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Provider Spotlight – Fentress Architects

By Jean Feroldi, Assoc. AIA
November 29, 2011

As an AIA CES Provider, some, if not all, of your course content probably covers the implementation and advantages of good design in architecture. While recognizing the value of design might be an obvious principle when discovering and practicing architecture, educational programs can also benefit from thoughtful composition. The planning and format of a course can dictate its effectiveness, engaging adult learners where they will be able to understand and apply information they are given. Educational design or Instructional Design, as it is formally known, is the practice of structuring a course or learning experience in a way that is focused, interesting, and productive for the adult learner.

Denver, Colorado architecture firm and AIA CES Provider, Fentress Architects understands the importance of designing quality education programs for its staff. To support a growing and dynamic firm of 150 employees, Fentress Architects has implemented Fentress Architects University, an in-house educational program featuring a variety of industry topics and course formats. In an interview, Ned Kirschbaum, Technical Design Director and Principal for Fentress summarized how they developed a customized educational program to identify learning styles and needs within the firm.

While Fentress Architects organizes more traditional classroom-based courses and Lunch ‘n Learns using slideshows, power points, and other presentation mediums, they also incorporate programs with a hands-on approach. Fentress Architects has scheduled three future site tours of their 12-story Judicial Center project in the coming months, providing employees an invaluable opportunity to consider the building process during progressive stages of its development. “[We have] been very fortunate to have a project which is at most two miles away” explained Kirschbaum of the Judicial Center near their Denver office. The proximity of this project is advantageous by giving staff the opportunity to regularly view a project’s sequence of construction.

In addition to site visits, Fentress engages employees in a variety of field tests and built performance mock-ups. For example, staff can experience first-hand how wind and water pressures will affect the efficiency of a curtain wall. In another approach to the learning process, Fentress organized a course on dimensioning, which proved to be both practical and effective. First dividing staff into teams of three or four, Fentress prompts employees with a set of plans to chalk out in a large parking lot. Employees must work together to resolve challenging and complex problems from different perspectives. By designing education programs which are collaborative and interactive, Fentress Architects’ benefits from a collective advancement in the skills and learning of its employees, while also creating an intellectually stimulating and creative work environment.

At Fentress, staff feedback is essential to the success of the overall education program. Representative councils such as the Associates Design Committee or Associates Technical Design Committee determine topics and design programs as well as scheduling for Fentress’ educational programs. With remote offices across the country, video-conferencing and other technology makes learning accessible to all employees. In addition, seminars are video-taped and made available in Fentress’ education library.

Combining innovative Instructional Design, course evaluations, technology, and firm support and collaboration, Fentress Architects has developed a continuing education program concentrating on staff fulfillment and competency while keeping the firm current on AIA, LEED, and Licensure education requirements.

Thank you to Fentress Architect’s Ned Kirschbaum for contributing to this piece.

We will be featuring a column devoted to AIA/CES Providers each month. We are looking for Providers with a story or secret to share regarding course development, marketing, etc.

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