The following article is a guest blog post from our dear friend Adam Denais, who is an active contributor to the NEXT Architects Facebook Group. He originally wrote this post for the group, which he let me publish as a guest article. Feel free to send this blog post to your friends and coworkers.
Architect Ashley Bell Davis
Ashley Bell Davis is an Architect / Co-Owner at Davis Design & Consulting, LLC. and former Adjunct Professor of Architecture at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is highly active in the AIA and is an advocate and mentor for the NEXT generation of architects, showing up for others on everything from being a parent in architecture to teaching how to be effective in networking and volunteering. I am really excited to share her story with everyone today.
Ashley, please share with our readers your journey in our profession so far.
I was born and raised in South Louisiana. At a young age, my goal was to become an architect after I was inspired by my Father’s degree in architecture and his career as an estimator for an electrical engineering contractor. Growing up, I struggled with ADHD and through the help of my Mother’s support and encouragement, I was able to manage my learning disability.
When I got to college, I thrived in the studio setting of architecture school and knew I found the place I was meant to be. I earned my Masters’s in Architecture in 2011 in only 5.5 years from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as a third-generation graduate from that institution.
I started working for architecture firms during college and was able to complete my experience while overlapping the start of my exams. Over 4 years I took 14 exams total, passing 6, and completed my last one when my son was 5-1/2 months old, after joining Young Architect Bootcamp.
My journey through licensure taught me that it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to gain success and also that failure is part of the journey. If you are still interested in learning about more of my personal story and study tips, you can hear me elaborate about it on the Young Architect Podcast.
Tell us more about Davis Design & Consulting, LLC. What motivated you to start your own design company?
DD&C started as an engineering and project management firm that my husband and I founded and that he, as a licensed civil engineer, operated full time while I was still working at a traditional architecture firm.
After a year and a half, the business was successful enough for me to leave my previous employer and join him full time to work on drafting and project management while I was finishing my AREs.
A year later we were blessed with our rainbow baby boy and then just under six months after he was born, I finished my last exam with the help of Young Architect Bootcamp.
After I received my license to practice architecture in Louisiana, we then applied for the firm’s architectural license and then were able to offer architectural services, so now we operate as a multidisciplinary design firm.
DD&C has a unique partnership between architecture and engineering combined within one design firm providing professional architecture, civil engineering, and project management services to local clients in South Louisiana and beyond.
We have the expertise to efficiently take a project from the initial design conception all the way through construction completion, quickly, in order to facilitate productive operations for business owners. DD&C focuses on commercial building and site design, specializing in design-build delivery method for business, factory, and storage occupancies.
Brendon and I have over 20 years of combined commercial construction design experience between us and we are passionate about providing our clients the value they expect.
Let’s talk about work/life balance & mental health. What does work/life balance look like to you to build a career and life that is healthy?
DD&C is a family-run business, so we are obviously family-oriented and fortunate enough to be able to operate from home while also parenting our son full time with no outside childcare.
We have set up our business in a way so that we are able to set our own schedule which affords us the flexibility to be full-time, working parents.
In the season of life that we are currently in with a young son, that means working a-typical office hours, operating around our son’s schedule, handing off duties back and forth between parents; which I know a lot of work-from-home parents can relate to.
It takes a lot of communication and coordination to keep it all running. We use a physical calendar in our home office that is color-coded for each person so that we can juggle all the responsibilities.
Instead of the traditional 9-5 / M-F: we try to schedule meetings and calls during our son’s nap times during the weekdays for the least amount of disruptions, put in some hours after he goes to sleep for the night to be able to fully focus, and catch up on some work during the weekend.
It might seem overwhelming to have a work/home life that is more blurred, but for us, the benefit that we strive for and have achieved is getting more family time and interaction with our son during the day and being present for his milestones and early development.
We know that this system is not indefinitely sustainable and we constantly make adjustments and know it will slowly evolve over time as our son grows… but for now, it works for us.
The key to making this type of lifestyle manageable and not reaching burnout is to take time away from work and parenting for self-care both as a couple, as well as individually. We try to schedule date nights and our own separate hobbies to give ourselves breaks.
I know this way of life is not for everyone; every individual/family has their own needs and there is nothing wrong with having a more traditional career working for a firm and having outside childcare, but it is possible to create and build a unique career path in architecture if your priority is focusing on family.
What advice or tips do you have for our readers?
The number one thing I would like to share with the NEXT Architect community is don’t wait for life to slow down to reach your goals. If your goal is to get licensed, then you have to make it a priority. Even with a family or other responsibilities, you need to make some sacrifices and invest in the time now as a reward to your future self and family. Life only gets busier and more complicated.
If your goal is to start your own business (I know this path isn’t for everyone, there is nothing wrong with being a professional in the corporate world or working in a firm), then don’t wait until you feel like you are completely ready, because that day will never come.
Take a leap and set up the life that you want to have now. I can guarantee it will be an arduous journey but the rewards of working for yourself will be worth it.
Ultimately whatever your goal is, I think networking and volunteering in your local community is the way you will be able to receive and provide support in order to achieve your goals.
Whether you work at a firm or are an entrepreneur, by growing strategic professional relationships, you will be able to be more productive, grow your career and elevate your position within the firm you work for by cultivating a cooperative consultant team that is able to work together efficiently; or you can become a successful professional by having a breakthrough and take your side hustle from moonlighting to full time because you are able to create a credible business by getting referrals instead of having to market yourself.
I encourage everyone to not just be active in professionals organizations with other architects, but also to get involved with other allied professionals and general business organizations.
These are untapped groups that will allow you to grow your network. Also, it is key not just to become a member superficially, but participating and taking on leadership roles in order to rapport and get the deepest level of connection that you are seeking.
Other different areas that you can be more visible within the community would be to serve or volunteer for non-profit organizations, attend community activities like and of course most importantly, mentoring the future of the profession by presenting at highschool career fairs, being a guest critic or lecturer at the local university’s architecture program, supporting candidates during testing or supporting emerging professionals in their careers.
Everything that you put in and by supporting those around you, you will get back out exponentially.
What is NEXT for you? What’s your big dream?
We would like to continue on the path of success for our business and our big dream is to be able to purchase a property to develop an office and home complex on the same site
Looking a little bit further into the future, we are hoping to create a few jobs. DD&C was set up to be a small business and we plan to keep it that way, but we would like to be able to grow a little to be able to provide learning opportunities for the next generation of architects and engineers locally.
The ultimate dream for me would be to get back into teaching again.
Though, at least I will continue to provide mentorship to emerging professionals (especially mothers) to be able to contribute to the future of the profession.
Finally, please let us know how our readers can connect with you and learn more.
Or through our business website https://www.davisdnc.com/