2022-2023 Session #5: Community Engagement and DEI

Hosted by Yuliana Hernandez and Mitzi Jimenez at the Alief Neighborhood Center, Session 5:  Community Engagement and DEI, the speakers were from a diverse group which included City Council, educational institutions and resource centers. They focused on challenges faced by underserved communities, understanding the needs of the users and how designers and architects can play a role in enhancing the quality of life and increasing engagement in the community. In addition, the session dealt with critical issues faced by people with disabilities – activities were designed for participants to first-hand experience some of the challenges faced by people with disabilities and helped emphasize the importance of actively focusing on all user groups while designing.

2022-2023 Session #4: The Art of Negotiation

Hosted by Giovanni Peña and Anthony Olalde at the CASA Houston Showroom, Session 4: The Art of Negotiation and Closing the Deal highlighted the challenges, tips, tricks, and actionable skills, of negotiating and closing deals professionally and personally. Various firm leaders and professionals with a wide range of expertise and years in practice shared their insights on how to manage clients, employers, resources, and talent effectively while focusing on your personal market value.

2022-2023 Session #3: Entrepreneurship and Business Management

Hosted by Bahar Moghan and Kaushik Anantharam at the Knoll Inc. Showroom, Session 3: Entrepreneurship and Business Management focused on the challenges of leading an architectural practice. The scholars learned from different firm leaders and entrepreneurs who highlighted the importance of understanding client needs, fostering employees’ personal goals, developing a viable business strategy, and evolving in an ever-changing world.

2022-2023 Session #2: Working Together

Hosted by Akanksha Sharma and Norgerie Rivas, The CKLDP class of 2023 gathered together at SheSpace for the session #2, entitled “Working Together.” SheSpace, a space worked on by Norgerie herself, is a coworking and event space, established to suit the specific needs of entrepreneurial women. The session centered around the “3 C’s of working together” – Communication, Collaboration, Coordination, with each part explored through very diverse mediums in the session, ranging from rock, paper scissors tournaments, to re-designing flawed floor plans, to asking the tough questions of our consultants.

2022-2023 Session #1: Leadership Fundamentals

The CKLDP class of 2023 started off with Session 1 – Leadership Fundamentals on Friday, October 7. This committee-organized session aimed to developing a collegiate mindset by taking place at the University of Houston campus. Scholars learned about the five levels of leadership, vision setting, and developing personal growth plans from former AIA Houston president Alyse Makarewicz. A presentation on the role of Emotional Intelligence in leadership was given by Jessica Ciosek of Selah Brain and Body. Scholars learned about flow state, group triggers, and the importance of stress management. The afternoon was wrapped up with a Leadership Retrospective Panel moderated by the committee’s own Sara Harpole. Scholars heard about career paths and leadership challenges from a diverse group of local leaders: Bill Brown, Diana Davis, Anzilla Gilmore, and Heather Rowell. After the session, scholars and guests enjoyed an outdoor happy hour at Brass Tacks.

2021-2022 Session #0: Bootcamp

Date: September 3, 2021
Location: Architecture Center Houston (ArCH)

In the CKLDP Bootcamp session, this year’s new class of scholars met for the first time to explore the upcoming curriculum topics of the year at the offices of AIA Houston. The 15 scholars were able to brainstorm on topics from Community Engagement to the Art of Negotiating, considering opportunities for these sessions that each scholar will organize themselves over the course of the program.

Guest speakers included keynote Amaya Labrador, Founding Chair of Houston CKLDP, and AIA Houston President-Elect AJ Sustaita. The session also included a burn-out workshop presented by Dr. Kim Hires.

SP2021 Session #4:

Date: May 7, 2021
Location: Zoom
Leaders: Eric Burnside, Mahe Hameed, Joanne Ma
Documentation:  Ami Patel, Sarah Rolfvondenbaumen

Expanding the Definition of Practice + Trending Now

The final session of Houston’s 2021 Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program was divided into five distinct parts about the impact architects can have on sustainability efforts and social justice. The sponsor presentation by Lisa Conway and Dana Antake from Interface aligned with the session’s topic – the design process that guided their team to the creation of  ‘carbon negative’ carpet tile.

Part One of the session focused on the City & Developer Level with a presentation by Brandon Hendricks of Radon Capital. Brandon is an architect by training.  After working in several architecture firms, including Cooke Fox and Gensler,  Brandon decided the best way to utilize his entrepreneurial experience and have an impact on his community was by working with a developer. Radon Capital is involved in a lot of the exciting mixed use developments around Houston, including M-K-T Heights, Heights Mercantile, and the transformation of the former Stages Theater. Radon Capital approaches projects by asking how they can have the most positive impact, and always look for design specialists who have similar visions. Brandon’s MBA from Rice helps him feel more confident when making financial decisions. Brandon encourages other architects to work in the developer role because having diverse backgrounds on the team is an added value to the community.

After participating in a survey about the formal commitment and training at scholars’ firms (where subsequent discussion established that a commitment must be made, training happens in spurts and is generally inconsistent), the session dived into Part Two – Advocacy & Policy. Presenters Marina Badoian-Kriticos, Houston Advanced Research Center, gave an update on the current state of the climate (it’s bad) and the role that policy plays in actionable change. After confirming that high performing buildings really can have an impact on the levels of emissions, the scholars learned that Texas leads the nation in energy consumption. Policy change is happening faster and is more strict at local city level than state and federal. Fellow presenter David MacLean, McMax Cx, has been having the same conversations about climate change for thirty years – propelling him to start his company focusing on the business case of sustainable design.  $400,000,000 in energy savings was lost in Houston between the adoption of 2015 IECC and the enforcement of it. Without transparency and accountability, policy change is useless. 

Before beginning Part Three – AEC Industry Level, the scholars participated in a second survey focusing on their role as client advisors, their knowledge about sustainability, and whether they have the tools to make informed decisions. The survey was timed very appropriately as the next presenter, Sandeep Ahuja, showed the scholars cove.tool, a program she has developed to assist designers make complicated decisions. As an architect, Sandeep wanted to design sustainable buildings, but did not know how to quantify decision making. While working at a large architecture firm, Sandeep helped develop a tool to do just that. Inputting the necessary information was so time intensive, the tool was only useful on large projects with big budgets. Desiring to have a bigger impact, Sandeep started a company focused on streamlining design analysis. What began as a team of 10 working on 250 projects has grown to 35 people that have had an effect on 16,000 projects in the past two years. Cove.tool is always adding new features (like Covid safety and embodied carbon) and believes that the AEC Industry is very good at giving feedback. Understanding that every project is limited by budget, cove.tool helps architects and owners spend in ways to make the most impact.

To follow advocacy from an industry level, the scholars investigated B-Corp Certified business operations and strategies from David-Shove Brown who leads the 3877 practice in Washington, D.C. and Kevin Wilhelm who leads Sustainable Business Consulting. David-Shove Brown shared an emphasis on the importance of teamwork and company culture. Leading the first B-Corp company in the DC area, David explained that the business structure allows operations to become more knowledgeable and able to share knowledge while building trust and potential clients. The question and answer segment of the presentation allowed scholars to experience the common thread between the business structure and transparency within the organization. Kevin lead conversations regarding how to be better listeners and ask the right questions. Internally, Kevin and David both spoke towards financial transparency and how that supports employees support agency. Kevin’s consulting company was ranked as one of the top places to work and he also wrote the book, “How To Talk the Other Side”, where he shares strategies in finding the common ground and win-win situations.

To end our session, Tya Winn, head of Community Design Collaborative, shared her deep commitment strategies and practices regarding public design. Her work aims to connect professionals to raise awareness within revitalizing communities. Scholars were exposed to the process of securing funding for pro-bono work and grants and which part of services these funds cover. Tya’s work includes a lot of volunteering for public interest design programs that celebrate communities and raise awareness. Tya works with a team of 8 full-time employees and currently has 1000 on a growing list of volunteers and 300 in just the Philadelphia area! This business is currently exploring if their design process only includes schematic design, or if it becomes a non-profit architectural firm. Tya’s expertise and knowledge shed a light on the importance of the business of architecture and its community outreach. Scholars were given hard facts to understand a business’ direct impact and influence to a community and what that means from a monetary perspective.

SP2021 Session #3:

Date: April 9, 2021
Location: Zoom
Leaders: Ami Patel, Sarah Rolfvondenbaumen
Documentation:  Alex Morales,  Megan Irvin

Working Together & Future of Our Culture


Speaker #1 Neurodiversity in the workplace 

Amy Sickeler – Perkins & Will

Amy has researched Neurodiversity for many years and described to the scholars how we could become more aware of neurodiversity among our clients. She also explained that there are obstacles we can inadvertently be creating with universal design practices and illustrated alternate ways we can explore effective solutions. 

  • Variation in the way we think or process information – which is different for many
  • Neurodiversity is not a disability – they are who we are. Each one of us is different and some require different settings and accommodations and we should be mindful to understand and plan for these different settings in our designs. 
  • Daylight is imperative
  • Typical obstacles, we need to make ourselves more aware of barriers we may not know about with universal design practices
  • Our spaces are not a one size fits all – need calm and bright spaces on both ends of the spectrum
  • We are all practitioners. 
  • Amy noted that most designers may have some degree of dysfunction/dyslexia.  Dyslexia can be seen as an attribute vs. an obstacle. 
  • It was suggested that the future of architecture practice would improve if design incorporated virtues of neurodiversity, both in the workplace and in aspects like schedules
  • Firms like HOK are have been exploring the topic of neurodiversity and are leading the charge in this field 
  • Neurodiverse groups are not the same as groups with disabilities.  Therefore, can’t obtain disability coverages

Speaker #2 DiSC Assessment & Discussion 

Alyse Makarewicz – AMB Architects

Alyse explained to the group what the DiSC assessment measures, how we could read our results, and how this knowledge has empowered her in her own career.

  • We all look at the world out a different window
  • You learn how to better identify your strengths and motivations and understand what will build an effective environment for the needs of those around you by practicing more and more
  • For our work, we can tailor our delivery and presentations to our client’s personalities 
  • Easier to respond when you learn where your coworkers are coming from which may have previously been perceived as harsh or unkind
  • Spend 80% of your time in your strengths zone
  • The purpose of the DiSC training was to learn about the different “operative” zones individuals may fall into: 
    • People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.
  • People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
  • People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
  • People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
  • Break out windows- the scholars were broken into small groups to discuss our personal DiSC assessment results and answer this series of questions: 
  1. Look at page 5 in your report. Share your style/blend and your main strength. Do you agree? Was this an aha?
  2. Share your “Keys to Manage.” Do you agree?
  3. Share your “How Others May Misunderstand and Misread You” and “Things To Be Aware Of.” Do you agree?
  4. Discuss with the people in your group how you are different and how that could show up working on a project together.

Panel Discussion– Where Do We Go from Here?  

Jake Donaldson – Method Architecture

Maija Kreishman – Michael Hsu Office of Architecture 

Cindy Villarreal – O’Connell Robertson

  • Q: How has your organization responded to the necessary changes in workplace culture due to COVID 19? How do you see your office culture adapting these techniques permanently?
    • Jake – No more casual chats by the water cooler, we’ve realized that the person to person interaction to build those relationships is crucial. We’ve enjoyed getting back to that aspect while returning to the office. 
    • Maija – during the pandemic, our firm has had the opportunity for individuals to work in other cities then where the main offices are located. Sees this continuing in the future and the possibilities to work on projects in other areas with someone local. 
  • Q: How can we create an office culture where rituals and ceremonies enacted in the office are inaccessible, and workers have little or no face-to-face interaction with each other or their leaders? What is a ritual that you have developed over the past year, and how do you see it lasting in a more ‘hybrid’ model?
    • Cindy – We’ve had to be much more intentional with our outreach. We’ve set up weekly engagement meetings and rotate who you are meeting with week to week
  • Q: What have been some key factors in creating & maintaining an ‘ego-free’ design firm? Could you give an example of how an ‘ego’ has had to be checked to honor this value? 
  • Q: Discuss We vs. Me mentality – are we making progress on equalizing the playing field?
  • Panelists all echoed how important they all feel it is to make sure every voice in the firm has the opportunity to be heard. 
  • Q: How do you identify leadership potential in your sphere, and how do you mentor that development? 
    • Jake- When we see potential, we want to allow that growth. 
    • All panelists echoed they try to allow opportunities for people to step outside their comfort zone and see how they do while offering guidance at the same time. 
  • Q: Discuss Mentorship vs. sponsorship in your own career. How can emerging leaders be better at both for the next generation? Specific tools or practices?
    • Cindy- I make it a priority to share what I’ve learned from my experiences with my coworkers. 
    • All panelists echoed this importance and agree we should all work to empower the upcoming generations of architects.
  • It was noted that as is the case for most businesses even outside of architecture, communication during the pandemic had to increase
  • Panelists suggested that emerging professionals should be allowed opportunities for leadership within their firms.
  • Maiha Krishman noted that although leadership opportunities are given to emerging professionals within her firm, it is important that tenured leadership still be available to support EP’s in newly-minted leadership roles.
  • Cindy Villareal noted that a strategy that helped her remain competitive in her career was mere observation.  Cindy indicated that she would observe others as a mechanism for how best to improve her career approach.  

Speaker #3 Future of our Culture 

Evelyn Lee – Slack

Evelyn works at Slack as a Senior Experience Designer. One of her goals is to help Slack understand how they can make their space more productive and reimagine work while allowing the company to grow in place. 

  • Slack has moved away from assigning spaces to individual employees. The way they work now is a mesh between digital interactions & integrations
  • The goal is to incorporate more collaboration in the future, which can help drive future programs
  • Spaces may become more specialized, so instead of booking an available conference room no matter the size, you can enter the amount of attendees and the appropriate sized space would be assigned to your meeting
  • We have to be thinking about how do we continue to make $ when our clients aren’t building
  • Evelyn also introduced the group to the Practice Innovation Lab which is a 3-day intensive summit where emerging architects and designers were invited to develop new models of working within the profession
  • Evelyn shared the Practice Disrupted Podcast where she and a colleague interview various design professionals on the evolution of architectural practice 
  • There is a hybrid balancing the type of work we do alone and the type of work we do together
    • Evelyn is concerned about how firms will fair by just adopting the hybrid remote working model many firms have started during the pandemic without digging deeper into the logistics. She explained we really have to pick apart our operations, policies and procedures in order to be successful
    • Firm owners also need to make the shift to the hybrid working model, it doesn’t work if they say it’s acceptable and then keep their previous long hours at the office
  • Quote highlighted in the discussion: ‘When the titanic sank, survivors may have used a piano top as a flotation device, but that doesn’t mean a piano top is an ideal design for a flotation device’ – Bucky Fuller
  • Evelyn Lee indicated that she believed she could do more outside of traditional architecture and decided to pursue different ways of contributing to the discipline in non-traditional roles.
  • One way of exploring non-traditional roles is by by requesting an “interest interview” to learn about the prospective role and to assess whether there is a good fit career wise.
  • https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/eiUYf4IvVu0y-ZFh6As04hHTidKFlh7WCW3QRuwBKvuhCr8pO-LkJ4_P3KJTuPRv3EfLMeMGWdb0-ZWJHpK3et1FR5XLxhXlgQrMadtWvHIovmFAme2kIjEDbqtTdxqLDtgvOIE

SP2021 Session #2:

Date: March 5, 2021
Location: Zoom
Leaders: Alex Morales, Megan Irvin
Documentation: Jean Daly, Rick De La Cruz.

Community Engagement + DEI


Part I: Introduction & Opening

The session opened with a short presentation by session sponsor Cast Connex, covering their capabilities in creating unique and aesthetically pleasing structural connections. Then session leaders Megan Irving, AIA and Alex Morales talked about the transformative power of architecture and how it can impact the community and the change the world we live in, followed by a brief overview of the speaker line up for the session.

Part II: Food that Heals

In this segment, we welcomed two speakers – urban famer Tommy Garcia-Prats and restaurant owner, Ana Beaven, both with enterprises deeply rooted in the community. 

Tommy shared his experience in learning about farming in Nicaragua, and setting up the practice in downtown Houston. He reminded everyone that history doesn’t just happen on TV – it’s made by every single one of us. By bringing healthy food to less developed neighborhood, Tommy hoped to raise awareness of healthy eating and healthy living. 

Following Tommy, Anna talked about her restaurant concept – by bringing fresh and authentic Mexican food, and by extension Mexican culture, to the US. Anna shared her story about coming to the US, selecting a place for her business, and menus for the restaurant. Beyond food, she also wishes to bring Mexican musicians and artists to further the role as a culture ambassador.

Both speakers drew the conclusion that food connects people, just like architecture – they are all a part of culture. Many of these community based projects face similar challenges, yet they can all make huge impacts on the communities as well.

Part III: Affordable Housing & Architect’s Role in Engaging the Community

After a working lunch with Ana Beaven, the CKLDP scholars welcomed affordable housing advocate and Director of New Hope Joy Horack-Brown, as well as Kirksey’s Catherine Calloway.

Joy reinforced and reiterated the need for affordable housing in Houston and nationwide. In her view, affordable housing isn’t just another entitlement program, it’s a basic necessity for building stable and healthy communities. Her passion and charming southern affect captivated the audience. Joy highlighted the efforts of New Hope including $700 million in real estate development of affordable housing and over one thousands affordable units under management.

Catherine, a project manager involved with New Hope affordable housing projects, showcased the Avenue J project, and highlighted how the building represents quality architecture on a budget. Joy also presented the award-winning Braes Crossing project which was designed to create a sense of place, and reflect the community it exists in.

However, affordable housing projects are often faced with very real challenges. The speakers pointed to Nimby-ism (not-in-my-backyard attitude) and Note-ism (not-over-there-either) as the primary challenges to much needed affordable housing in Houston.

Both Joy and Catherine underscored the importance of housing quality for affordable projects. “There’s nothing cheap about affordable housing, nor should there be.” We are shaped by our environments. Architects shape people’s physical environments. Ergo, architects should work to create wonderful environments that shape people’s lives for the better.

Part IV: Community Engagement and EDI

After hearing from Joy and Catherine, the second CKLDP session closed with a three-person panel discussing community engagement, and equity, diversity, and inclusion.

James Harrison, Amanda Dean, and Nicola Springer engaged with students and each other in lively discussion on the lack of equity, diversity, and inclusion EDI initiatives in the past, and how current efforts are affecting the industry today. Each speaker, although from very different backgrounds, all faced an uphill battle for equity, diversity, and inclusion as they advanced in the profession. Each speaker also shared not only their personal experiences, but also strategies for pushing EDI personally and professionally.

Amanda advocated a courageous approach without reservations, citing her own experience bringing up EDI issues with her CEO as well as leaving a firm that refused to change it’s outdated practices.

James suggested a nuanced approach that was a little more accommodative and well suited for his particular time and place. “You can’t affect change on the bench. You gotta get in the game”. James encouraged CKLDP scholars to find common ground, earn the trust of their superiors, earn a place at the table, then change their organizations from within.

Nicola built off of James’s advice by telling the scholars to “be intentional, be prepared, and be knowledgeable”. In building professional expertise we can gain people’s trust. With trust, we can make changes to our firms in order to advance EDI.

The trio also touched on other important topics such as the need for specific “safe spaces” and organization for minority groups,  EDI in the promotion process, and mentorship.

2019-2020 Session #7:

Date: March 06, 2020
Location: Zoom
Leaders: Darian Jones, Andres Mendoza
Documentation: Jean Daly, Rick De La Cruz


“Sorry, I was on mute.” 

After a two-month hiatus due to COVID-19, CKLDP scholars reconvened virtually thanks to Zoom and our wonderful organizers Darian Jones and Andres Mendoza. Session #7, Expanding the Practice, tested the group’s improvisation, as everyone juggled Zoom, Mural, and the myriad of tiled windows, voices, and ideas jumping from the computer screen. Scholars were confronted with themes of sustainability, diversity, and collaboration and offered hope that the AEC community is well equipped to transform the built environment into a healthier and more inclusive space.    


“The show must go on.”

Session #7 explored sustainability, diversity, and collaboration. “Sustainability and Beyond” highlights the work of Anica Landreneau, her advocacy, and the push for green energy codes standards. The session closed with scholars and presenters teamed to design a space for gathering in a post pandemic world where public space is limited and restricted by social distancing.


Anica Landreneau leader of HOK’s global sustainability design practice presented her work on advocating for advancements in Energy Code.  Anica has served on national advisory committees for USGBC, participated in the development committee for the IECC 2021 Energy Code, as well as testified in front of congress on the climate crisis.  She noted the beneficial economics of building green, citing that adoption of newer energy codes were especially critical for social equity, and ensuring that low income housing was built to standards that prevent mold growth and reduce utility bills for their tenants.  Anica noted anyone can make a code proposal for amendments, but the best way to have an impact on how the code was shaped was to get involved – either by joining a committee or reaching out to city officials and advocating for the adoption of more recent energy codes and benchmarking.

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 4.57.27 PM


The scholars zoomed, clicked, and muraled. Equipped with laptops, WI-FI, and a virtual canvas, scholars and presenters teamed to imagine and design the future of the performing arts’ experience.  

Team Gregory, led by presenter Gregory Lake (Vice President of Sales at Specified Int+EX), breathed life into live event arenas by integrating vehicular and venue experiences. “CAR-ENA” retrofits vacant venues with tiered concrete platforms for socially distanced parking. Spectators simply drive to their favorite concert or sports venue and find themselves already in their seats.


Team Loren, led by presenter Loren Miner (Co-Founder of Eastwood Realty), transformed Buffalo Bayou’s Turkey Bend into a family fun tech-savvy venue with autonomous boat rides and contactless “bot-boat” service. Live entertainment flanks Turkey Bend as self-guided boats and phytoremediated floating gardens help cleanse the water while maintaining social distancing guidelines for patrons.


Team Donna, led by Donna Kacmar (Associate Professor, Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture), takes back Houston’s 59 corridor. “Free the Freeway” posits large scale highway closures as venues for art, commerce, and civil disobedience. Spatial arrangements are planimetric, sectional and temporal and offer a shared space to assert solidarity and empathy.


Team Linda, led by Linda Camacho (Associate at Kirksey Architecture), imagines “Life Outside (The) Bubble,” a universal design standard that provides vulnerable populations safe and sanitized spaces to access communal experiences. Fixed “bubbles” will be outfitted in all public venues so that no one is denied a public/social life in a post-Covid environment.