Young Architect Conference Part Two: Choose Your Own Adventure

August 23rd – 25th, 2019 marked the first Young Architects Conference which took place in Portland, OR. An architecture conference focused not on product reps and sharing success stories among principals but rather one that was focused on developing the next generation of architecture professionals. One of the brilliant things Michael Riscica and his team did with this conference is setting up three unique paths.

  • The Architecture Student – For current students

  • The Emerging Professional – Recent graduates who aren’t licensed yet.

  • The Young Architect – For architects within their first ten years of licensure.

I personally chose to take the Emerging Professional track but dipped my toes into each other the others at well. And that’s why I call YAC the Choose Your Own Adventure of conferences. Michael really enables you to take the path that’s best for you and truly maximize your experience.

Michael Riscica getting ready to kick off Day Two. Photo Credit:

Michael Riscica getting ready to kick off Day Two. Photo Credit:


Michael Riscica lead an Entrepreneurship workshop (YA Track) that taught me how to recognize my own unique skills. That having a big mouth is more of a blessing than a curse, but it might mean you have to blaze your own path. Most of all I took away that it’s best to “Be yourself while being of service.”

The following workshop ‘Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable’ (YA Track) lead by Dr. Ashlee Kleven Hayes was aptly named. Talking about myself does tend to make me uncomfortable when I feel like I’m trying to earn something, like a job for example. Regardless of confidence and how capable I know I am for the job, I get a little squeamish talking highly of myself. I think a lot of us can relate to this. Ashlee taught us the art of the “humble brag”, people need to know what you’re doing and if you never tell them, how will they know?


The second day kicked off with some truly amazing keynote speakers; Wandile Mthiyane, Dr. Ashlee Kleven Hayes, Mariela Bravo and Drew Paul Bell.

Wandile is a truly awe-inspiring human from Durban, a coastal city in South Africa. He’s harnessed the ingenuity of his childhood and the resourcefulness of his community. Determined to leave his hometown better than he found it Wandile has founded the Ubuntu Design Group which is doing amazing work providing families with new homes and space to create and run a business.

“Our mission is to empower inadequately sheltered families to overcome economic and social challenges and barriers, through innovation and collaboration in designing for the future vision of their home and community.“

Wandile’s mission and design group is proof that architecture really can change the world. I highly recommend that you look at his work and if you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, don’t miss it!

Wandile during his Keynote speech. Photo Credit:

Wandile during his Keynote speech. Photo Credit:

Dr. Ashlee Hayes gave a keynote presentation all about how to develop a lasting career. It piggybacked perfectly off her workshop the day before and covered topics like how to stand out in a saturated job market and how to define success on your own terms.

Mariela Bravo gave a wonderful talk centering around reconstruction happening in her home of Puerto Rico. How survival and adaptation are crucial to rebuilding places after natural disasters hit.

Drew Paul Bell gave the final keynote of the day before we took lunch and come back for our workshops. Drew is not only an architect but also runs a YouTube channel showcasing the industry and how to transition from school into the profession. In his keynote he spoke about not waiting to be picked, and that responsibility isn’t something you can wait for, you take it.

All these keynotes were inspiring, and I can’t wait to see who Mike brings to next years conference.

For my workshops on day two I attended one discussing Rendering Workflow lead by Christian Fraser that was meant for the Student Track and then returned to the Young Architect Track for my following workshop with Gloria Kloter on Women In Architecture. She reminded us that we are all leaders within our own lives and taught us about the levels of leadership.


Day three kicked off with three more amazing keynote speakers; Rachel Gresham discussed how to find the right work environment for our individual needs.

Leah Alissa Bayer gave an amazing and inspiring talk about her own journey in architecture and left us all asking ourselves:

“What happens if I fail? What happens if I succeed?”

Jason Bachor from Good Fucking Design Advice shared the story of how him and his business partner created GFDA and refused to apologize for the way they did it.

Michael Riscica closed out the keynotes with a great talk about all the shifts happening in Architecture and how to embrace the changes. He reminded us that we’re all in this profession together and there’s room for everyone to succeed.

I split the final day of the conference between the Student Track and the Emerging Professionals Track. I started with a wonderful Sketching workshop with Bill Tripp, who’s easily the best drawing teacher I’ve ever crossed paths with. He has a knack for taking everything you thought you knew about drawing or how to become skilled in the art and throwing it out the window. He demystifies all the fear I carried around about drawing and taught us some amazing practices for getting started.

The second workshop I attended was my absolute favorite of the entire conference, the Content Creators Workshop. It was a wonderful open-forum Q&A set up where a panel of five Content Creators shared a piece of their story and interacted with anyone in the audience who wanted to ask a question.

This workshop is what lead me to finally launch this blog. I had been throwing around the idea for a couple of years and had even written a few articles but never published them. I owe Michael Riscica a huge thank you for this workshop and bringing Joseph Ech., Sean Joyner, Drew Paul Bell, and Paul Keskeys together. I’m not entirely sure I would have ever gotten this blog off the ground had I not attended this workshop and spoke with these gentlemen. Please check out their respective blogs and YouTube channels.

Joseph takes film during the Content Creators workshop. Photo Credit:

Joseph takes film during the Content Creators workshop. Photo Credit:


All in all, this conference was amazing, and I have a serious appreciation and gratitude for what Michael is creating here. The experience is something I won’t forget and if you’d like to hear more about it, please go read Part One – a reflection on how motivated and empowered I felt after this weekend ended.

The Young Architect Conference 2020 is happening, and I know I’m on pins and needles waiting to see where it will be held and what amazing speakers Michael lines up for it!

See you in 2020!

The Young Architect Conference 2019 Class Photo. Photo Credit:

The Young Architect Conference 2019 Class Photo. Photo Credit:

Young Architect Conference : Part One

Everybody has those important milestones in their lives; graduations, winning an award, getting married, having kids, buying a house. But less frequent and far more powerful than those are the moments that truly change who you are as a human being. I was very lucky to have one of these experiences early on in life, I was 15 and took a trip around Europe. The second time I was fortunate enough to have one of these life-altering moments, I was at the very first Young Architects Conference in Portland, OR.

Now I could sit here and recap my whole schedule, the timeline of everything I did, all the workshops and keynotes I attended. I could tell you about all the amazing speakers at these keynotes, their amazing tales, and all the knowledge I gained, but that’s a different blog post. While all of that is true; the workshops were amazing, the speakers were motivating, the keynotes were valuable, what was truly amazing about this conference was the sense of community. Now while I can’t speak for others, I can confidently say that I believe everyone in attendance came with an open mind and an open heart. I got more knowledge, more advice – sound advice (important distinction) – mentorship, direction, purpose and inspiration in those three days than I had found in the nearly three years since being graduated from college.

I felt like when I graduated from college, I would be so capable. I’d be able to go out and easily get a job. I had worked most of my life after all, starting at the age of nine I hustled my little-brothers friends’ parents for money to “babysit”. I wasn’t even worried. In fact, I was so unconcerned about my ability to join a firm that I took two months off after graduation and took my first break in a very long time. But eating cheaply gets old pretty quick, and I missed having a stone to grind, so I went out into the world and looked for a job. And it was miserable. I didn’t get a job at a firm like I thought I would. I ended up interviewing for a sales position at a local cabinet company, which turned into a drafting position by the second interview and I was so excited! I worked there for a little over two years, pumping my heart and soul into this company – and then they let me go, with no reason or warning, just about a month before the conference.

When I was let go, I felt lost. I felt like I was at this turning point. That I had to find somebody who would give me a job working as an interior designer for an architecture firm. And it was either I figured out how to make this situation work, and I made it! Or if I had to take some other side job, a just-in-case, a just-for-now job, if it was anything other than finding a place at a firm, I felt like I had failed. That all that time and money (mostly the money, cause hi student debt!) was a total waste. And maybe I never belonged in this industry in the first place.

But then I attended the Young Architect Conference, and that changed everything for me.

I feel so empowered, so capable, and so ready to take on this industry after attending this conference. I have so many resources now and I’m beyond grateful. One thing I didn’t expect to do at this conference was to be so vulnerable that I cried. On day one I had some watery eyes from the amazing keynote speakers and their stories. By day two, I was openly letting soft tears fall and by day three I was up in front of a microphone asking questions to a panel, sharing a small piece of my story, and yes – nearly crying. Now I don’t tell you this to admit what a softie I really am… but if that doesn’t explain the power that was in that building last weekend, I just don’t know any other way to convey it to you.

What I can say, plainly and clearly, in a way I know you will all understand, is this: If you care about being the best architecture professional you can be; whether that’s becoming a licensed architect, or maybe a writer, or a specification expert, or a project manager – whatever it is, whatever your niche is – if you care about that, you need to be at the next years Young Architect Conference. I can guarantee you I’m not the only person who walked away from that experience feeling like my life was changed.  

If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, if you’re feeling like you don’t know what to do, if you’re feeling like you want to give up on architecture… or even if you’re in a job and you love it and you feel like you’re on the right path but you just want that next challenge, or to get that next skill that you don’t quite have yet… Come to the Young Architect Conference, because you’ll find it. I promise you, it’s there. Whatever the question is, whatever the thing is that you want to do, and you don’t know how to take the next step, or you don’t know the answer, that answer is at the Young Architect Conference. And you’ll find it, plus some. I truly can’t encourage you enough.

I walked into the Young Architect Conference feeling lost.
I walked out having found my purpose. Plus a whole slew of mentors, supporters and friends.
And that’s quite honestly more than I ever thought I would get out of this experience.

So to everyone who was there this weekend, and to everyone coming next year…

“See you in 2020!”

Michael Riscica thanking everyone at the end of the conference.

Michael Riscica thanking everyone at the end of the conference.