Evelyn Lee, FAIA, is a Senior Experience Designer at Slack Technologies and an award-winning architect. She has over 15 years of experience working with individuals, organizations, and companies applying design thinking to their decision-making process.
Evelyn founded Practice of Architecture, which helps individuals and firms identify leadership and growth opportunities, building careers and practices that prosper in today’s changing world. I can’t wait to share her story with you today!
Evelyn, please share your story that led to where you are today in your career.
I was one of those architects, who wanted to be an architect from a super young age, in the 4th grade. Going through architecture school, I further realized my love of architecture, but I knew I would never be a great designer.
I worked in a firm that did big box retrofits, and later a different firm focused on K-12 schools a community centers. I disliked that I was separated from the end-users, how long projects took to execute, and contractors trying to change order their way to a profit on public projects.
I transitioned to working in a 501(c)3 matching architects willing to do pro bono work with non-profits in need. I ultimately discovered that I didn’t have the language to talk about the value architects deliver at all levels, not just design. I went back to grad school and got my MPA/MBA and have been on the strategic side of design ever since.
Can you tell us more about what inspired you to start the Practice of Architecture and let our readers know what it is all about?
I created The Practice of Architecture out of my love for the people in the profession and the necessity for us to adapt to remain relevant. I’ve been in the architecture profession and involved in the AIA to see architects complain about everything we’ve given away for more than a decade – yet hardly ever have we been entrepreneurial enough to reclaim space.
The Practice of Architecture focuses on evolving practice from the inside out considering:
- What are the best practices that we can inherit from other industries? Specifically, what areas can we improve to provide better leadership and professional development opportunities within the firm?
- Where are there opportunities for individuals and firms to innovate their careers or business models?
- How do individuals and firms take those opportunities and create real value for their professional careers and businesses?
Where are individuals and organizations struggling to adapt most when working to innovate their practice?
I think there are many historical and institutional structures in place that prevent architects from being as innovative with their businesses as they are with their projects.
- We are incredibly risk-averse since the only projects we’ve worked on are buildings;
- there’s this odd sense of secrecy and inability to share knowledge and project information that often starts in studio culture in school and continues to play out within the firm;
- a belief that there’s only one path to success in the profession as a partner or owner;
- the right of passage to call ourselves architects, that alienates unlicensed individuals;
- my way is the only and best way attitude when it comes to building and running a business;
Not to say that there aren’t innovative practices out there, but I think you will find that more practices are pushing into our space, such as experience design, than the reverse.
I think we are our only worse enemy when it comes to innovation. I’ve stood by for decades now and watch architects complain about everything we have given away, but I rarely run into the architect who says, “this is what I’m doing to change the tide in the industry.”
What’s the best advice that you can give our readers on building a work/life routine that balances health and success?
I don’t necessarily believe in work/life balance. I rely more upon compartmentalization and agility to design your way through a life that works best for you at that moment.
Balance, a scale, implies that at any given time – all things being equal, you are managing everything simultaneously.
When I set family time, I want to make sure I am there for my family. When I need to focus on work, I want to make sure that I can entirely focus on work. It’s not about balance to me – it’s about having a deep understanding of yourself, your limitations, and where you want to grow – as well as what others need from you – and figuring out a schedule that includes all those things and allows you to give it the attention it needs.
I tend to time block my schedule at the beginning of every week, but as those time blocks need to be extended or shortened – I have alternatives. Which areas in my life do I not budge on, and what areas am I willing to be a little more forgiving. I set goals like working out six days a week – but those workouts can range anything from 10 minutes to 90 minutes because it’s an area where I’m willing to flex a little more as long as I get something in. On the other hand, I’ve turned down speaking opportunities on Tuesday evenings because that’s when we sit down and cook a big family meal together midweek.
What is NEXT for you and the Practice of Architecture? What is the most important thing you are working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m focused on helping firms and individuals understand the decisions and ramifications that go into their decisions regarding return to the office following COVID.
There is no undoing the flexibility of a partially remote team or the ability to work from somewhere other than the office. My biggest concern is two-fold:
- That firms will permanently adopt what was initially bandaids created when we all were told to work from home.
- That firms will haphazardly put in place greater flexibility but revert to the way things were pre-covid because they set the system up to fail but will ultimately say it just didn’t work for them.
The truth, though, is that a thriving Hybrid work environment, when where a firm is not entirely committed to being in the office, or remote, is the most challenging environment to run successfully. To do it right, firms should be re-evaluating everything from the culture, operations, process, and tools – and figuring out the best way forward.
I’ve started a series on Building and Running a Successful Hybrid Practice. Webinars for the series will be made available on-demand on Practice of Architecture for AIA CEUs, but right now, you can catch a new webinar the last Friday of each month through August. There’s also the option to purchase the Hybrid Practice Handbook, an evolving document updated as we identify additional best practices and case studies in the space.
Hopefully, the tools we provide will give some of the younger employees an ability to have a voice or some statistics they can share with the firm leaders while also supporting firm leaders in their decision-making process.
Finally, please let us know how our readers can connect with you and learn more?
Visit the PracticeofArchitecture.com
Listen to the podcast, Practice Disrupted
Sign-up for the Practice of Architecture Newsletter
Consider joining the Practice of Architecture Lab
Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org