Today Enoch Sears interviews architect Jeffrey Pastva about his career in architecture and how to get more involved.
Jeffrey Pastva is a project architect at JDavis Architects and the editor in Chief of the YAF connection, the bi-monthly journal of the AIA's Young Architects Forum.
Resources for today’s show:
Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Jeffery: The tricky thing is saying that you can't do all pro bono work and make a business out of it, but I think that there are ways that people have been successful in defining new clients out of starting with a pro bono business model or a portion of their business model is pro bono that turns into a robust, thriving, social impact business.
Enoch: Business of Architecture, episode 179. Hello, I'm Enoch Sears, and this is the podcast for architects where you'll discover tips, strategies, and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I'd like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture from income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact by downloading my free four-part architecture firm profit map. As a podcast listener, you can get instant access by going to freearchitectgift.com. Today's guest is Jeffery Pastva. He's a project architect at J Davis Architects based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Also, he's highly active in his local and actually national AIA Organization. He's the editor in chief of YAF Connection, which is the Young Architects Forum publication. Without further ado, let's jump into it.
Jeff, welcome to the Business of Architecture.
Jeffery: Great to be here. Thanks for having me, Enoch.
Enoch: Yeah, it is good to have you on here. You are very actively involved in AIA, both the national level, and I know your local chapter. You're a licensed, registered architect out there in Pennsylvania. You got a lot of stuff going on. Let's talk about that.
Jeffery: Sure. Where would you like to start?
Enoch: Tell me one thing. I see here you went to Syracuse University. Tell me about your experience there. I always like to hear how other architecture schools structure their programs and sort of just a little vignette of what it was like to go there.
Jeffery: Yeah, it's one of those things where you have the blessing and the cure of being in a northeast environment where there were not a lot of distractions. It's easier to be in studio, because we didn't have all the nice weather that maybe a southern school would have, or even a coastal community. It was a great program, still is a great program. When I was in there as an impressionable young freshmen, it was nice to have a program that was looking to blend art and practicality. We learned a lot about the theory of architecture, but still was rooted in structure and building systems and some of the other things that I think now is becoming more and more on trend, particularly with energy efficiency and really understanding the building science of a building.
We didn't get into that totally when I was a freshman starting in 2001, but it definitely was something that piqued our interested. We started looking at a lot of great sites around Syracuse in particular, and then it kind of grew to be within New York. Then we kind of had some sites all across the state. It was nice to be grounded locally that we could visit sites pretty easily.
Enoch: Yeah, no. I know what you're saying, and I definitely identify with the cold weather and having to stay in studio, because I was up in Ithaca. We would go to Syracuse every now and then. That's where the closest nice mall was if we wanted to go shopping.
Jeffery: That's Liverpool Carousel Mall.
Enoch: Yep, yep. There you go. Yeah, is Richard Roses, was he there when you were at Syracuse?
Jeffery: He was. He started around my, I think, second or third year, and a number of my classmates had him as a studio professor. I never had the pleasure.
Enoch: Yeah. Gotcha, gotcha. Okay. Fantastic. Let's hop into your work with the AIA. It's interesting. You are pretty involved there. Tell me about your involvement in the American Institute of Architects.
Jeffery: It started almost immediately after I got licensed, something that was on my radar. I was a little active as an associate, but I became much more engaged. Around 2001 after I'd gotten licensed, I immediately started getting back in the form of teaching a local study session for taking the AREs. A colleague of mine had actually taught me. Her name was Denise Thompson. She's actually the current president of AIA Philadelphia. We kind of started just growing this program, really finding things that engaged young architects and other emerging professionals, first, to find licensure. Then as we started finding a lot of synergies between our work, we started growing into just running programs that we thought would benefit young architects, whether they're starting in their own firm or bringing other communities in, such as, say, a young interior designer group or young engineer group, or Young Involved Philadelphia, which is more of a civic-minded group.
We started [inaudible 00:05:13] stay inside the build environment, but also create connections outside of it. That's kind of how I really got my start back in 2011. We started doing more programs in 2012. Then i took over the chair of what's called the Young Architects Forum local component in 2013. Then if I keep going, that kind of spawned into the next thing for Young Architect leadership, where the AIA Architects Forum has a national representation broken into the 19 AIA regions. Pennsylvania is a single state region, and I was what's called the Young Architect Regional director that represented all the interests throughout PA in this national structure.
I did that for a little bit concurrently while running, not running, but I was doing some editorial work for WAF Connection, which upon the position being opened in 2015, I was named to take over as the editor. Since then, I've been providing creative and kind of editorial direction on articles that really are kind of geared towards not only young architects, but emerging professionals as a whole. We have a close synergy with the College of Fellows. We just really try to blend in all these different member groups to highlight under-recognized young professionals who are in high performing roles and give them an outlet to have their voice be heard on multiple different platforms.
Enoch: What kind of resources are available to young architects through the Young Architects Forum?
Jeffery: There are a number, and then in the last two or three years, we've really ramped up the efforts on archiving or becoming the clearinghouse of what we call knowledge resources. That can be the white paper is kind of the standard when you think of a best practice resource, but we're trying to make it more of events or programs, particularly leadership programs, or even how we're trying to catalog different AIA sessions. This past year as a group, YAF had 10 accepted sessions at the convention out of 18 that we submitted. We're really trying to look around the AIA, find things that are of interest, and then as we move towards creating content that can be delivered either at the convention or through a leadership program, a couple young architects outside of the realm of the YAF started the Christopher Kelly Leadership Development Program in DC.
As that program grew, YAF got more involved as a way of spreading that message. This year, for the first time, that specific program is going to spawn a Denver subchapter that the resource was archived as part of the YAF and then kind of exported to other … Local components can pick up and use one of these best practices across the country.
Enoch: What benefits have you found in your own career volunteering in the AIA?
Jeffery: I see a lot of benefit. I guess one of the things is networking. It sounds a little cliché, maybe, but it's something that you kind of have to make what you want of it. Networking, I don't necessarily just network for networking's sake, but a lot of times I go in with a goal of if I know someone's going to be there that I've always wanted to talk to, I try to find out how I get in front of them, how I keep them engaged, and maybe even find out how they can introduce me to someone else. Because it's through the AIA, I feel, as an architect, it's more accessible. There's always going to be a common ground that you can get in front of someone, find something to talk about.
Then again, if you want to get introduced to someone else within that community, it's very easy to kind of hop those lily pads, where if you just kind of had a cold call into a ULI event or some other professional organization where it might be more business development oriented, it can be harder to get in front of someone to talk to them. The AIA at the start has really helped me expand my network, meet new people.
Then through that, I feel like I can expand my knowledge base by if I want to find out more about resilience or another trending topic, I get the chance to meet that person sometimes at the local, but it also helps at the national level as well. If you go to a convention and you start working your network to find someone else who knows about a topic that you might not, there's always someone that you can get introduced to.
Enoch: How have you found that those skills have transferred over into your professional career?
Jeffery: The networking part is a definitely natural one. Again, if I can keep someone's interest, whether it's just through talking or small talk, but also to be a source of knowledge for them, I think it's always a two-way street that I'm not just going to find someone to just ask them questions. I want to be able to offer them something up. By getting more comfortable doing that, I think I can go network in other organizations, but the AIA was my starting point.
Another thing is particularly in my role as editor and running a lot of interviews for connection, I've had to really do the grind to make it work. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, if I have to make a product every two months and deliver something that I think is high quality, I have to always make sure that my time management is key. I have to make sure that I have a skillset in writing and opening cold call email, or whether it's a cold call over the phone that I have a pitch that is compelling to make someone dedicate at least a conversation to, if not writing an article. I've had that in the past where someone who I've not known, might not even have a connection to, I've been able to pitch them why they should write or spend some time to my magazine. Taking that to professional life, I think anytime you have to compel someone or pitch something to anybody else who's outside your circle, I think that's kind of a valuable skillset that I've learned primarily through the AIA.
Enoch: Fantastic. Tell me how one of those pitches might go. Pretend like I'm someone who's a potential interviewer. That'd be fun to see your approach, or I'm a professional interviewee or potential guest poster.
Jeffery: A lot of them, I will say, do come through email. I have the time to kind of look at it, write it over, but a lot of times it's a simple introduction. It's an introduction that includes a little bit of my credential without being too in-your-face about it. I'll just say that I'm the editor of YAF Connection. I'll explain it a little bit that the audience is geared towards young architects. We have the backing of the AIA. We get distributed through the AIA. If you write for us, then you'll have an audience of at least 25,000 Young Architect members within our base. Then the next thing beyond that is that if I already have some people lined up, I can say that you will be in the company of these other experts who have already said, “Yes, I'd like to be a part of it,” to make it seem like that they are not just someone that I'm reaching for. They should be alongside and potentially benefit from being in the company of other people that are worth reading.
Enoch: Yeah, that's an excellent example of how to reach out to someone with their interest in mind, and kind of cover all the bases of what they would be thinking about. Thanks for sharing that.
Jeffery: Absolutely. It's been definitely a learning experience. I think I've gotten a lot better at it. Even the pitch of when I do get them on the phone, sometimes I still have to talk through what it is, why you're giving me your time for an interview. I'll use the same thing that we're really geared towards emerging professionals and trying to give them a resource that they're looking for. If someone is an expert in the field, not only will you have an audience with them, but you might be teaching them how to be better at resilience. I keep coming back to that, because that was one of those topics that I actually had to educate myself on. We were lucky to have a couple of resilience leaders within our circle. It was like I really had to educate myself about every topic that I was going after so I could feel more prepared for any conversation. I'm not wasting their time by asking them too simple of questions. I really want to make sure that people are challenged when I'm interviewing them.
Enoch: Yep. What interview questions should I be asking you?
Jeffery: I guess even just opinions about certain topics. It could be opinions about what's your opinion about licensure? What's your opinion about the state of building codes? It could be all kinds of … There are a number of different issues that are out there. They just happen to be things that I think about a lot. Design competitions, there's definitely a lot of hot button things that you could probably talk about that everybody has an opinion on. I don't know if I'm feeding you a question that you're going to ask right back to me, but that's kind of the …
Enoch: Yeah. What I would like to know is what things do you think about? Are those some of the top hot buttons on your mind?
Jeffery: They're not specifically. I think I get really geared up when I set my editorial calendar. As those months roll around, that's the thing I'm thinking about. I'm always trying to take cues or inspiration from everything that I do. This past issue we talked about state of practice. What are our young architects doing currently that are pushing the practice forward? Which sounds broad, but when you start looking into the small things, such as international practice, then you start really thinking about what does it mean to be a leader overseas, whether you're practicing domestically, but still having a site overseas? What does it mean to actually move overseas in order to do that? Those aren't things I necessarily have opinions about, but they're things that I think about. Those are the things that I think other young architects are thinking about.
One of the things that came out of it that really, I guess, kind of got me thinking more was we did an interview with AIA Hong Kong. They were very, very interested in trying to connect more with mainland US and others throughout our network. I just really started thinking about how do we connect young architects and emerging professionals in other countries, and AIA has a robust international chapter network that has its own challenges by being remote. All the chapters that are considered international are lumped into their own chapter. You have AIA Europe, which is a subchapter, and AIA China right out of Shanghai, but they all kind of come together as the same region.
What are the challenges there, and how can we not only support them, but also make sure that they feel included in the rest of the AIA? Beyond language barriers, there's distance, time. They don't have the same access to networking opportunities. How can we make sure that they still feel like they're part of the same network, getting the same services, feel connected to the same peer groups as we do?
Enoch: How do you do that?
Jeffery: The conversations have started, but I think that connection was an outlet. It's more of a conversation to start. Then we did have them say we want to run some study sessions. Then we start tapping into what is it that we have in our arsenal that we can send, in terms of kind of a knowledge resource? If you want to start a study group, and you can't do things all in person, here's the best practices of something that another chapter actually, like I did in Philadelphia, we started a remote study session where for a couple years out of Philadelphia we were covering the entire state and actually beyond when we sent out. It was as simple as a GoTo link, a GoToMeeting link to say, “We're going to broadcast our study sessions. Feel free to ask questions.” Not that they couldn't think of that, but just kind of giving that extra idea. They started thinking, “We have mostly a remote base. That's what makes more sense than having an in-person PowerPoint presentation or something like that.”
It's a lot of listening. It's a lot of seeing what they need. Then once we kind of figure out what resources that we already have that we can give to them, I think that's step one. The next step would be to try to find common events that they might actually be funded or have the ability to go to. Next year we hope to see them maybe at the convention. I don't think that they're going to go to, say, a grassroots or some of the other smaller localized AIA sponsored events. If we can then get everybody together at a convention, that becomes something that is a meeting point and face-to-face time that we might not otherwise get the chance to do.
Enoch: It's about, yeah, connecting people in that fashion. I'm curious, Jeff, I want to transition the conversation here a little bit, in terms of your role as the editor. I imagine it gives you a nice broad perspective of the profession of architecture of maybe some new innovative things that are happening. Of course, this is the Business of Architecture podcast. We focus primarily on the practice side of what we do as architects. It's my huge belief that as architects learn how to have better business success, as they learn how to manage their practices better and gain vital business skills, that that's just going to help architects all over the world make a bigger impact. A question for you is does anything come to mind, in terms of interesting, innovative things or trends that you're seeing in the actual practice of architecture?
Jeffery: One of the articles we ran that I didn't necessarily know about when we started doing it, but I did more research was the social impact design business model. One of the things is that it's so nebulous, and there aren't any straight paths, but there are people out there like Maya [Sharpie 00:21:29], who recently did an interview with us of creative agency about trying to find that path and trying to find a way to make money doing it simply by providing case studies on someone who's been successful. They might point you to someone like Katherine Darnstadt out of Chicago of Latent Design on how they've been able to create some at least a revenue stream so that you're not only relying on very small commissions as your only source of income.
That is one of those things that, to me, has been very interesting to hear how people have been able to turn their passions into a business that they wouldn't normally be able to because of kind of the smaller commissions when you're doing things that are the $50,000 construction budget. What is a design fee on that? $1,000? It almost falls in the pro bono category, which also leads you to finding ways of doing pro bono work that could lead to bigger commissions. The tricky thing is saying you can't do all pro bono work and make a business out of it, but I think that there are ways that people have been successful at finding new clients out of starting with a pro bono business model or a portion of their business model is pro bono. Then it turns into a robust, thriving social impact business.
Enoch: You mentioned a couple firms that are doing interesting things that you know of. Agency, you mentioned Katherine Darnstadt up in Chicago, Latent Design. Anyone else that we should be aware of?
Jeffery: Some of my memory is going to be things that have happened recently. We did do an interview with Lucas Gray out of Propel Studio. Very interesting. Lucas is actually involved in kind of the AIA associate structure, but I've known him for a couple years. He runs a blog, Talkitect. As of a couple years ago, we'll say two years ago or so, he entered the [Shret 00:23:41] Ventures Business Model Competition. I think he said he didn't win, but because he was one of the first in, they were able to start a relationship, and he became an investment anyway. There was a synergy that came out of it. They now currently have an investment from [Shret 00:24:01] Ventures Group.
What I find really interesting about that model is that it's one of the first that I know of or have come across where there is some sort of venture capital that is actually going into an architecture firm at the startup level with the promise of future returns. We've heard mergers and acquisitions have happened throughout the years, but there have been very little startup angel investor venture capital firms out there. To me, that was very interesting to hear.
[inaudible 00:24:38]. The resilience movement is another one that is really interesting. I think that they're all still trying to figure it out, but my colleague [Illia 00:24:48] Azeroth, has really become an expert in resilience on all levels. He's now consulting with FEMA and other federal government agencies, in addition to being kind of the expert with post Sandy initiatives in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut regions. By being that expert as one of the first in and in a trending business model or a trend that isn't going to go away, and being on the ground floor of that, he's really made something about his expertise that really hasn't existed in the last, say, 10 years. There's always been people talking about resilience, but now there's people who are practicing resilience measures. That's another [crosstalk 00:25:43]-
Enoch: What is the resilience movement, Jeff?
Jeffery: When I think of resilience, I think of someone who is, whether it's doing disaster relief, that's kind of the first connotation. A hurricane or a tornado or an earthquake happens. They're the first responders from the architectural standpoint. They go in and try to help, whether it's built temporary shelters or find ways to rebuild after something's been destroyed. The other side is more of what other proactive measures we can do to protect our cities? Something like Rebuild By Design, which is a competition run out of New York City that said, “How do we make sure that we prevent the next Sandy that comes through New York City? How are we prepared for it beforehand?” Some measures include whether it's raising structures above the flood plane line, or the designed flood plane.
That's something that actually he has built into his business model where I've seen [Illia 00:26:50] or these videos of [Illia 00:26:51] going around Long Island and finding the most at-risk neighborhoods along the coast, and implementing a raise, a house raise where they go in, and they jack up the foundation, basically put the house on stilts. They've [inaudible 00:27:09] a best practices that says what you can and can't do in that kind of first level, such as even though you raised the house, you're really not supposed to then put, say, mechanical equipment in there, because if a flood happens, it's going to destroy anything in there. He's been one of those leaders in making sure that this is how you raise, this is how you prepare. He even goes so far as to find funding, because there are a lot of insurance agencies who have a vested interest in making sure that property is protected proactively from natural disaster. He might even be the one to help find you finding to get your house raised. Then he can make a business model out of doing that.
Enoch: Fascinating. Jeff, just to finish up here, I'd like to ask you what is one resource, whether it's a podcast, a book, something that's inspiring you right now in your life?
Jeffery: One of the podcasts, it's not anything new, but I guess it's hard for me to admit that it's actually fairly new to me, but it's still the 99% Invisible podcast that there's so many literally invisible things that are designed that I take some trips down to [Bizavaria 00:28:41] building sites, and it's just the thing that I listen to and actually try to get inspired before I go to a site, even though I might not necessarily learn anything that I can use at the building site, it's something that I think of design in a different way. That's even coming from an architect who tries to think about things differently. I'm still able to take inspiration from what I hear, whether it's notice it or think about how I can improve upon something, that's something that I've currently really gotten into.
Enoch: Fantastic. That's a great resource. Hopefully our listeners are aware of that podcast. I know Roman Mars, I think, is the host. He does an excellent job. I highly recommend that. Thanks for sharing that, Jeff. Thank you for being on the Business of Architecture podcast today. It's always interesting to hear what architects are doing around the world to get engaged, to raise the value of design. Your service, definitely don't want it to go unnoticed.
Jeffery: I appreciate you having me. Looking forward to hearing this.
Enoch: Okay. Are you actually going to listen to your own podcast interview?
Jeffery: I will. I like to hear what I sound like sometimes, or make sure that I made the right … Not that I would have to redo it, but I like to make sure that I made the right points.
Enoch: Very good. We will definitely let you know when it goes live. Jeff, thank you once again for joining us. Have a wonderful evening. Right now it's late afternoon here, and it's evening time there. I'm sure you have better things to do than continue to be on another podcast.
Jeffery: Again, thank you for having me. Have a good night and weekend.
Enoch: All right. Talk to you later. Bye-bye.
Enoch: That is a wrap. Thank you for listening today. If you're looking for more time, freedom, impact, and income as an architect, get instant access to my free four-part architect profit map by visiting freearchitectgift.com. The sponsor for today's show is Arch Reach, the client relationship management tool built specifically for architects. If you want to systematize your marketing and business development, Arch Reach will help you do it. Visit archreach.com to learn more.
The views expressed on the show by my guests to not represent those of those host. I make no representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contract, bond, or commitment, except to help you conquer the world.