Young Architect Conference 2019: One Month Later

Young Architect Conference 2019 Blog  Young Architect Conference

PORTLAND, OR, October 3, 2019 – It’s been over a month since the inaugural Young Architect Conference wrapped up three days of inspiring keynotes, workshops, and parties in Southeast Portland.  Rather than writing an article covering the conference while still riding the high of the event, I’ve chosen to let it rest for a bit, go back to my daily routines, and explore the impact that the conference has had long after Molly licked her last face inside the wood-planked walls of The Redd.

Also, I forgot to write about it.  And got busy.  And then forgot again.  And then started writing a few articles, but didn’t like them and quit.  A retrospective of the conference one month later was never the original intent, but here we are, so strap in.

Young Architect Conference - Michael Riscica

Young Architect and conference Founder Michael Riscica, as conference attendee Luke Arehart looks on. Photo Courtesy Timothy Niou.

What’s the Young Architect Conference?!?

So for those who don’t know, there’s this guy, Michael Riscica.  A few years ago, he was living in Portland, studying for the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE) and grew frustrated with the lack of support and expectation that the exams were “easy” and could be completed in a matter of just weeks or a couple months.  After Michael got through his exams, he started a blog called Young Architect.  He wrote about his experiences, offered support for others, and created a platform to be open about the exam process.

Over time, the site took off, Michael quit his day job, worked his tail off, and today runs the Young Architect website, podcast, jobs board, and flagship Boot Camp program.  He manages a Facebook group of 7,000+ members – a community of people helping people, all studying for the exams together.  Michael has written a book, and these days he and his dog Molly live their lives traveling around the country giving lectures and hosting workshops, offering wisdom and advice to help thousands reach their dream of becoming licensed architects by passing the ARE.

He’s a big deal in the architecture world, his Boot Camp program having already helped hundreds pass their exams, along the way gaining a loyal following and connecting with some of the country’s best and brightest emerging architects and entrepreneurs.  It seemed a natural next step, then, to bring these people all together for a conference, under the theme of Leadership, Connection, and Service.  Over the course of a year, Michael and his team developed and created the Young Architect Conference, which launched in Portland this past August 23rd-25th.

“Imagine if we had a conference exclusively for emerging professionals in architecture. The concept for the conference would be about creating a more successful profession by focusing on developing FUTURE Architects.”

-Michael Riscica, “Why We Need a Young Architect Conference,” Architizer, 2019

Young Architect Conference 2019

Attendees during “Reconstruction,” a keynote presentation by Mariela Bravo. Photo Courtesy Timothy Niou.

The format of the conference was simple: keynotes in the morning, workshops in the afternoon, parties at night, with ample down time along the way to meet, mingle, and talk shop.  There was no shortage of event coverage – check out the following media to learn more about the conference:




Young Architect Conference 2019

Michael Riscica addresses the crowd during day two of the conference. Photo Courtesy Timothy Niou.

Setting the Stage

Having been to my share of conferences, I’ve found that there’s typically a range of emotions that come with them.  At their worst, they are transactional in nature – I give you money, you give me continuing education hours and a product expo where I spend the afternoon being sold to.  There may be breakout sessions with cheesy icebreakers (“Everyone go around the table and say your name, where you’re from, what brought you here, and…let’s make it a little fun by sharing what your favorite movie is!”) but the overall experience…gross.

Other times the content is fun and insightful, but the venue or location of the conference is dreadful enough to dampen the experience while actively fostering whatever the opposite of connection is.  (I’m looking at you, AIA – I still haven’t forgiven you for June’s debacle in Las Vegas.)  At the best of conferences, however, the workshops and sessions are engaging, there are events built-in meant to foster connection, and they’re hosted in places that are inspiring, welcoming, and…well…the opposite of Las Vegas.  I’ve experienced conferences like this in my high school days, active in FFA and 4-H back in the Midwest.

In the course of just a few days at those conferences, a sense of community was built, leading to a tearful goodbye and the occasional friendships that would hold together for a few weeks or months following the conference before time and distance rained down, eroding the relationship away, leaving behind only fond memories and the occasional nostalgia to go back to that time.  Those high school conferences – the engaging content, the cool cities, the effortless friendships – all seemed to have been washed in the same rain of time, leaving behind only distant memories of events I would never again experience.

Dr. Ashlee Kleven Hayes leading her workshop, “Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.” Photo Courtesy Timothy Niou.

“Leaving the Best Summer Camp Buds Ever”

I only partially attended the Young Architect Conference, anxiety precluding me from attending full days, and the parties CERTAINLY out of the question.  As such, my mentality was to slip in, gain what I could gain, and slip back out.  Try as I might to maintain this “seen but not heard” approach, I found myself accidentally talking with several people – I couldn’t help it.  That effortlessness of meeting people that I thought had gone extinct in 2006 had suddenly reappeared.  These people – all of these people – these are my people.  They get it.  They’re fun.  They have a sense of humor.  They’re leaders, change-makers, difference-makers…  And just like that, the conference was over and, despite my best efforts, I once again felt the wonderful feels of having been part of a true community, once again leaving with a tearful goodbye, and once again taking pride in the new relationships I had formed during that short weekend.

“I feel like I’m leaving the best summer camp buds ever. Thank you all for such a grand time! Y’all keep being change makers out there! Until next year… 💜💜💜.”

-Rachel G., Young Architect Conference 2019 attendee

Unlike even the best of the high school conferences, in the month+ since the Young Architect Conference closed, the energy remarkably remains hung above the attendees, like a protective umbrella that, rather than keeping the rain out, instead holds the light in.  Friendships made or strengthened at the conference were reinforced between attendees who attended conferences and events since.  Notably, at the Women’s Leadership Summit in Minneapolis last month, and coming up next week at CSI’s CONSTRUCT 2019 in National Harbor, MD.

Young Architect Conference Support

Members support a fellow YAC attendee during a milestone on the patch to licensure. Image by Design Pup.

Leadership, Connection, and Service in Action

Continuously feeding and sustaining this energy is a private Facebook group, of which conference attendees are all members, where we support each other in everything from ARE progress, to resume help, to finding jobs, to encouraging one-another’s passions and projects.  Members share photos and videos, giving updates about what they’re doing.  We crack jokes and share our Young Architect pride.  The 175 people who I so quickly identified as my people, who got it, who were fun, who had a sense of humor, who were leaders, change-makers, and difference-makers at the conference…that didn’t all come screeching to a halt following the conference’s closing session.  Rather, those people just had a fire lit beneath them, harnessing that energy and bringing it back with them to their homes across the nation.  What a beautiful experience to be part of.

In the month since the conference, with energy showing no signs of waning, multiple attendees have found the courage and given themselves permission to:

  • Launch the blogs or social media accounts they’d been wanting to launch
  • Made plans for meetups between attendees living in the same cities as one another
  • Attend other conferences and events to build on the energy sparked at the Young Architect Conference
  • Shake off online trolls attacking their credentials by replying with a well-reasoned, thoughtful, response
  • QUIT THEIR JOB that was toxic and draining, to pursue goals more aligned with their values

Just yesterday, an attendee was recognized by his local AIA Chapter for his contributions to the profession, citing recognition brought to light and elevated at the Young Architect Conference.

Not to mention the Nashville-based member who shared her experience at the Young Architect Conference with her firm, and they responded with an open invitation for ALL conference attendees to apply for a position at their firm.  Logic being, they knew that conference attendees were a special group – a group they want to join them as they grow and move their firm forward.

Young Architect Conference 2019

Molly Riscica, mascot of the conference. Photo Courtesy Timothy Niou.

Looking Forward

After nearly 15 years of attending conferences for the sole purpose of gaining continuing education credits, attending workshops, networking, and being sold to along the way, how refreshing it was to attend this conference that was about supporting each other and building each other up.  Let’s be honest – the conference was great, the workshops were great, but nobody really traveled to Portland just to learn how to up their rendering skills or social media game.  Instead, it was an opportunity (excuse?) to get a bunch of great people together, build relationships, build support, and light the fire to inspire this group of Millennial architects and designers to continue making a difference for another year.

“It was a total honor and privilege to be a part of the first ever Young Architect Conference and to spend the weekend with all of you!  I look forward to 2020 and hearing the stories of what accomplishments were made over the course of the year…If there is anything I can do, anything at all, to help you grow as an architect, please let me know…Find me, reach out to me, visit me – whatever it takes – if there is something I can do for any one of you.”

-Andy R., Young Architect Conference 2019 attendee

As time passes and plans for Young Architect Conference 2020 continue to evolve, it’s an honor to be part of this group – watching, supporting, contributing, and being supported in return.  Inspired in Leadership, brought together through Connection, and guided by Service.

“Finish the sentence with what you are going to accomplish in the next year…
‘By the time I attend the Young Architect Conference 2020 I will…’ “

-Adam D., Young Architect Conference 2019 attendee

What will you have achieved by this time next year?

Young Architect Conference

Young Architect Conference 2019. Photo Courtesy Timothy Niou.

All images courtesy Timothy Niou, unless noted otherwise.  Nashville Design Pup is a proud sponsor of the Young Architect Conference.

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