Fairmont State visits Mills Group

Talking about Architecture

Ronchamp by Corbusier

Last Friday our Morgantown office of Mills Group hosted six students from Fairmont State University. The architectural students were eager, as juniors and seniors, to learn what an architect does post-graduation.  Different people throughout the firm spent time describing the different aspects of our work. Interiors were discussed, then our latest and greatest video editing programs to create walk-though scenes were described and enjoyed. Sustainability was a hot topic and the nearby Farmer’s Market building was a great example of how infrastructure within a tight downtown grid can provide dual purposes for multi-use real estate. Transforming from a parking lot into a Farmer’s Market pavilion on summer weekends, the structure is a practice in sustainability. Hosting solar panels for electricity and recycling rain-water are two of the features among many design decisions for this “green” place to showcase local vegetables.


I focused on three things for the Architecture discussion: Putting together a drawing set, how to become an architect, and what opportunities there are for architects.

Daniel Liebskind in Berlin_The jewish museum

I began with describing how architects act as mediators. We collaborate between the client and the contractor. Architects have to be great communicators. We know code issues, the proper way to tie in a footing, and we provide clients with a unique perspective on design and the arrangement of spaces.

The first step to beginning a project is being awarded the work. The architect must provide clients with a contract of architectural fees. We’ve got to be great listeners. We are tasked with putting down client desires on paper to be built! We have to discuss their goals, the site, timelines, budgets, and expectations. We must be organized and upfront.

So, let’s say the architect wins the project! The next step is pulling together all of the information that we’ll use in order to provide a realistic solution to what the owner is trying to achieve.

Carlos Scarpa at Brion Cemetary in an Vito d'Altivole Italy

The students and I began to talk about what inspires us. I talked about finding images and using them as a discussion tool with clients. It’s easy to differentiate between what one likes and doesn’t like when something is sitting front of you in black and white. We talked about sketching. Some students offered that they didn’t like being influenced during their inspiration periods and wanted instead to come up with something original.

We began to talk about the type of projects we’re working on in order to discuss how one should begin the designing process. I told the students, excitedly, that I learned something new every day; a new program, a new way of constructing something. Another young man talked about designing a building about ‘earth.’ Some projects were mobile home based. Projects in previous semesters were huge –healthcare sized works. After I discussed editing architecture, one student discussed a professor who was assigning a project a week. People new the profession, or new to the classroom feel daunted by where to begin. I offered beginning with what makes sense. If you feel strongly about one area then start there. Move off from that starting point. Don’t worry about editing. Just get something on paper. The perceptive gentleman thought this may be the lesson the project-a-week-professor was displaying. Eventually this task of design comes more naturally, and you find a rhythm to it.

St. Marks Venice

I referenced past blogs about designing a ReFab Kitchen, and using images to discuss projects with clients to provide architecture inspiration.

At a certain point in the design effort, after the floor plan is approved, the architect needs to refocus the efforts and start to think of what a contractor needs to price and build the project.

We talked about ways we were presenting our work: sketches, computer programs, drafting, and sculpting. I quickly showed them construction documents and told them that they’d be doing things like this for the majority of their time while learning to work in an office.

Lake Como Architecture

The architect builds a construction set that is formed of lots of pages of details and then you solicit bidders. We talked about what a contractor needs in these drawings.

Once the set moves on to construction, you become a negotiator between the client and the contractor; acting as an agent for the client in an informed manner.

I encouraged them to ask to get out in the field and be a part of client meetings so that eventually they would feel comfortable running the meetings.

Then it was time for… How to become an Architect

How to be an Architect

As a student seek grants and scholarships. It’s easy to acquire $1000 but, not so easy to pay it back. Fairmont State is currently working to achieve an accredited Masters Program. The students were involved in making this very important step move forward!

Last on my list, but the most enjoyable segment of my talk, was on opportunities for Architects.  It was at that point that I had the opportunity to discuss my favorite part about my architectural education: Travel!!! The images I used to describe my time through Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Switzerland have been sprinkled throughout this blog.

As an architect you may work in all types of firms: architectural, graphic, landscape architectural, or architecture/engineering firms. Go wherever you get a job.

Live where you want to live and experience firms of all sizes. It’s not going to be the last job you have, but working somewhere gets your foot in the door. You’ll take any experience and build upon it. Be exposed to projects of all sizes.

We learn to be perceptive. Sketch and think of why you like places when you are in them. Critique them and discuss it with your friends. You have the opportunity to influence the way people live. You get to see your work in a livable dimension, it’s an incredible task we’re presented with and the profession needs young people to keep it active.

Keep a work life balance and be healthy. Everything can be an inspiration. Balancing what you love with your work is a great career to embark on!

Trevi fountain in Roma


Good job to Mariah for planning an afternoon to help young architects open their eyes to our profession.

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