Advocacy In Architecture with Stephen Parker

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On this episode of the Young Architect Podcast, Stephen Parker tells us the importance of advocacy and community involvement in the architectural world.

You can also listen to this podcast on YouTube by clicking here! 

Architect Stephen Parker

Stephen was born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and — like many architects — discovered a love for building things from an early age. “I would build things out of Legos and then I would defend them from any one of my classmates trying to take them apart.” he recounted.

From those early (and fun!) beginnings of building with Legos when he was younger, Stephen transitioned to high-school art and shop classes, taking to them like a fish to water. This study lead him to join an architecture firm at the age of 15, thanks to meeting an architect by the name of Greg MacFarland at church.

“He was a great mentor.” Stephen said.

“They took on a fifteen-year-old kid who did not know what a lead pointer was or how to use a pen properly.”

At first he ‘shadowed’ Greg for a few weeks and but soon began working there full and part-time where he learned all about the profession, from his junior year in high school through graduation from architecture school at Clemson University in South Carolina.

From Clemson University, Stephen would travel across the country to Washington D.C to attend the University of Maryland for his graduate studies in architecture and preservation.

Stephen’s Love of Architecture & Advocacy

While at both Clemson and the University of Maryland, Stephen became heavily involved with architectural advocacy and the architecture community as a whole. Namely, working with the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), serving on local and state AIA boards, and is now the National Advocacy Director for the Young Architects Forum (YAF).

“That sort of became my theme that I would take on more and more. I believe in my senior year I was on at least three faculty committees. That development helped me in my future trajectory.” Stephen said, reflecting on how getting involved with all of those different groups had such a positive impact on him.

Today, Stephen is still heavily involved in the advocacy world of architecture, while working with the architecture & engineering firm SmithGroupJJR, based out of Washington D.C with his wife Carrie, who is also an architect at CannonDesign, a rival firm. He is involved in community projects, as well as advocating for the National Design Services Act, a proposed bill which would allow young architects to pay off their student loans through community design service.

What You’ll Hear On This Episode

  • How Stephen began his architecture career at just 15.
  • How Stephen’s passion for advocacy has tremendously expanded his field of work.
  • How he and his wife were able to maintain their sanity whilst both studying for their licensure exams at the same time.
  • The National Design Services Act and how it aims to help forge greater relationships between the architects and the communities in which they build.
  • Stephen’s willingly-led life as a constant source of information for aspiring architects.
  • How failure has been a recurring theme for Stephen, and how it has helped him grow stronger.
  • Stephen’s love for Star Wars and the imagination-stimulation that it brings him.
  • How mentors have really helped shape Stephen’s own outlook on the importance of mentorship in architecture.
  • How the national architectural community could and should do more to celebrate its newest members attaining their license.

Key Takeaways from this Episode with Stephen

  • If you’re an architect, being more involved with the community in which you live will only help to serve both your career and the community’s needs and wants.
  • Advocacy in the architecture profession is both welcome and necessary. You should always advocate for the furtherance of others in the architectural world, and try to give back as much as possible to the profession and your community.
  • Enabling young architects with a fresh sense of accomplishment will only serve to better their careers and their self-esteems as they obtain that most valuable accomplishment — licensure.
  • The roots of the National Design Services Act — a proposed bill which would allow young architects to pay off their student loans through community service.
  • How architects “have to play a part in the public dialogue.”, according to Stephen.

Stephen Parker’s Advice for Young Architects’

“You don’t know what you don’t know. There’s a lot in architecture that only takes time and experience for you to learn.

We have the benefits nowadays, in this generation, of taking full advantage of the internet and learning from YouTube and that kind of thing, and having the confidence to take on something in your firm because you don’t know it — that’s great.

See it as an opportunity. Learn from it. Realize that there’s probably a lot of people who have done this before you and ask them. I think there’s a lot of, “I don’t want to ask a stupid question.” Okay, don’t be afraid of that. Because you will never learn otherwise.”

Favorite Quotes

“Take advantage of all of the opportunities to network. Building that trust and that bond is very important, because maybe you want to move to a different city, or your spouse has to transfer or you’re looking for a different experience. And, unless you have a large, broad and deep network of people that know you and know how you work, you’re not going to have the kind of opportunities.” – Stephen Parker on the importance of networking.

“Be humble about what you’re trying to achieve.” – Stephen Parker on humility.

“If you are just an advocate who loves community design and just want to engage with me about how I can share your story, about how you’re advocating for design and architecture in your community, I’d love to put that out in the world.” – Stephen Parker wants community engagement regarding the National Design Services Act.

“I think the National Design Services Act would allow many opportunities for professionals, especially young professionals that have a passion for architecture and their communities, to get out there and have meaningful interaction with the 99% of people that would never hire an architect but are impacted by them every day.” – Stephen Parker’s aspirations for the NDSA.

“Getting the AIA to be more action-oriented is my goal.” – Stephen Parker’s goal of action-orienting the American Institute of Architects.

“The YAF has ongoing advocacy issues especially relating to resilience and the role that architects can play and making sure our cities and our neighbourhoods are well-equipped for whatever nature throws at them.” – Stephen on his involvement with the Young Architect’s Forum and preparing for the future.

“There lacks a sense of celebration of achievement in architectural licensure. Because we have such a broad number of paths we can take to being an architect — which I think is really great — but if you don’t at least come together and celebrate others becoming a licensed architect, you’re missing out on that sense of community.” – Stephen Parker on increasing the celebratory nature of licensure.

“Having a higher expectation of myself is a critical element of my practice.” – Stephen on the importance of expecting more of yourself – always.

“Every time there was a rainy horrible weekend, we kinda took it off because every time there was a nice sunny day, we had an exam scheduled for that Monday. It just felt like our life was revolving around these exams.” – Stephen Parker and his wife, Carrie, took their licensure examinations at the same time and did much studying together.

Resources from this episode:

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About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.