Leading to great design: How VISION is empowering architects

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This program strengthens the architectural community and that benefits all of us.
Andy Muhlada of Spohn Associates Inc., a sponsor of the VISION program since its inception, talks with VISION’s Angela Mazzi about how the program is shaping our profession:

Your favorite VISION moment?
Without a doubt it’s the graduation each year.  As each person speaks, the central theme is that they received an unbelievable amount of insight about themselves and the profession.  I hear candidate after candidate say they are a better person for the program, that it changed every aspect of how they look at their life.

How is VISION filling a need in the design community?
The program justifies and helps explain why it’s so critical to have a good strong architectural leader on the project- to see the entire vision and be the focal point for that.  Weak architects crumble and strong architects stay true to the values of the project and see it through.  This program strengthens the architectural community and that benefits all of us. Why bother with any planning, spec, or detail if as soon as the owner or contractor tries to come with you with some savings, you just roll over and compromise?

Why do you feel it’s important to support the program?
It’s the best program I’ve ever been involved in out of all of the allied AEC organizations, AIA, CSI, etc. VISION actually delivers what it says.  All the strengths the architectural community was founded upon are taught in this program.

You’ve been a sponsor from the beginning. How have you seen the program grow over its 6 years?
The first year was interesting, but what makes it different now is the groundswell of people who have gone through the program and firms who have had people go through.  Bigger name speakers are coming in and there is more momentum building.  The heart and soul of the program has always been there, now everyone has caught on.

What’s surprised you the most?
How it has personally affected the participants as well as the principals of the firms that sponsor them.  I’m shocked that this thing doesn’t have national legs- I don’t know of a chapter that shouldn’t be doing this- it’s the single most meaningful approach to understanding what the architectural community is all about and how it plugs into the community at large.

How are innovative companies leveraging leadership skills?
The stronger the architect, the better the project, period.  Design build firms are staring to figure it out because they are bringing on architects to run their projects. This is the grassroots strengthening of the profession.

What is your favorite product that Spohn reps?  What would you like to see designers do with it?
Working with an architect with no product in mind.  Being able to take an architect’s concept and go to my bank of products and manufacturers to find the best way to realize their vision. I want to be used as a resource.  I love it when I am working with an architect at the front end and they say, “I want this to look like this- how do I get there?” Then we can do VE on the front end, keeping costs in mind while getting you everything you want the product to do.  Everybody wins. We are a free product consultant.
I act as a rep for the interests of the architect and owner.  I need strong architects to help me get their projects from good to great. It’s so important that the first question I ask when somebody wants me to quote on a project is, “Who is the architect?

If you could make one change to the program, what would it be?
I’d like to be more involved, but don’t want to have a “sales” presence.  I’ve helped find meeting venues in the past. I’d be glad to step up and do more.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the AEC industry in the next 3 years?
I believe in an ebb and flow scenario.  There’s a growing concern that the managers for general contractors know less and less about the actual building- assembly, coordination and the time and effort involved.  We lost a lot of the knowledgeable ones in the 2009 recession.  Now, there’s just a ramrod mentality instead of a collaborative one.  Aggressive schedules have overshadowed everything else.  The construction community is reluctant to change.  They think owners only care about going faster.  Price and lead time are only single components to a successful project and can’t drive every decision.  I see the strength of the architect resurging.

Would a VISION graduate be prepared for that?
Yes- they come out much more confident, self-assured.  There’s a self-awakening that I see happening.  VISION helps them face the challenges of the industry.

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