YAF Connection 14.03

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ver the past 7 years, the non-profit, city inspiring organization Next City has been running an annual conference for urban innovators. The focus is to bring 40 or so of the brightest stars under 40 to a location they deem the “next city”; an urban area that has the potential for positive growth. The assemblage of participants is a highly curated mix of disciplines, backgrounds and perspectives, all of whom are ready to get to work. As part of the YAF’s focus on innovation and the future of the profession, we partnered with Tom Dallessio and the Next City team to host a panel of three promising innovators at this year’s AIA National Convention in Philadelphia. The panelists, Paola Aguirre, Gina Ford, and Karen Kubey, are alumni of the 2015 Vanguard conference held in Reno, NV and all have a foot in the profession of architecture. For as similar as their backgrounds might seem on the surface, all three have a unique perspective on design and came to become Vanguard Fellows in a variety of ways. Paola, for instance, hadn’t heard of Next City before she started the application process. Since she had recently absconded the corporate world, a former colleague convinced her that she would be a great fit and encouraged her to apply. Her colleague felt the conference closely aligned with her personal interests and her soon to be professional goals. Paola was about to assume a Fellow position in the newly formed “Do Tank” called Place Lab, which was being assembled by artist Theaster Gates. Interestingly enough, her new venture was hyperfocused on neighborhood redevelopment through arts and culture in Chicago's South Side, not unlike the goals of the conference. Gina’s background and career arc was similar to Paola’s newly forged path, since she solves problems ranging from large scale disaster recovery down to small scale tactical urbanism in cities across the country. She has actively been growing the urban studio in her Boston firm of Sasaki, which acts as a counterpoint to the institutional work the other half of the firm pursues. However, Gina had a different avenue into the conference. She had a few clients who had gone through the program and had applied a few times herself. Her persistence paid off and is now a tireless advocate for others to get involved. While each of the panelists had roots in multiple disciplines, Karen’s work represents alternative architectural practice. With a background in traditional practice, she has migrated to the institutional side of the built environment under the umbrella of architecture. She organizes competitions and exhibitions, teaches, writes, and develops design proposals and installations. Karen believes those methods have helped advance social issues, such as affordable housing, complementing the impacts of traditional practice. It all started when she co-chaired the New Housing New York competition that led to the design and




construction of Via Verde. She eventually landed as the Executive Director of the Institute for Public Architecture. At the Vanguard Conference she was surprised by one particular outcome: she met a lot of people from New York whom she should have known already. They were just outside her circles, but it was excellent to work with disciplines, like graphic design, that she typically doesn’t get the chance to do. Their backgrounds qualified them to attend, but the working styles and personalities of the attendees was still an unknown. With little time to develop a relationship, the organizers and attendees had to get to know each other quickly. At the kick off event, Gina remembers everyone being thrust into or out of their comfort zone pretty quickly. “There was a MadLib that was very personal about our experiences and who we are. It was amazing to see fifty five people stand up and bare their souls at the beginning. It was a pretty great little icebreaker”. The organizers of conference, however, did pick teams prior to give people the chance to interact. Paola recalls having a few conference calls ahead of time and starting to work right away, since they didn’t want to wait until the event started. Karen, however, eschewed the pre-conference work and focused heavily on what she deemed a series of impossible challenges. She even felt her entrance to the group was a larger than life kind of experience. Because of a prior commitment and