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    - photo by Pamela da Graça, AIA

The first architect I ever spoke to told me, “The training is brutal, the pay is minimal, but the job is worth it.”

Looking past the very problematic first two parts for a moment, it’s the last that brought his comment back to mind during this year’s TxA Publications Committee retreat in New Orleans. The city, as you’d expect, met us with amazing food, but also surprisingly perfect weather and a group of architects who quite clearly make their jobs worth it.

Z Smith, FAIA, our first host, works as the director of sustainability and building performance at EskewDumezRipple. He spoke to the committee about the firm’s efforts to move the industry toward more environmentally conscious design and building practices, as well as its research fellowship program. He also discussed presenting at conferences and his involvement in teaching other firms about how to participate in the AIA 2030 Commitment. His excitement about the strides that Louisiana is making (e.g., adopting the 2021 IECC statewide) and the impact they are having shone through, as did his love for his city as he toured us through the streets on the way to and from EDR’s New Orleans BioInnovation Center project.

The next architect we talked with was Bryan Lee Jr., AIA, NOMA, of Colloqate Design, who similarly ties himself to the profession in ways beyond straightforward employment. In addition to his architecture practice, he runs a consulting business training others to continue his work in stakeholder advocacy. This approach allows the architecture firm to run as a nonprofit, which concentrates on projects that align with its design justice mission—an area of practice to which Lee is deeply committed.

Continuing the design justice theme, Chris Daemmrich, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, of Collaborative Design Workshop, and Kaede Polkinghorne, a designer, organizer, and writer, and city planner for New Orleans, led us on a tour through the architecture of the side streets (and the lesser-known histories) of the French Quarter. Leading these sessions, which bring attention to the contributions of women, minorities, the queer community, and labor unions to the area, is clearly a passion project for them.

Finally, we met with Jonathan Tate, principal of OJT. His firm concentrates largely on missing middle housing—a housing typology he’s so invested in that he lives in one of his own developments. In addition to their built work, the firm keeps art in their architectural lives by running a small hotel attached to their office with an artists-in-residence program on the third floor.

These New Orleans architects doubtless deal with the daily minutiae of architecture as much as any of us, and while they obviously love what they do, it has meant hard work and maintaining involvement in the profession beyond a traditional day job. Seeing the purpose and enjoyment they find in their work—as well as the contributions they are making to their communities through it—wonderfully illustrated how there is much worth to be found and created in the job of an architect. However, we still need to make sure the training doesn’t stray into hazing and pay is fair in the profession.   

Pamela da Graça, AIA, is an architect at The Arkitex Studio in Bryan and the chair of the TxA Publications Committee. 

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