The Catholic University of America

April 16, 2010

Working Architects Offer “Uncensored” Career Advice to CUA Students

  Graduate student Shelby Foster and Dave Shove-Brown, assistant dean, listen to the presentation by David Tracz and David Owen of OPX.


“You’re graduating at a really interesting time,” architect David Owen, of the firm OPX, told CUA architecture students gathered around an oblong table in a conference room in the Edward M. Crough Center for Architectural Studies.

Owen noted that architects have changed their approach to community service, often being more willing to take on pro bono jobs, and at the same time more young people are committed to service.

Owen and his coworker David Tracz, a CUA alumnus, represented OPX on April 14 at the third session of “Architects Uncensored,” a series of lunchtime discussions created by the School of Architecture and Planning to allow students informal interaction with working professionals.

The speakers from architecture firm OPX, the 10th largest interior design firm in Washington, D.C., talked about how firms can contribute to their communities.

Students sipped coffee and asked questions of the architects. Graduate student Andy Rozzi, from Reading, Pa., asked the ethical questions: How does the firm separate its community service from its public image? Does a good reputation in the community lead to more paying job offers? Owen responded that OPX tries to keep its community projects “pure” — it doesn’t solicit other projects based on the merit of its community design.

In 2007 and 2008, OPX celebrated its 25th anniversary by vowing to complete 25 acts of community service. It completed nearly 40 projects ranging from collecting gifts for military troops to designing a hotel to be built in Liberia.

“Community service connects architecture back to the people again,” Owen said. When designing buildings and interiors, architects can often lose sight of the end result — that the object they are creating is being designed for use by people. But with need-based community design, the focus on people is reinforced, Owen added.

“There is no need for architecture without people,” Owen said. Especially with community design, “there is a client and the client has a face.”

Previous lunches have featured visits by other CUA alumni of Washington, D.C.- based firms: Rick Lessard of the Lessard Group, and David Delcher and Erin Tumey of Brennan Beer Gorman Monk. Lessard talked about the day-to-day logistics of running a firm and Delcher and Tumey discussed marketing and business development.

Graduate architecture student Adam Schwartz from Silver Spring, Md., said he attended two of the lunches because “it’s interesting to hear about other facets of architecture.” He has enjoyed the format because “it’s so informal and casual and allows for more personal discussion than a career fair atmosphere.”

Tracz, who graduated from CUA’s School of Architecture and Planning in 1996, said he came to talk to the students because “if nothing else, it shows students that they can succeed. It helps to take the experience I’ve had and let students know what they’ll face — especially now when it’s not easy and not everyone will get a job right when they graduate.”

“Sometimes firms are so intimidating, but this wasn’t,” said sophomore Emily Anderson, from Wethersfield, Conn.

David Shove Brown, assistant dean for special programs in architecture and planning, said the series was created this spring to help students get to know working architects outside of a project jury or a career fair. “The informal setting has allowed for great conversation and interaction between our students and the professionals,” he says.