Friday, November 8 

Conference Day Two examines the major disruptors that will impact community-engaged architecture organizations in the era of rapid urban migration and climate crisis. The afternoon gives way to breakout sessions and small group sharing on the daily challenges of managing and growing your organization.

8:00am – 9:00am

Special Session:
Finding Your Way

(RSVP required)
Sarah Herda, Director, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; AAO Board Member

To reserve your spot, please contact Mary Fichtner at

This intimate breakfast session is reserved for those AAO members in the earlier stages of their careers (age 35 and younger). Hosted by AAO Board member Sarah Herda—hired to lead the Graham Foundation at just 32 years old, and its first woman director to boot—this is a conversation about career pathways and professional development. Herda will briefly recount her personal journey and a range of seminal experiences from the experimental Storefront for Art and Architecture to the founding of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The balance of time is reserved for open discussion, so come prepared to share your own questions and challenges. 

8:30am – 9:00am

Changing How We Build

Mark Skender, Chief Executive Officer, Skender

Tim Swanson, Chief Design Officer, Skender

Chicago-based Skender is looking to transform the construction industry with heavy investments in modular, prefab construction. Lead designer Tim Swanson will detail the firm’s upcoming projects and the creation of their unionized assembly plant recently opened in the city.

9:00am – 10:00am

Changing Audiences

Kim Dowdell, National Organization of Minority Architects

Sara Zewde, Landscape Architecture, Urbanism, Public Art; Studio Zewde

For architecture organizations, changing demographics in urban centers opens up connections to new audiences. At the time, movements to promote equity and inclusion are pushing for genuine change in our political and social structures. Here we outline the growing expectations placed on our cultural organizations, and discuss specific opportunities and best practices for AAO members.

10:00am – 11:00am

Changing Climate Communications

Amy Longsworth, Boston Green Ribbon Commission

11:00am – 11:20am

Guest Remarks: City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development

The Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) is busy creating a roadmap of practical steps to de-carbonize energy and build climate resiliency. Organized around sector-based working groups for higher education, healthcare, and commercial real estate, in 2017, the GRC recognized the need to pioneer a fourth sector comprising Boston’s cultural institutions; effective climate communications and relevant programming were at the top of the list of opportunities. This session unpacks a strategy for uniting disparate cultural organizations, spurring them to action, and sharing data and guidance about climate messaging strategies that cut through to general audiences.

11:30am – 12:30pm

Walking Tour: Changing Face of the West Loop

Once a landscape of butchers and purveyors, Fulton Market in the West Loop is suddenly Chicago’s hottest district for development. Hear from people on the front lines of design and development in the district, and discover the neighborhood’s fascinating 150-year evolution from food wholesaling and meatpacking to gourmet restaurants, technology hubs, and boutique hotels. See how commercial and industrial buildings incorporate design elements that can turn the functional into the beautiful. 

1:00pm – 1:45pm
Lunch Break

1:45pm – 3:00pm
Afternoon Breakout Sessions: Round 1

CEO Exchange: Organizational Updates

Host: Lynn Osmond, Chicago Architecture Center; AAO Board Chair
In this breakout round, CEOs, directors, and other higher-level staff will pursue a separate track from other Conference participants.

Finding Your Fundraising Style

Jessica A.S. Letaw, Building Matters Ann Arbor

Patricia Berry, Fundraising Consultant

Last year, AAO member Jessica Letaw founded Building Matters Ann Arbor, and worked with consultant Patricia Berry to draw up a fundraising plan for the fledgling organization. Through this case study, participants will discover some useful approaches that can help new and emerging non-profits enter into the fundraising game by using readily-available resources geared toward long-term success with prospective donors. 

Affordable Data Solutions: Customizing Off-the-Shelf Software

Eric Rogers, Chicago Architecture Center

Most of the more advanced databases serving nonprofits are quite expensive and rather rigid in their structure. In this case study, hear how the Open House Chicago team used Airtable to create a streamlined database entirely customized to support the project’s established workflow and data management needs. With a little elbow grease, this custom approach is actually quite doable, even for group’s with novice computer skills—and much more affordable! The content in this session easily transfers to other complex initiatives or customer tracking needs your organization may have.

3:15pm – 4:30pm
Afternoon Breakout Sessions: Round 2

Curators’ Exchange: Rallying Around Your Exhibit

Alyssum Skjeie, Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum of Art

Ben Prosky (moderator), AIA New York/Center for Architecture; Chair, AAO Exhibitions Sharing Committee

In this breakout round, those interested in exhibitions and program planning will discuss various strategies for animating your entire organization’s work around a central, unifying exhibition. How does your strategic planning guide your exhibit selection? Alternatively, how does your organization rally around unanticipated opportunities? Come prepared to share your own experiences and leave with a collection of fresh ideas to inform your future thinking around exhibition making.

In Search of Sustainable Partnerships

Heidi Segall Levy, Community Design Collaborative

Matt Quinn, New London Architecture

New Perspectives, New Institution: Simple Ways Youth Can Broaden Your Organization’s Outlook

Lauren Wilson, National Building Museum
A pair of case studies from AAO members looks at the formidable challenges connected to partnership development, and establishing terms favorable to your own organization. Over a decade conducting Infill Philadelphia, the Community Design Collaborative has used innovative design solutions to improve life in neighborhoods across the city. The Collaborative is thrilled with the physical outcomes, but challenged when asked by community partners to stay involved for the long haul. Hear how they are beginning to sell local philanthropies on capacity building support for their partners. Projects by New London Architecture, meanwhile, have begun sprouting up across the city, far from its physical headquarters in Bloomsbury. The opportunities are welcome, but picking the right spots has its challenges; this talk addresses when to say yes and when to say no.

Design organizations and the greater museum field face similar problems when it comes to diverse representation in staff or diverse perspectives involved in programming. Sitting at the intersection of these fields, the National Building Museum’s Teen Council, a leadership and ambassador program for young adults, is one avenue for welcoming in diverse perspectives and voices. The Museum’s Director of Community Engagement will share WHY it’s important for any type of organization to make space for youth in their work and HOW it can be done through sharing best practices, lessons learned, impact, road blocks, and what’s ahead. This session includes discussion and brainstorming among attendees to develop strategies and talking points to bring back to their organization         

4:30pm – 6:00pm

Closing Reception at Perkins + Will

Enjoy a final moment to network with your fellow Conference attendees while touring Perkins + Will’s spectacular penthouse atop the iconic Wrigley Building. A firm with a large interiors practice in commercial design, this studio is a veritable laboratory in new office design with eclectic spaces to accommodate diverse workstyles, personalities, and respective projects and tasks. The views are terrific, and the communal kitchen and café a perfect place to gather with fellow Conference attendees to reflect and connect.