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How Architects Can Be Model Citizens: The B&V Team at the Street Fair - Cropped for Featured Image

Advice for Young Architects, Firm Culture

How Architects Can Be Model Citizens

This week in the ArchiTalk series, we launch from the theme of "Citizen Architect" to discuss what it means here at Board & Vellum to be a model citizen. From community outreach as a group, to our individual volunteer efforts, the cycle of change starts with people getting involved and helping to better where they live.

October 12, 2015

When I decided to go off and start Board & Vellum almost five years ago, I knew that it was about more than the actual design of buildings that interested me. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with wonderful architects who helped instill in me a sense that architects can be leaders in their community and help stand up for a greater place to live. The challenge, of course, is how to be a good citizen while still getting your work done. Here’s a little insight into how I view those skills overlapping.

One of the first things I realized when I started getting involved with volunteer and non-profit opportunities as a professional, was that there is no secret code to crack. You simply have to offer to help and dive in. As I’m not inherently someone who “follows,” I found it easy (perhaps too easy) to dive in and get involved with a myriad of groups that interested me. The challenge then was to bring that experience to the office, and mentor my staff on not just the skill of architecture, but the skill of being a good citizen.

At Board & Vellum, almost everyone in the firm is involved to a degree as an office champion of some sort of overhead effort. Whether it is our quality assurance approach, being members of the general academic community, or keeping our detail library up to date, we believe that people need to have more than just project work in order to stay excited about what they do. One of our champions oversees our community service efforts, and helps pair up staff with appropriate organizations that match their interest. Of course, volunteer opportunities are often personal endeavors, so we had to come up with a method to help inspire people to volunteer.

So, recognizing that the best way to get people involved was to give them an incentive, I made the call to go ahead and pay people for community service. While still optional, everyone at Board & Vellum has a generous allotment of hours each year to be paid for their time volunteering in an organization of their choice. The only requirement is that the staff member have a personal connection with the organization. The caveat is that the opportunity specifically doesn’t have to be related to architecture or their job.

Not only do we match people with opportunities where they can have an impact (and we’re always asking around for groups that need help. I can’t recommend enough just asking someone you know “do you know any non-profits needing some volunteer help?”), but we also train people on how best to use their time. One of my first bosses helped push me into taking a position on the board of a non-profit that I knew very little about. If it wasn’t for his mentoring and encouragement, I would likely have sat on the sidelines for quite some time (thanks Bill!). Our crew is trained in how to be better helpers, better neighbors, and better citizens. Just like the study of architecture, it is a skill that can be learned and enhanced.

Why the heck would I do this? Obviously there is the inherent marketing benefit (Look at us! We’re good people worth hiring!), but honestly, if your heart isn’t in it, you just come across as a used car salesman and insincere. That’s simply not the point. My marketing style has never been that. Why I do this is because I love where I live and I want others to invest in the health and longevity of where they live as well. The cycle of change starts with people getting involved and helping to better where they live. You get one life on this planet, and I’d like to leave it having known I did all I could to make it more awesome.

As architects and designers, we are trained in a variety of skills that can prove useful to community groups - we are incredibly well-matched to serving the needs of our community. We know how to coordinate meetings, speak in group settings, and help guide groups toward a consensus. We care about the built environment and the impact it has on the community. Quite frankly, architects are ideal citizens and I’m proud to ensure that our small team at Board & Vellum can help do a little more for this awesome city.

To all of the young architects-in-training and designers out there, I highly recommend that you get out there, take the leap, and get involved in your community. Sit on a board, volunteer with a non-profit, or help with something behind the scenes. It can be a rewarding experience that allows you to enhance your skills interacting with the public, and, of course, to be a better citizen.


This post is part of the ArchiTalk series in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a theme, and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is Citizen Architect. To read how others interpreted the theme, please click the links below.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Citizen Architect ... Seems Redundant

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Citizen Architect

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Good Citizen Architect

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
small town citizen architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: The everyday citizen architect

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Citizen Architect: #architalks

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Architect as Citizen

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
My Hero - Citizen Architect

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
We are the Champions - Citizen Architects

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Architalks 13 Citizen Architect

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Meet Jane Doe, Citizen Architect

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Help with South Carolina's Recovery Efforts

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Senior Citizen, Architect

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
Citizen Starchitect' is not an Oxymoron

Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Citizen Architect - Form out of Time

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[cake decorating] to [citizen architect]

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Citizen Developer??

Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Citizen Architect

Courtney Casburn Brett - Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)
“Citizen Architect” + Four Other Practice Models Changing Architecture

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Inspiring a Citizen Architect

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