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Mentor or Friend-tor?

Fiona Mckay


Someone asked me the other day if I had a mentor and I was quick to say no. Because, when I hear the word mentor, I think of this definition:

Mentor: A senior industry figure, either found inside the company, or from within the industry/sector and who has specific knowledge, skills and/or contacts that may be beneficial in guiding your professional development.

Is it hard to find a mentor? Yes, especially when you box them in to be a specific type of person like I did. I found finding a mentor elusive at best. Are you too expecting too much from one person and subsequently can’t find them? Perhaps our needle in a haystack approach explains why speed-mentoring events are so popular right now.

Two things I hear from architects: “I need a mentor!” and “How do I find a mentor?”

We may believe a “Mentor” is what we need…but perhaps we need to redefine our expectations.  

When I thought about my “no” to having a mentor, I had forgotten my friend and expert on corporate culture and leadership development. We met at a conference, had a follow-up call and enjoyed the exchange of views. Now we regularly keep in touch via Skype to talk about leadership development.

I also have a friend and HR coach, whom I trained with. We email our weekly goals on a Monday and then email again on Friday with the follow-up. This forces us to reflect on our week, prioritise actions and hold each other accountable.

There is a group of American ladies whom I speak with every two weeks - we are on a course together. They are a highly experienced bunch and encourage me to stretch out of my comfort zone.

I mustn’t forget my long-time friend, architect and company director. He’s well respected and I value his advice and professionalism. I also recognise that I need to take advantage of his connections more – women in this industry don’t do this enough!

I don't call any of these people mentors, yet this is what they unofficially are. They raise my level of thinking, support my efforts and offer me different perspectives. All are valuable in their unique way and together, along with others in my network, they help to develop my career. Unlike traditional mentoring relationships, my examples are also two-way - we are both mentor and mentee.  

If we start thinking beyond the word mentor then we could find more value in our existing network. David Clutterbuck, mentoring expert and co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, says that we need to develop a “portfolio of relationships”.

“These relationships may be ad hoc, unplanned and vaguely defined (or not even seen as mentoring at all), but you will gain more from them…” – David Clutterbuck

In this spirit, we can use the word mentor as an umbrella term for our unofficial advisors, supporters, connectors, coaches, teachers, guides, confidantes and valued alliances. Those people who make us better versions of ourselves. I recently heard someone use the word friend-tor – they understood this concept. If we stop searching for the one elusive mentor we might notice that we have lots of friend-tors.

In preparation for your “portfolio of relationships” think about what you need:

  • Help with your team leadership skills? Advice on skill development?

  • Perspectives on different roles?

  • Someone who challenges you to grow?

  • Help with succession planning?

  • Someone to keep you abreast with new technology?

Once you have defined what you need, you can explore your network of existing relationships by asking yourself questions such as:

  •  Who do I have a great rapport with?

  • What values do I admire in others?

  • Who gives me energy?

  • Who do I know that would give me some hard truths – without me taking it personally?

  • Who do I know who holds a different perspective?

  • Who inspires me to bring my real self to work?

Studies have shown that these informal mentoring relationships are longer lasting, have more commitment and develop greater trust. What’s not to like about that?

“Karen, do you have a mentor?”

“Well, now that I think about it, I have many!”

My call to action for: 


Help your mentees to grow their network of supportive relationships beyond your own role. 


Broaden your thinking by looking for connectors, sponsors, advisors and friend-tors.

Build your portfolio of relationships.

Written by: Karen Fugle, SleepingGiant Consulting


Karen Fugle is an Executive Coach and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator, who specialises in working with Architects and Designers. Contact Karen at SleepingGiant Consulting today.


 If you enjoyed this article then you might also like:

My article explaining the difference between a Coach and Mentor:

TedX talk by Carla Harris on finding a Sponsor: “How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work










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A fond farewell to Fiona

Fiona Mckay


Fiona McKay has served as our Chapter Executive for the better part of a decade. Without a doubt, the smooth running of our chapter's numerous events and board correspondence would not have been possible without her energy, dedication and cheer.  Whether arriving bright and early on a Saturday morning to check in students at the Design Charrette, patiently coaching our board through the digital revolution, or bringing in photographers at the last minute to cover an event - she's done it all with professionalism and charm.  The board thanks her for her service to the chapter, and looks forward to seeing Fiona’s curatorial career grow at White Line Projects!

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Fiona Mckay

The annual Excellence in Design Awards programme kicked off at the start of February of this year, with the Call for Entries going out to practices in the UK and abroad. The three categories for the awards were: Professional, Young Architect & Unbuilt. For the Professional & Young Architect submissions, construction of the projects had to have been completed between 01 January 2014 and 31 December 2018.

For the Professional category, entries were sought from architects, industrial designers, urban planners, landscape architects, and interior designers for projects whose construction has been completed. For the Young Architect category, entries were sought from young, emerging practices with design principals under 40 years of age, for projects whose construction has been completed. Lastly, for the Unbuilt category, entries were sought from professionals, recent graduates and current students based in the United Kingdom and around the world, for projects which were as of yet unbuilt or were speculative in nature.

 This year we were honoured to have the following jurors from practice, the press and academia:

  • Sir David Adjaye, OBE - Principal & Founder of Adjaye Associates

  • Adam Nathaniel Furman - Artist, Designer & Writer, Teaching at Central St. Martins & runs the Saturated Space Research Group at the Architectural Association

  • Prof. Lilly Kudic - Head of Architecture, London South Bank University

  • Dr. Mark Breeze - Director of Architecture, St.John's College, Cambridge

  • Ellie Stathaki - Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*

  • Amrita Raja - 2019 President, The American Institute of Architects UK Chapter

After the 29 March submission deadline, the jury met on the 5th April for a day of lively review and challenging deliberation of all the entries. A shortlist was then selected, and after further debate, commendations & winners of the Young Architect & Professional Awards were selected. All shortlisted practices were notified, and invitations for the Excellence in Design Awards Gala were sent out.

The gala was held on 30 April, at The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in Regent’s Park. Over 100 architects, their clients and guests, joined chapter members to honour practices receiving awards this year.

The Winners were:

  • The Young Architect Award: David Leech Architects, for ‘A House in a Garden’, Dublin, Ireland. The jury summed this project as a lovely sequence of spaces, beautiful materiality, surfaces and textures on the surfaces.

  • The Professional Award: David Chipperfield Architects, for ‘Amorepacific Headquarters’, Seoul, South Korea. The jury felt this project was porous but with a metropolitan scale, had an intimate and thoughtful experience, and though it was a very large building, the layers of materiality provide a human scale. They felt that light was brought into the spaces beautifully, it contained a very good mix of amenities, and had a visceral excitement, which is not common for an office building.


The Professional Commendations went to:

o   4 Pancras Square, by Eric Parry Architects.

o   House in a Garden, by Gianni Botsford Architects.

o   The Conservation of the Painted Hall, by Hugh Broughton Architects.


Unfortunately, the jury was not satisfied with any of the Unbuilt submissions, and therefore there was no award for that category this year. The jury proposed some changes to the unbuilt category requirements, one of which was to engage more students. Please refer to our website for the entire shortlist, images and additional photos of the gala.

At the Awards Gala, our out-going AIA UK Chapter Executive Fiona McKay, and long-serving board member, past president & current secretary of the AIA UK Lorraine D. King, received Certificates of Appreciation. On behalf of the Board I would like to thank them once again for their immeasurable service and contribution to the success of our chapter.

The gala night also included two guided tours of the Grade -I listed RCP building designed by Sir Denys Lasdun. Members who attended these enlightening tours were able to receive one continuing education credit.

On behalf of the AIA UK Board, I would like to thank all the practices that submitted projects to our Design Awards, and congratulate the shortlisted, commended and the winning projects. I would also like to extend our gratitude to our jurors who tirelessly volunteered their time throughout this process. We are most grateful for your contributions to this signature event of ours.

Many thanks to all who attended, and we look forward to seeing you all at next year’s Awards Gala.


Written by: Christopher Musangi, AIA

Photos: Julian Vasquez


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2019 AIA UK Survey / Improving our Communication Streams

Fiona Mckay

The 2018 AIA UK Chapter Survey produced some interesting comments all around, including many positive and/or constructive ones that the Board will be addressing during 2019.  However, there were also a few surprising responses to questions on our Newsletters, Blogs and Social Media that deserve more detailed attention.

From the AIA database of members and friends, the Survey produced 47 responses. Of these, a disappointing 19% were not aware of our Newsletters and Blogs and a corresponding 17% never read the articles (‘I didn’t know it exists’ / ‘I don’t believe I have access’ / ‘Blog? Newsletter?  Do I get them?’, were among the Survey responses).  

It is – of course – one’s choice how often to read or whether to read or not (‘There’s enough content in my inbox already, thank you’ says one responder), but the question remains – what can the Chapter do to improve overall communications?  

It did not take long to discover two major reasons members are not receiving the Newsletter. First, it appears our email mailing list is not fully and automatically coordinated with our membership database and some members simply did not receive the emails.  This is a technical problem that is being addressed as a high priority. Second, there are a significant number of emails sent to members that are being bounced back as unviable.  This is being addressed through better follow up and administration.

However, as well as correcting the technical and administrative problems, there is still room for improvement on how the AIA UK Chapter communicates with its membership.   One step towards better communications is to understand the different components.

  • Announcements – According to the Survey, 89% of Survey responders preferred receiving communications from the UK Chapter by email.  Special Announcements for Chapter business and Event Announcements are issued routinely.  We will continue to rely on emailed Announcements as our primary form of communication with a focus on an improved timeline, when possible (More notice of events and meetingswas a representative request).  

  • Website – Our Website’s Homepage (See HERE ) contains standing information on the Chapter – membership, links to other organisations, contact details and event news – and is updated frequently.  It also includes convenient links to our Social Media accounts. The Website maintains easy access to Event Announcements (past and future), and past Newsletters and End of Year Presentations.   

As the Website is both backward and forward looking (‘Plan schedule 6 months ahead of events, please’ was a plaintive request from the Survey), it should be the first stop for keeping up to date with Chapter activities, but requires the membership to take the initiative to make contact.

We will endeavour to improve the Website over the next year; it is under constant review, but could also benefit from membership comments.

  • Social Media – Although the Survey indicated only 6.5% preferred Social Media for receiving information, it is the most immediate method of contacting the membership with on-the-spot news, features, notices and reminders.  In particular, it reaches younger members and other interested parties – for example – architectural offices - not on our mailing lists. It will become more a more prominent communication means in the future, but will not replace emailed Announcements

We strongly encourage you to sign up to our Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts by following the links below if you have not already done so.  

Members are also encouraged to comment on Social Media content and to contribute to it.  For example, personal posts and stories chronicling your attendance at an architectural event can be directed to our Instagram account by tagging or using the hashtag #AIAUK.  Past stories are archived in the roundels at the top of our Instagram account.

  • Blog -  Past events or other features are recorded in Blog articles.  The 3 to 6 most recent Blogs are included on the Website Homepage, plus the 30 most recent Blog articles can be found under the separate Website heading ‘News’. Older Blog articles have been incorporated into our periodical Newsletters.

As the Blogs are only assessable if members make the effort to visit the Website, it has been decided that selected Blog articles will now be announced on Social Media as soon as they are published (‘less content more frequently’ as one responder requested).  From our Instagram account, there is a direct link to our Website Blogs.  Alternatively, links to specific Blog articles are included in the posts and can be manually copied for direct searches.   

  • Newsletters – Since 2015, the AIA UK Chapter has been issued by an emailed Newsletter, generally every 4 months or shortly after one of the Chapter’s major Events.  The Newsletter is a compilation of Blog article plus other communications. It records details of past Events; contains articles on current legal and practice issues affecting the membership; and includes membership news.  All the past Newsletters since 1994 are archived on the Website as a permanent record of the Chapter.

The 2018 Survey offered some positive encouragement (‘Like the Newsletter’ / ‘Well organised – well written and thoughtful’ were two such comments).  The editors and writers of the Newsletter would greatly appreciate more specific feedback on their efforts via the ‘comment’ and ‘likes’ buttons at the base of each article.   

If you have received this Announcement, but have not received previous Newsletters, please contact the Chapter Secretary or subscribe below.

Written by: AIA UK Chapter Secretary

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Grassroots 2019

Fiona Mckay

Christopher Musangi, AIA, AIA UK 2019 VP with Les Jordan, AIA, AIA Continental Europe 2019 President at the Library of Congress Grassroots Reception

Christopher Musangi, AIA, AIA UK 2019 VP with Les Jordan, AIA, AIA Continental Europe 2019 President at the Library of Congress Grassroots Reception

I landed in Washington DC on Tuesday 5th March, and slowly made my way from Dulles airport through the weekday DC traffic, to the Renaissance Hotel in the heart of the U.S. capitol.  It was at this hotel that the 2019 AIA Grassroots conference was being held. As I crossed the Potomac, and gazed at the landmarks in the distance, I really had no idea what to expect at the Institute’s annual leadership conference.  As I walked into the Renaissance Hotel, the buzz of architects and chapter leaders from across the US & the globe was visibly present. I didn’t expect to see this many AIA leaders, with name badges announcing chapters from the length and breadth of the US & abroad. They were picking up their registration packs, some already networking, and others getting reacquainted with fellow members they hadn’t seen in a while. Outside, winter had not yet released its grip on the city, but inside this hotel, the warm gathering, fellowship and dedication was encompassing.

The 2019 Grassroots conference brought together leaders in our field and beyond, to highlight the voice of the architecture profession, the value of architects in society, and the connections and collaborations necessary to improve the built environment for everyone. This was the guiding principle for the Grassroots 2019 theme: People, Purpose, and Partnership.

Institute leaders starting with the 2019 AIA President William J. Bates, FAIA, whom I had met in London a few weeks before, welcomed us to the conference. He reminded us that “first and foremost, people are at the heart of what we do. Our purpose is to leverage our love of design and unique problem-solving skills to advance our vision of a more sustainable, just and inclusive society.”  The candidates for national office also presented their visions for the future of the AIA. The speeches were moving, and the drive palpable!

As the AIA UK chapter representative at the Grassroots conference, I was able to attend a few programmes all designed to help attendees become better leaders for our chapters, community and the architecture profession. From Gary Rifkins ‘Speak Like a Pro’, which focused on the ability to communicate with both professionalism and passion, to the Christopher Kelly leadership programme. One seminar I attended and which was in line with our chapter’s 2019 theme of Diversity & Inclusion, was the ‘Managing Cultural Difference in the Workplace’ seminar. This very engaging and eye-opening seminar examined the need in the architecture profession for addressing diversity and inclusion, and discussed successfully implemented initiatives that promote equity, diversity & inclusion as core values in chapters, firms, and communities.  

As all the U.S. chapters broke off for meetings of their various regions, I was able to join those members from overseas for the International Region meeting. Our neighbouring chapter the AIA Continental Europe was represented, as well as AIA Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong and the Middle East. I was encouraged to learn from our discussions, that as the first international chapter of the AIA, we were also leading in the number of CE programmes we offered our membership. It was good to network with my fellow international region officers, and agree on ways in which we could all collaborate across the miles.

I had a further networking and social event held at the august U.S. Library of Congress, where I was able to meet chapter officers from all over, some of whom were gladly surprised to learn of the existence of the AIA UK & International Chapters.

They keynote address by historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin on how to be a strong leader was most powerful. I encourage everyone to listen to her TED Talk “Lessons from Past Presidents.” I left Grassroots 2019 feeling inspired and energised to continue assisting our chapter to improve our services to our membership, as well as with a renewed dedication to the architecture profession.

Grassroots Reception at The Library of Congress

Grassroots Reception at The Library of Congress

AIA International Region Meeting, Grassroots 2019.

AIA International Region Meeting, Grassroots 2019.

Written by: Christopher Musangi, AIA

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Movie Nights

Fiona Mckay


The 2019 movie series was off to a roaring start, with a packed inaugural movie screening! We were back at the BFI Stephen street, and started with a screening of 'Objectified,' the third movie of the design trilogy which includes Helvetica & Urbanised, by Gary Hustwit.

Objectified is a feature-length documentary film examining the role of everyday non-living objects, and the people who design them, in our daily lives. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind the objects and the designers, who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability.

Objectified encourages us to stop and notice our surroundings and to think critically about creativity and consumption. Many of our regular attendees had seen the previous two documentaries which we had screened in previous months, and were happy to complete the design trilogy. The documentary like other Gary Hustwit ones, was very well received, with a lively discussion and debate ensuing after the screening. Many thanks to all who attended, and for ushering in the 2019 screenings with such vigorous debate.


As the grey London winter rolled on, we were back to the BFI in March, to wind up our winter movie series, with a screening of ‘ Microtopia.’ In line with the current global debate on conservation of resources, this documentary presents dreams of life in small, mobile or temporary spaces. Several architects, builders and artists from different parts of the world propose a radical solution to living space, in which all unnecessary things are removed, and seemingly old and worn-out items are utilised.

Behind all this is a simple question: How much space, stuff and comfort do we really need?

The film explored how architects, artists and ordinary problem-solvers are pushing the limits to find answers to their dreams of portability, flexibility and of creating independence from the grid. .

The documentary generated some interesting debates, with some of the proposed housing solutions being positively received, and others dismissed outright. At least it generated a heated debate, bringing some warmth to an otherwise gloomy winter night. Many thanks to all who attended this final screening of the first segment of the 2019 movie series, and we look forward to welcoming all of you back to the BFI in the autumn for more screenings & debates!

Written by: Christopher Musangi, AIA

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