A yearly AIA exhibit offers much-needed exposure, and a creative outlet, for young architects
By Steve Cimino
Like any profession that thrives on technology and leaps of ingenuity, architecture holds a lot of opportunities for young professionals to contribute to a constantly evolving world. Unfortunately, it's tough to make that kind of impact without first getting a foothold into what can be a hard-to-crack industry.
One way that the AIA looks to provide that foothold is the Annual Emerging Professionals Exhibition, a yearly effort to recognize and promote the work of young architects. Anywhere from 50 to 60 projects—submitted by students, graduates and newly licensed architects—are selected and displayed each spring along the walls of AIA National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Matt Fajkus, AIA, is one such emerging professional who occupies a unique role when it comes to his peers. He's both principal at MF Architecture—a seven-person firm in Austin, Texas—and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. He's also been selected for the exhibition twice, in 2015 and 2014.
His 2015 entry, a project dubbed Tree House, is a modern home in Austin with a unique combination of materials and finishes; Horizon House, his 2014 submission, is another residential project, built in Elgin, Texas. Both entries were opportunities for the young architect to showcase his work and see it compared to the work of his peers.
"The spirit of an exhibition like this, and the sorts of things I encourage students and graduates towards, is to create your own voice," Fajkus said.
In fact, some of his pupils' designs have been featured in the exhibition, as well. Fajkus doesn't specifically tout the AIA's exhibition in class, but his students are aware that he's been included several times, and of its accessibility. And they want in on the action.
"I heard that Matt had a project selected last year," said Arman Hadilou, Assoc. AIA, a graduate of the UT-Austin School of Architecture, who had two projects highlighted in this year's exhibition, "and so I thought it made sense for me to submit as well."
Tree House, a residential project designed by Matt Fajkus, AIA, was selected for the 2015 Annual Emerging Professionals Exhibition.
Horizon House, a Fajkus project that was selected in 2014, is "the lens through which the elements of [its] environment become clear."
Design competitions can be expensive to enter and difficult to win; a select few may receive rapturous praise commensurate to their work, but there are often strictly enforced rules on categories and no guarantee of exposure.
The Emerging Professionals Exhibition, on the other hand, is free to enter and open to any number of projects. It doesn't matter if your idea is an unbuilt design, a lived-in home, or a temporary structure; as long as you're a student, recent graduate, or less than 10 years from licensure, it is eligible for inclusion.
"For me," Hadilou said, "one of the great advantages [of being selected] was to be introduced to many other peers and their work. It gave me a good opportunity to enhance networking with my colleagues, to get to know their work and follow it in the future."
This particular exhibit also carries appeal for both clients and the architectural community, as opposed to awards that mostly resonate within the profession or press coverage aimed at a general audience.
"It's peer-reviewed within the field," Fajkus said, "but our clients can understand that there's a certain weight associated with this type of national recognition."
Beyond the boost to a résumé, the exhibition also exists to keep the imaginations of young architects limber. At the end of the day, being an emerging professional is about balancing career aspirations with fanning the flames of inspiration that made this path worth trekking down.
"It's easy to get discouraged," Fajkus said, "especially by firms that don't encourage creativity. I try to remind my students that getting licensed doesn't require you to become stiff or flat-footed."
Providing that necessary outlet is what the Annual Emerging Professionals Exhibition strives to achieve. For architects who are fresh out of school or principals at a firm, whether their designs are theoretical or built—or somewhere in between—there's a place for them to be seen.
"You can't define your work based on recognition," Fajkus added, "but it does make a difference."
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