Fireside Chats: Meet the Speakers

During our 75th Annual Convention and Design Expo, the Society will host Fireside Chats giving emerging professionals an opportunity to sit down with established, notable Texas architects for conversations about their careers, futures, and the profession.

Bob Borson, AIA
Dan Hart, FAIA
Donna Kacmar, FAIA
Mell Lawrence, FAIA
Heather H. McKinney, FAIA
Thomas Hayne Upchurch, FAIA

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On Friday, November 7, from 1:00–2:00 p.m., TxA will host our annual Fireside Chats. A convention tradition, Fireside Chats provide small, intimate settings (no more than 25 people each) to promote conversations between emerging professionals and established architects

This year's Fireside Chats feature the following eight prominent Texas Architects:

Bob Borson, AIA 

Dallas architect Bob Borson, AIA, is widely recognized as the blogger behind "Life of an Architect" — one of the world’s most popular architectural blogs. As an emerging voice within the architectural community, he has bridged the gap and engaged multiple generations of architects and architectural enthusiasts by sharing his personal experiences, professional practice tips, and anecdotes on what it’s like to work with and be an architect. A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Borson is a past recipient of the AIA Dallas Young Architect of the Year Award, and he currently sits on the AIA Dallas Board of Directors as director of communications. He is also the chair of the Texas Society of Architects Digital Communications Committee.

Today, Borson is the partner responsible for design and studio management at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects — a Dallas-based architectural firm with eight employees, whose work focuses on single-family residential and interior architecture projects located across the country.

Click here to register for Bob Borson's Fireside Chat.

Daniel S. Hart, FAIA

The practice of Daniel S. Hart, FAIA, is collaborative and process-oriented with an emphasis on educational and religious design. He directs the higher education work of Parkhill, Smith & Cooper (PSC) and serves on the firm’s board of directors. PSC is an AE firm with 300 personnel in six offices in West Texas. Hart has championed a cultural shift focusing on collaboration and design in this long-standing firm originally established by civil engineers. He was the founding chancellor of PSC University, an annual education, training, and visioning event involving all employees in the firm; he was also president of the Texas Society of Architects in 2011 and elevated to the AIA College of Fellows in 2014.

Click here to register for Daniel S. Hart's Fireside Chat.

Donna Kacmar, FAIA

Donna Kacmar, FAIA, is a registered architect and an associate professor of architecture at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston where she teaches design studio and founded and directs the Materials Research Collaborative.

Kacmar's built work focuses on developing solutions for residential and small-scale commercial projects that are straightforward, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible. Most recently, her firm, in collaboration with Natalye Appel + Associates Architects and James Ray Architects, won a 2011 AIA Houston Design Award and a 2013 AIA/ALA Design Award for the Oak Forest Neighborhood Library renovation and addition. Her Fisher Street House received a 2013 AIA Houston Design Award. She has also just completed the final manuscript for "BIG Little Houses," to be published by Routledge. The book investigates 20 small buildings designed by architects in the U.S. and Canada.

Click here to register for Donna Kacmar's Fireside Chat.

Mell Lawrence, FAIA

Mell Lawrence, FAIA, studied architecture at The University of Texas in Austin. After working with Charles Moore and a partnership with Paul Lamb, Mell started his own firm in 1991. Currently, his office employs six people who have a passion for merging the realities of everyday life with the architectural principles of light, art, and sustainability. Lawrence's work blends indoor and outdoor spaces with seamless transitions that acknowledge the surrounding landscape elements. A deep sense of place and life pattern are at the core of every project. His designs embrace the warmth and texture of elemental materials, clean lines, thoughtful details, and elements of surprise.

Click here to register for Mell Lawrence's Fireside Chat.

Heather H. McKinney, FAIA 

Heather H. McKinney, FAIA, is the founding partner of McKinney York Architects, an influential full-service firm based in Austin and the 2013 recipient of the Firm Achievement Award from the Texas Society of Architects. McKinney York is also the winner of more than 30 design awards for high-profile residential, commercial, and institutional commissions spanning three decades. In her role as founding partner, McKinney guides the conceptual design dialogue for the firm’s work and serves as design mentor for its 14-person staff. Inside our studio, we share an ethos: to create beautiful, responsible architecture in a culture of collaboration. Our passion is making memorable places that resonate. Our work is intentionally understated, enduring, and timeless. This design philosophy is expressed in every corner of the studio and across a range of notable projects, from civic buildings and chilling stations to second homes on islands off the coasts of Maine and British Columbia.

A trusted authority on all things design, McKinney speaks and consults widely about creating projects with impact in the community. She was elevated to Fellowship in the AIA for her body of work, which displays cultivated restraint, elegance, and aesthetic maturity. She creates memorable places by drawing out the silent qualities of elemental forms. The results are an architecture that is indeed timeless. McKinney is known for an engaging manner that extends beyond the firm’s own design studio into the many AIA committees, lectures, design juries, and projects she contributes to — with the intention of helping to enrich the professional experience 

for both students and practicing architects alike. In 2010, she served as the president of TxA, and in 2012, she chaired the TxA Convention Committee. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.

Today, with partners, Al York, AIA, and Michelle Rossomando, AIA, McKinney York is a favorite among influential clients — sought after for its expertise in tackling the unusual and complex project. The firm works actively with public- and private-sector clients, institutions, and developers. In Central Texas alone, McKinney York has designed many notable and well-loved projects — from the free-standing Smith Family Chapel at Riverbend Church, to the refurbished McGarrah Jesse Building downtown, and the African-American Culture and Heritage Center in East Austin.

Click here to register for Heather H. McKinney's Fireside Chat.

Thomas Hayne Upchurch, FAIA

Thomas Hayne Upchurch, FAIA, is the principal of Upchurch Architects, a general practice firm founded in 1994 and located in Brenham. His work has been published locally and regionally, and honored for design excellence. He has contributed articles to Texas Architect since 2002.  In addition, Tommy has served the Texas Society of Architects, as well as AIA Brazos and AIA Austin, in numerous leadership positions. He also serves within his community on the Brenham Main Street Board and Main Street Planning Committee. 

Click here to register for Thomas Hayne Upchurch's Fireside Chat.

Andrew Vernooy, AIA

Andrew Vernooy, AIA, is dean of the Texas Tech University College of Architecture. He received his undergraduate degree in engineering from Princeton. His first professional degree in architecture is from The University of Texas; he also has master’s degrees from UT Austin and the Harvard Graduate School of Design in construction management and the history and theory of urban form, respectively.

Vernooy's attitudes about teaching architecture — through design studio instruction or technology — come directly from his experience in engineering and practice, and from his belief in the intellectual capacity of practical issues. 

Click here to register for Andrew Vernooy's Fireside Chat.

Mark Wellen, FAIA

Mark Wellen, FAIA, has forged poetic architecture shaped by the ruggedness of West Texas and defined by economy of expression, materiality, craft, and light.

Early in his career, Wellen made the conscious decision to live and practice in the remote region of West Texas. Drawing inspiration from the vast, inimitable landscape and the traditions of Texas’ modernist and regionalist architects of previous generations, he has become a champion of the highest standards of the built environment, through both design and leadership. His work is both intuitive and instinctive, drawing on the unrelenting characteristics of the region — its big sky, long horizon, intense light, and climatic extremes — to reveal moments of richness that elevate the human experience. 

Practicing architecture as a generalist in a small city in a remote region, Wellen’s body of work includes varied building types and project sizes — from ranch shelters to residences, museums, and downtown office towers. His work has been recognized with 25 national, regional, and local design awards. Of these projects, the most widely recognized is Cinco Camp, a low-tech retreat in the mountains of Texas’ Big Bend built from five shipping containers suspended lightly above grade on hand-dug piers. It received a 2009 AIA Housing Award and a Residential Architect Design Award Grand Prize; it was also published in Architectural Record, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications, as well as on countless online design blogs. The project adds a significant voice to the international conversation on sustainability and prefabrication while firmly expressing Wellen’s dedication to an architecture of place and environmental contextualism.

A long-time champion and advocate for design excellence, Wellen is the co-creator and organizer of the highly successful Texas Society of Architects' Design Conference, now entering its third year. The only one of its kind in the region, the annual event brings together design-oriented architects from across the state and beyond for tours and lectures by internationally renowned architects — all curated around an organizing theme. Each event has been sold out, and Wellen is planning conferences into 2015, making this event an annual fixture for designers to come together to exchange ideas and gather inspiration. 

Wellen has also served on numerous educational and professional design juries, lectured and taught at universities, presented at architectural conventions and symposia, and contributed to professional committees, including the TxA Design Awards Committee, which oversees the statewide design awards program. He was invited by the dean of the Texas Tech University College of Architecture to be a founding member of its visiting critic’s studio, a graduate course that focuses on examining a design problem located in the desert southwest of Texas. Inspired by the early success of this program, Wellen and his partners endowed a scholarship at Texas Tech to support students who qualify for this studio. In addition, as the former chair and a long-time member of the TxA Publications Committee, the editorial advisory board for Texas Architectmagazine, he has influenced the content of that award-winning publication to bring the best design in the region to a national audience.

Click here to register for Mark Wellen's Fireside Chat.

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