To create a psychologically safe setting, workplaces must

Concerns about mental health in the workplace become even more important when considering the future of work. The entrance of Gen Z (born 1997-2010) into the workforce means that a whole new set of mental health concerns must be considered when designing the workplace. Raised through the pandemic, a recession, and a technological revolution—not to mention the looming threat of climate change—Gen Z and Gen Alpha (born after 2011) must cope with an unprecedented conglomeration of mental health crises. Younger generations already suffer from higher rates of loneliness, isolation, and depression, as reported in a recent study by Harvard University. They may experience “pre-traumatic stress” or a quixotic desire to galvanize societal change through their work, both of which can precipitate feelings of burnout. Raised on instant access to information and communication, younger generations expect to be treated as humans first and employees second—with this in mind, they demand support systems that instill a sense of empowerment.

According to a study by WHO, every dollar that companies spend to proactively address employees’ mental health yields a return of four dollars in productivity. From a bottom-line perspective, the mental welfare of workers is increasingly valuable—in today’s market, people costs tend to be about ten times greater than facilities costs. Regardless of how many hours workers spend in the office or outside of it, it’s no exaggeration to say that companies cannot afford to neglect


mental health. Leadership must therefore be willing to practice openness and vulnerability in the workplace. This suggestion, however, is often met with pushback from intransigent leadership teams who claim that their wellness programs constitute a comprehensive mental health strategy. But there is so much more to be done, from reconsidering and redesigning the physical environment to cultivating more psychological safety through policy and technology.

Architecture plays a fundamental role in providing access to wellness attributes and amenities, including grocery stores and healthy food, jobs, public transportation, schools, health care facilities, open space, and nature. In the context of the workplace, environmental and multisensory considerations in the architecture have direct impacts on workers’ neurological response, circadian rhythms, and stress management. While the idea of addressing workplace culture can at first appear overwhelming or threatening, there are several simple architectural fixes that a company can implement to foster a greater sense of well-being amongst its employees.

Both for those working in-person and those working remotely, it has become abundantly clear that the location and modality of work can have an enormous impact on workers’ mental health. By prioritizing employees’ emotional welfare, companies that implement forward-thinking, holistic designs and policies will be well-positioned to adapt to the evolving expectations of a newly hybridized workforce. l

PLASTARC is a social science-based workplace consultancy. By blending qualitative and quantitative research with expertise in design and change leadership, PLASTARC provides clients with unique insights that promote healthier and higher-performing spaces.

Melissa Marsh is Founder and Executive Director of PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and real estate strategy consultancy. Her work leverages the tools of social science and business strategy to help organizations make more data-driven and people-centric real estate decisions.

Melissa combines quantitative and qualitative social science research with architectural expertise and is dedicated to shifting the metrics associated with workplace from “square feet and inches” to “occupant satisfaction and performance.” This holistic approach enables PLASTARC to recommend evidence-based interventions that make the built environment more people-centric and responsive, promoting both individual wellness and business success.


Zetlin & De Chiara LLP, one of the country’s leading law firms, has built a reputation on counseling clients through complex issues. Whether negotiating a contract, resolving a dispute, or providing guidance to navigate the construction process, Zetlin & De Chiara is recognized as a “go-to firm for construction.”



Idon’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that, as architects, we all want to create buildings that not only look and function great but also have a minimal impact on the environment. There are a lot of fancy-sounding names flying around online about parametric design, digital practice, and computational workflows. Boiling it down, it is all about using data and technology in the design process. Let’s face it there is a lot of change out there and it’s hard to chart a course that makes sense for your firm.

One of the main macros driving change in the profession is that the built environment is responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings alone account for 40% of carbon emissions. Financial intuitions have determined that climate risk equals financial risk, which creates serious pressure on developers and building owners. By extension, architects are at the center of this shift but often don’t have the in-house expertise of large firms leading to increased services to deliver the project but little understanding from owners of those increased compliance costs. The AIA 2030 Challenge is a voluntary reporting system that helps architecture firms measure progress towards the net-zero goal by requiring that all new and renovated buildings be designed to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Trends in the AIA 2030 reporting point to exponential changes.

So how do firms meet these trends? We need to adopt data-driven design. By incorporating data and technology into the design process, architects can make more informed

decisions, optimize building performance, and create buildings that not only function well, but also have a minimal impact on the environment. But let’s be real, it can be hard to change the way we’ve always done things. It’s natural to have hesitations and concerns about incorporating new technology. After all, we didn’t become architects to do engineering and crunch numbers and paperwork all day!

Investing in new technology and software can be pricey, and it can be hard to justify the cost when you’re already stretched

Georgia Tech’s Renovated Wenn Student Center

Optimization Summary


thin on project deadlines. Often the training time can be steep from free software or some tech is so complicated that only a few “super-users” can make sense of it. If a super user leaves, you have to start all over. Ask yourself, though, have you ever had to make assumptions or rely on guesswork when it comes to building design? This can lead to design revisions and delays, which can kill firm profitability. We’ve all heard stories of firms that ended due to an RFI stamped by the intern as approved. Using data-driven workflows can help to avoid this problem. Just avoiding one design revision per project team per year increases firm profitability by 6% on average. One example of using data driven design is the Georgia Tech Campus Center project. To save embodied carbon from existing structures on a complex site, the design team used building performance simulations integrated into their modeling software with cove.tool. This gave them a performance-based understanding of each design decision and allowed all the participants to see impacts in real time. At 300,000 sq. ft., the project expanded the campus from its symbolic core, Tech Green, and radiate it west. The project consisted of three buildings: the original Wenn Student Center, which was renovated, a new Exhibition Hall, and a pavilion with a network of new outdoor pathways and plazas. The original student center was meant for 7,000 students but now the campus hub needed to accommodate over 23,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff. The architects couldn’t afford to miss on such a key building with so many stakeholders. Daylight, energy, embodied carbon, glare, and cost optimizations guided their work

Climate Analysis

Cost vs. Energy Optimized Bundle

Top: Georgia Tech’s New Exhibition Hall; Bottom: Georgia Tech’s Pavilion

with automated analysis from cove.tool. Not so long ago, this kind of analysis was reserved for special projects like a student center. Now though firms as small as single practitioners are using these kinds of tools to design homes as small as 250 square feet.

Whether a large or small firm, you are probably not using one software to do everything. Many practitioners are discovering that it’s about connecting multiple programs together in real time using web-based APIs and open-source standards. I like to call this concept the Building Information Network (BIN). BIN allows architects to simulate, optimize and visualize building performance in real-time, and make informed decisions about how to improve building performance and reduce carbon emissions. It also means that data isn’t being destroyed between participants which means everyone is making more money by being better coordinated.

Manufacturers are also getting in on the data-driven design game by connecting products and especially new, low-carbon products into databases like the EC3 embodied carbon database. However, getting low-carbon products to architects for selection involves better integration of the supply chain data into the architect’s design process. This has accelerated the trend toward a BIN since, traditionally, manufacturers have relied on email to communicate with architects. As we all know, this is frustrating and tends to push us to recycle what we did on our last project since we don’t have a real-time integration with our design tools. However, by integrating supply chain data into the architect’s design process, manufacturers can push low embodied carbon products to when the selection

process is happening in the early stage. Practically, that means no more zip files and email chains but connected details in design software.

If we are going to decarbonize the built environment, we are going to have to move faster given the needs of clients and the planet. Using data-driven workflows and software not only helps to reduce carbon emissions and meet energy codes, but it also has a significant impact on the bottom line. It requires technology adoption, interconnected data with BIN concepts, and using simulations to shift design thinking early into the process. Firm leaders who are thinking ahead stand the best chance of building a better world and strong firm. l

cove.tool is a web-based platform for analyzing, drawing, engineering, and connecting data for building design and construction. Its streamlined, automated analysis enables design teams, contractors, and building product manufacturers to use data in decision making through automation. cove.tool powers systematic climate action by driving rapid decarbonization of buildings with simulation. For more information, visit: https://www.

“Using data-driven workflows and software not only helps to reduce carbon emissions and meet energy codes, but it also has a significant impact on the bottom line.”

Stainless steel:

- Extremely efficient reflector of solar energy

- Offsets global warming and the heat island effect

- Substantially reduces insulation requirements

Micro Textured Stainless Steel:

- Hydrophobic, naturally cleaning surfaces

- Retains all solar reflectance and energy efficiency indefinitely

- Significantly lower maintenance costs

The choice is simple.

metal made better



As the current financial climate evolves, businesses across every industry strive to find a clear path forward. The architecture industry has many uncertainties regarding project schedules, supply chains, budget reallocation, bid opportunities, and market stability. It has forced firm leaders to ask themselves, “How do I keep my business advancing?”

This can be the year your firm will begin conducting business using a more proactive marketing strategy. First, we must adjust your marketing mindset.


Reactive marketing is a marketing response in a single moment. When the opportunity knocks, reactive firms respond and frame their content around unplanned circumstances. The most common phrase that is a giveaway for the reactive firm is “it feels like a great opportunity.” Responding to an RFQ/RFP when you aren’t aware of the project in advance, or the client isn’t aware of your firm is a perfect example of reactive marketing.

Proactive marketing is defined as using analytics to determine the best direction for a marketing effort before a plan or campaign is launched to support the initiative. The team analyzes and adjusts accordingly to ensure success over the campaign’s lifecycle. Instead of responding to a trend or competitor’s actions, proactive marketing allows you to anticipate future pain points, needs, and changes in your target audience and core markets. By staying ahead of the curve, you can set your firm up for the highest success rate and get the most out of your budget.

Architecture firms need to be more flexible with their marketing strategies and incorporate both proactive and reactive tactics. Those that do will outlast the competition and optimize their marketing budgets.

Katie Alessi Kelly Donahue

Marketing has always had a murky relationship with architecture firms. Marketing is greatly misunderstood, and far too often, firms relegate their professional marketers to the role of “proposal pusher”—one who spends most of their time in reactive mode, responding to RFPs and pulling together quals packages. That alone is not marketing.

We’ve experienced this firsthand over nearly four decades in the industry and heard countless stories reinforcing that marketing is widely under-appreciated and misaligned at design firms. Marketing is defined in many ways, but perhaps the best definition comes from the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), which defines marketing as:

“The process of creating firm awareness; building and differentiating the brand; driving business development activities; and identifying, anticipating, and satisfying client objectives to achieve profitable business goals.”

your current clients that you can solve their problems. Marketing defines who your firm is and why you are different from other firms. Marketing drives business development. Marketing understands your prospects and clients, shines a light on their unique challenges, and figures out how to help them. And finally, marketing is all about revenue and profit. Your profits will suffer if you chase the wrong clients or operate in the wrong sectors.


It’s time to embrace their talents and elevate your marketing activities. Turn your marketing program from entirely reactive to more proactive. Here are five marketing-driving activities that your firm should be focusing on this year:

1. Your Brand

What is your brand? What is your reputation in the markets you serve? The promise of what it would be like to work with you. A brand is the perception of your firm, and branding is a proactive attempt to build and control that perception. But to do that, you need to understand who you are and whether this brand is attractive and relevant in the markets you serve. Furthermore, does your identity line up with the brand? Think “look and feel,” like logo, fonts, and colors. We recently saw an Architecture firm’s website that promoted the firm as modern and progressive. But their logo and font looked right out of the 1950s. That isn’t very clear messaging. Make sure your identity aligns with your brand, and audit your marketing materials to ensure they conform to your brand standards. Brand consistency is critical!


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System and Process

Every firm needs to have a vibrant CRM program, and CRM is best enhanced through technology. Tools like Deltek Vision or Vantagepoint, Cosential, and Salesforce, among others, can significantly help. What is the most important data to track? And why – what is the purpose of having that information? Who is responsible for collecting and inputting the data? What are your standard workflows to capture this information? CRM is a foundational tool for marketing campaigns, business development, and client experience.

3. Website

A website in 2023 needs to be a lead-generating tool. It needs to enhance your brand, not detract from it. It must have high SEO optimization around the most important keywords. It should be about your clients and prospects, not a testament to your greatness. If you merely have a list of services and a bunch of generic project descriptions with no stories of value, you’re missing the boat.

Furthermore, your website needs to be the hub for all your online activities – blogs, videos, social media, news, etc. In this era, up to two-thirds of the buying process is completed before you hear from a prospect or existing client. You are being checked out, and it often begins with your website.

Note that you cannot equate this definition to that of a proposal pusher. Marketing, by nature, is proactive. Marketing lets your prospective clients know that you exist and reminds

Proactive marketing is defined as using analytics to determine the best direction for a marketing effort before a plan or campaign is launched to support the initiative.

4. Social Media

Today’s decision-makers are increasingly researching you and your firm on social media. A few years ago, we used to say that Millennials were driving this, but all generations have incorporated this behavior, from digital natives to the most senior generations in the workforce. The lack of an active presence on these platforms says something about your firm. And unless your brand centers around terms like “antiquated” or “dinosaur,” perhaps it’s time to up your game. But remember – it’s not about you; it’s about your clients and prospects. Post content of value to them.

Kelly is a builder – of brands, reputations, and businesses. She tackles big challenges and complex projects and helps companies and organizations achieve the successes that mark them as leaders in their communities and industries.

She’s spent 30 years in communications leadership roles in architecture, engineering, construction, design, and manufacturing. She’s helped clients in professional services, healthcare, higher education, government, hospitality, and the arts.

Her work has earned dozens of honors from the Society for Marketing Professional Services, the Public Relations Society of America, and the American Marketing Association. She frequently speaks on PR, crisis communications, and media relations topics.

5. Thought Leadership

Sharing thought leadership is when you provide valuable information to clients and prospective clients instead of a dull, self-praising promotion. It comes in many shapes and sizes – blogs, video blogs (vlogs), infographics, research, case studies, podcasts, social media posts, etc. Thought leadership must address the needs of your target audience, and what is essential to a healthcare prospect may not be important to a municipal prospect. So, align your content with your audiences. If you are not pushing out thought leadership, you are already behind.

This is by no means a complete list, but it does map out crucial marketing elements that your firm must address to remain competitive in today’s environment. Client behaviors are rapidly changing, necessitating new approaches. Please take this opportunity to realign your marketing activities to where they should have been, and then go further. Make the Shift –include proactive marketing in your reactive strategy. l

We are here to help. Reach out for a free consultation. Connect with Trifecta Collaborative.

Katie is a connector – of brands and businesses to consumers and communities. She uses marketing strategy to fully harness modern technologies and communication tools to deliver continued success and high-impact visibility for clients and their diverse audiences.

She understands her clients’ big-picture goals and aspirations and develops a progressive road map, assembling the perfect team to reach success. Katie is an organized thinker and manages the life cycle of a marketing initiative, from early strategy discussions to analyzing final results and executing marketing tactics that blend traditional marketing with digital media channels.

She has spent over ten years in marketing management roles in architecture, engineering, not-for-profit, arts and culture, higher education, healthcare, government, and hospitality. She has collaborated with and executed mixed-media marketing campaigns for large and small companies and organizations.

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Branch Technology and Foster & Partners unveiled two modular shelters for extraterrestrial human habitation. The Prototype Outfitting Demonstrator (POD) was part of a NASA contract awarded to research Branch Technology’s 3D printing process in the fabrication of extraterrestrial habitats.

Last fall, Branch Technology and Foster & Partners unveiled two modular shelters for extraterrestrial human habitation. The Prototype Outfitting Demonstrator (POD) was part of a NASA contract awarded to research Branch Technology’s 3D printing process in the fabrication of extraterrestrial habitats.

While the lunar modules were built using cutting-edge construction technology, their interior geometry faced a familiar design quandary. In extraterrestrial landscapes devoid of Earth’s sensory-rich atmosphere, how could lunar shelters help the human physiology maintain homeostasis and perform at an optimal level during prolonged missions without the restorative visual-spatial cues inherent in terrestrial views of the sky?

The architectural feature with the most quantitative and qualitative body of research documenting its robust wellness benefits remains a visual connection to nature. Hence, the design team sought to include biophilic design’s most restorative attribute. Foster + Partners, the POD designer for the project, looked into the positive outcomes accrued by architectural illusions and sought to integrate a research-verified virtual skylight that would generate spatial polarity within the shelters.

In fact, the design framework used to generate biophilic illusions of natureTM has been successfully applied to projects facing the same issue: claustrophobic interiors. For example, a new medical center on 4 Rue Boudreau, in Ile-de-France, in downtown Paris, faced the same design challenge plaguing the


compact lunar modules. The 19th Century building selected to house the medical center’s assorted clinical services featured a historic Haussmann façade.

Due to code, the building’s cream-colored stonework and iron wrought railings couldn’t be altered. Hence, enlarging the exterior windows or altering the entrance was out of the question. In turn, the clinic’s waiting lounge would rest deeper in the building core—not the most inviting area to wait in a high traffic medical clinic. However, given the layout, the team considered whether a biophilic design application that generated perceived open space would tender a viable solution.

While most architects are familiar with virtual skylights, few outside of healthcare design, professional associations or scholarly ones like the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture have noted the tectonic shift that’s taken place between representational ceiling installations (those using commercial images of nature or backlit blue panels), and bone fide architectural illusions (those designed to engage areas of the brain associated with spatial cognition and depth perception). While the first group relies on the standard benefits afforded by decorative nature imagery or blue LED panels, the latter has charted its own trajectory by contributing to the neuroscience of architectural illusions and evidence-based design (EBD) literature. In fact, published studies on sky illusions remain a niche area of research. However, the available studies provide a compelling portrait of a visual-spatial technology that can redress the deleterious impact of deep plate interiors. Furthermore, the nascent field of neuroaesthetics, which studies (among other topics) the neural and cognitive mechanics involved in experiences of deep beauty, has revived many architects’ interest in the patterns and geometries of biophilic design, as well as their artistic counterparts. The neural correlates of such sensory stimuli and their ability to regulate the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the observer’s reaction to place, location, and materiality, is remarkable. Such findings reveal that our perception of interiors emerges from a subconscious cognitive assessment that generates what neuroscientists call felt states—feelings shaped by somatic markers in our surroundings.


COSEM, a multidisciplinary medical group offering a wide range of healthcare services, sought to refurbish its 3rd center in the French capital. The facility accommodated an annual inflow of 800,000+ patients, requiring that the reception area, despite its recessed location, be spacious and inviting to sooth restless patients and enhance staff wellness.

The new location, COSEM Auber, would host multiple practices in a 1,600 square meter (17,222 sq. ft.) facility that would host an estimated 2,800 appointments per week. The team was familiar with Roger Ulrich’s seminal study on the effect of a window view to nature on patient recovery, as well as his subsequent findings confirming the positive impact of representational nature art on patient anxiety, stress, and pain perception (Ulrich et al. 1993).

However, evidence-based design literature did not distinguish between types of nature imagery and the positive outcomes were attributed to the representational content. When the proper structural and contextual cues are incorporated into a gravitationally-correct, overhead image of the sky, the composition can generate a more profound illusory effect. In a bone fide illusory sky, the installation materials, lighting properties, and compositional patterns give way to perceived spatial planes. By recessing the perceived zenith in the interior envelope, architects can generate a powerful and therapeutic catalyst that redefines an occupant’s embodied sense of place.

The Neurophysiology of Illusions

In 2014, a pioneering study in neuroarchitecture appeared in the peer reviewed Health Environments Research & Design Journal. Neural Correlates of Nature Stimuli: an fMRI Study, was spearheaded by a Texas Tech University team that included an architect, an environmental psychologist, a neuroscientist, and a visual artist. They were the first to look at brain scans of patients exposed to different types of visual stimuli—positive, negative, and neutral images of nature, in addition to a fourth category: illusory skies.

The team examined whether there were unique patterns of brain activation associated with exposure to Sky Factory’s Open Sky CompositionsTM (the gravitationally-correct sky photography used to generate the overhead sky illusions) as compared with other three categories of nature imagery. Initial analysis of the brain maps indicated that the illusory skies shared all of the characteristic neural activations of positive images while

The 19th century building that houses a new Medical Facility could not be altered so enlarging the exterior windows or altering the entrance was out of the question.

also activating several unique brain regions, including activations in the cerebellum.

“Brain activation of the cerebellum is often associated with aspects of spatial cognition, in particular the experience of extended space,” said neuroscientist Dr. Michael O’Boyle. The study’s remarkable findings earned the Design & Health International Academy’s Award for Best Research Project (2014) and a Certificate of Research Excellence from the Environmental Design Research Association (2017) for its methodological design and practice-based impact.

The COSEM team decided to incorporate a Luminous SkyCeiling in the main reception ceiling, splitting the sky illusion into two 6’ X 10’ soffit openings flanked by four 6’ X 6’ additional ones along the length of the area. The multiple openings leveraged two principles of Gestalt psychology, amodal perception and good continuation, which are hardwired habits of perception that enable the brain to reconstruct occluded shapes and identify the hidden wholeness permeating the discrete fragments. By engaging the observer’s right hemisphere, observers also engage the peripheral ANS and the parasympathetic subsystem that terminates in the left insula, which is responsive to affiliative emotions and relaxation.

When this happens, our memory also enlivens the spatial maps corresponding to experienced places and related emotions.

Given that the sky is humanity’s most universal experience of nature, it is also our most ingrained spatial map. Therefore, the contextual and structural cues present in and around a photographic sky illusion are instrumental in engaging not only focused, but peripheral vision, which governs 95% of our visual field and gauges our visceral sense of bodily safety. By flooding our peripheral vision with a point-of-view that mimics the natural vastness of the sky, recognized through layered elements that cue scale and light direction through cloud patterns and overhanging foliage, we engage the physiology’s visceral sense of perceived openness and vertical volume overhead. COSEM’s success led to others like St. David’s Foundation’s virtual atrium (Austin, TX), which also generates a transparent vertical geometry that relaxes occupants by dissipating the sense of confinement through Cognitive Biophilia. l

David spearheads research partnerships with hospitals, public and private health organizations, exploring the benefits of architectural illusions of nature. He creates Continuing Education courses for design professionals, all of which are approved for credit by the AIA, GBCI, IDCEC, and the Patient Experience Institute.

He contributes in-depth articles on Cognitive Biophilia for the Conscious Cities Anthology (2018, 2020), Radiology Today, Salus Global Journal, AIA Utah Reflexion and Work/Design magazines.

David is a member of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture’s Center for Education (ACE) and The Center for Health Design.

About Sky Factory, Inc.

Sky Factory is the only designer/manufacturer of evidence-based design virtual skylights and windows. The company’s installations are found in All Top 10 American Hospitals as ranked by the 2022-23 U.S. News & World Report. Sky Factory’s flat management model, sustainable energy, and service-oriented culture has earned recognition from Inc. Magazine (Top Small Company Workplace, 2010) and Fast Company.


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When it comes to risk management, the architect’s construction administration responsibilities invariably become a focus because this scope of work can potentially expose the architect to unwarranted liability. This article sets forth the reasons why architects should be willing to take on construction adminis tration services and how best to perform these services to limit exposure to additional liability.

involving change orders. Change orders can be the result of field conditions, design omissions, design errors, construction errors, owner-directed scope changes, or other matters. Permitting the contractor and owner to categorize change orders as design errors or omissions without the architect’s input and direction opens the door to these parties to build a case against the architect while allowing the contractor and others to proceed unscathed, depending on the situation. Conversely, if the project architect remains involved during the construction phase of the project, the architect is uniquely qualified to determine whether the proposed change order is a true change from the original design, or whether the work identified as a change by the contractor is covered within the scope of its existing contract for the project, or the result of a field condition (or something else). In this scenario, the project architect is in a position to communicate the necessary assessment to the owner and contractor to achieve resolution of most, if not all, potential issues surrounding change orders and thereby lessen the potential for litigation down the road.

Staying involved with the project after the completion of the design phase of the project places the architect in the best position to respond to issues that arise during construction and resolve them before they turn into litigation. Take, for example, change orders. Performing construction administration services provides the architect with the immediate opportunity to respond to situations giving rise to disputes

Additionally, the contractor may identify aspects of the construction documents which omit necessary information, or the project drawings and specifications may be inconsistent on certain details. Addressing situations like these are handled seamlessly and quickly when the architect is involved with construction administration and, most importantly, helps to avoid claims of defective design and construction and delays aimed at all parties, which invariably invites finger-pointing among the members of the project team.


Hidden or unknown site conditions, particularly in projects involving existing structures, present another situation demonstrating the importance of agreeing to perform construction administration services. The depth of adjacent foundations or how the existing walls are waterproofed may only come to be known during the construction phase of the project. The architect, by staying involved, would be part of the team assessing how to proceed with the project that can help to avoid negative dialogue aimed at blaming the project architect for not knowing these details. The project team’s efforts are more likely to be focused on solutions, which helps to keep the project moving forward so project delays can be minimized.

Once the architect is retained to perform construction administration functions, the architect needs to be mindful of the contract language. The AIA contract provisions pertaining to construction administration services include language like “periodic site visits at intervals appropriate to the stage of construction” so the architect can determine and confirm “that the contractor is performing in general compliance with the plans and specifications”. What is meant by “periodic” and how often do you need to visit the site? Also, is it possible to know whether the contractor is in “general compliance” with the contract for construction if the architect is not present on a daily basis?

When issues like these are litigated in court, and a jury of your peers must answer these questions, the judge will likely instruct them on a reasonable person standard with little explanation as to what that means. Essentially, the standard of care is: “the Architect shall perform its services consistent with the professional skill and care ordinarily provided by architects practicing in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances”. The architect’s construction administration responsibilities in making periodic site visits and determining whether the contractor is performing in general compliance with the contract documents will almost invariably become a focus because it is this scope of work that can potentially expose the architect to unwarranted liability. If the architect’s contract dictates the number of site visits per week, then this removes some uncertainty as to what is expected of the architect concerning when to make the visits. Owners may want to leave this vague and leave it to the architect to determine when to come to the site, which opens

the door to questions like “How did you know when to go the site?” and “What made you go on July 10 but not go again until August 1?” Clearly, knowing the progress of construction activity is critical to knowing when to make your visits, particularly if certain aspects of the work will no longer be visible after a certain date (e.g., foundation). Keeping up to date with the owner as to construction progress is, therefore, critical.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the architect should document his efforts with some specificity as to when he was at the site, the nature of the activities the architect observed, weather conditions, a list of workers and how the project is proceeding. Assuming the architect is being kept apprised of the progress of construction, discussed above, then the architect should indicate what he was told about construction progress and whether the architect’s observations on site are consistent with that information. Similarly, the architect should document conversations he had with people on site to give additional flavor and meaning to the architect’s on-site observations. These are important details because the architect, in the event of a lawsuit, is likely to be questioned about the reported observations, so the report or email should tell a story that fits with other project information like budgets and schedules. Taking care to do this will make preparation for questioning and answering deposition questions much easier. Without documentation of the architect’s observations in this manner, mounting a defense to claims involving the architect’s construction administration activities is difficult as memories invariably fade quickly over time.

This is but a short discussion of how an architect can properly perform construction administration responsibilities and reasons why performing construction administration is vitally important. Should you wish to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact me at your convenience. l

Douglas has been with L’Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini, LLP since his admission to the Bar in 1991. His practice currently concentrates in the defense of architects and engineers professional liability claims.

He has experience with lawyers and accountants malpractice claims and has handled various commercial matters and contractual disputes on behalf of owners, general contractors, construction managers and design professionals on both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s side.

Mr. Halstrom holds the Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Rating AV® Preeminent, its highest rating for ethics and legal ability. He has also been selected as a Super Lawyer in the area of Construction Litigation in the Metro Edition of New York Super Lawyers® annually since 2019.

This article contains excerpts from CLAIM is a Five Letter Word— What Happens When It Happens to You?, RLI Insurance Company’s DPLE course number 310A, an AIA-approved continuing education program for Health, Safety, and Welfare.

There’s no shortage of content available to architects addressing claims-prevention tips and strategies, and most of what is available is of dubious value in my opinion anyway. If we really knew how to avoid getting sued, roughly 15-20 percent of you wouldn’t find yourselves on the receiving end of a professional negligence lawsuit each year. That may still be the topic of a future article, but for now I’d like discuss a situation that I think doesn’t get nearly enough attention—what you need to do when this situation arises, and what not to do to avoid making matters worse.

One of the most important concepts for understanding your professional liability coverage relates to two key terms found in every standard professional liability policy in some form or another—claim and circumstance—which dictate both what your insurer’s obligations are to you, and what your obligations are to your insurer, in certain situations. Specific policy language will differ somewhat between insurers, but normally a claim is described as a demand for money or services coupled with an allegation of professional negligence while a circumstance is defined as an event or occurrence from which the insured reasonably expects that a claim could be made.


Although we usually think of a claim as being inherently worse than a circumstance, the mere possibility of a claim, it’s often circumstances that get architects in more trouble and present the most opportunities to inadvertently jeopardize coverage under their policies. This is in part because most people’s natural response to a claim aligns with their contractual obligations to their insurer, namely, that the insurer be notified right away. Not many people will ignore or casually sit on a lawsuit, and consequently we see very few coverage denials based on the failure to properly report claims.

Circumstances (sometimes called “claim circumstances” or “pre-claims”) don’t always elicit a response that coincides


with policy requirements, however. If there is a problem on a project, your natural instinct is probably to be cooperative and helpful in trying to work with the client to fix the problem, and you probably aren’t immediately thinking about involving your insurer. And that’s fine—insurers generally want you in that role—and unlike a claim, there’s no obligation under most professional liability policies to bring-in your insurer every time there’s an issue on a job.

That being said, and regardless of whether you have to or not, there are some very good reasons to report a circumstance to your insurer anyway:

First, it usually doesn’t count against you in the calculation of future premiums, so there’s no harm in simply keeping your insurer informed about what’s going on. Insurers don’t penalize you for this because they want you to involve them when a problem first arises, so they have a chance to help you mitigate the severity of a claim or even avoid one altogether. Also, when you report a circumstance it “books” that matter to the current policy year, so even if it doesn’t technically become a claim until much later, that claim will go on the policy that was in place when the circumstance was first reported. This can be tremendously valuable if you realize that most insurers are only looking at a 5-year loss history when calculating a policy premium, so reporting something as a circumstance might allow the matter to fall-off that 5-year lookback period months or even years sooner, and consequently the claim might only wind up affecting your premiums for a year or 2 instead of 5.

Finally, every time you renew your policy you have to answer a question on your application that closely mirrors that insurer’s policy definition of a circumstance by asking if you’re aware of anything that might turn into a claim. Unless you’re 100% sure that some pending issue isn’t going to blow up later on, you’re effectively forced to report it to the insurer or you risk them coming back later and claiming you knew about a situation and withheld or concealed information about it. If deemed a “fraudulent misrepresentation” this omission can give an insurer more than ample grounds to deny coverage. Another benefit of notifying your insurer about a circumstance early-on is that most policies have some sort of Loss Prevention Assistance or Pre-Claims Assistance provision that allows the insurer to provide helpful resources, at their sole discretion, like hiring an attorney to guide you through the situa-

tion, accompany you to a meeting or deposition, or help you draft communications to your client to make sure you aren’t doing or saying anything that could later jeopardize your position or coverage. Sometimes insurers will even decide to just throw some money at a situation to make it go away if they believe that’s the best way to avoid costly litigation. Perhaps the biggest benefit of these provisions, which many insureds are unaware of, is that the expenses incurred by the insurer usually aren’t subject to your policy’s deductible and don’t erode your policy limits, at least until or unless the matter later turns into a claim.

Where architects also frequently get themselves in trouble while dealing with a circumstance is that, in trying to be helpful and cooperative, they inadvertently accept some responsibility for the problem, and this good-faith admission can really come back to haunt them. Professional liability policies specifically state that coverage is contingent upon the insured’s not admitting any fault or liability, or agreeing to any settlement, without the consent of the insurer. In doing so, you can effectively and irreparably undermine the insurer’s ability to defend you in the event the circumstance turns into a claim – no lawyer on earth can successfully argue that something wasn’t your fault if there’s a string of emails with you admitting you made a mistake. You also cannot agree to pay to fix something yourself then send your insurer the bill – they won’t pay it.

The bottom line is that you should always have an open line of communication with your insurance agent or your insurer to discuss any matters that give you cause for concern. Make sure you are familiar with your policy’s provisions, its definitions, what it requires of you, and what actions or inactions on your part can jeopardize or void the coverage it provides. Don’t wait until you’re served with a lawsuit to get your insurer involved, and remember that trying to fix problems yourself can be a path fraught with perils, where the best of intentions can leave you unable to rely on your insurance when you need it most. l

Eli has worked in the insurance industry since 2005, and exclusively with architects, engineers, and design professionals since 2011. He specializes in contract reviews and negotiations, particularly with respect to large publicly funded infrastructure projects, and helping his clients navigate the complex insurance environments inherent to such projects. He also enjoys assisting new firms and guiding them through the process of obtaining insurance for the first time and advising them on best practices for managing risk. He is a frequent consultant and advisor to insurance companies and has helped draft numerous policy forms and endorsements that are widely used in the construction industry.

FEBRUARY ‘23 | PAGE 43 SF JUN 7–10 AIA Conference on Architecture 2023 DESIGNTHEARCHITECTURE&EVENTOFTHEYEAR! A23_evergreen-print-ad_V01.indd 1 2/21/23 2:54 PM




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