Sean Sheffler, AIA, First Vice President
LGA Partners

Best way to overcome a creative block: By forcing myself to step away from the problem and focusing on something else. The answer usually comes to me when I’m not actively thinking about it.

Time is valuable, why AIA? I truly believe that we can accomplish more by working together than we can individually.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: The atrium at the center of the Union Trust Building. That view will never get old.

Most significant lesson learned: Being perfect doesn’t always mean you’ll be right. Being right doesn’t always mean you have to be perfect.

Favorite food: I will eat almost anything. Except bananas. I hate bananas!

Summer reading list: You’ve got to be kidding me.

Mantra: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”


Emily Pierson-Brown, AIA, Secretary
Perkins Eastman

Best way to overcome a creative block: Swimming. It is so meditative and completely different from any other experience I typically have in a day. There is something so eternal and healing about being in the water.

Time is valuable, why AIA? Architects are so valuable and elemental to society, and yet we are too often isolated from those only one or two steps removed from the process. We need strong advocates outside of our profession to communicate our value and inside the profession to strengthen and diversify who we are and how we work.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: My current favorite place, recently discovered, is the Pittsburgh Botanical Gardens in Settler’s Cabin Park. It’s a wonderful marriage of landscape and architecture with playful elements for kids of all ages. Perfect in any season, any type of weather.

Favorite food: I will forever lament that I will never again be able to enjoy the pizza from Dinette. It was a special place and a unique culinary experience in Pittsburgh. [sigh]

Favorite drink: Ketel One martini with olives (blue cheese olives a bonus)

Mantra: Follow your heart.

Bob Shelton, AIA, Second Vice President
Shelton Design/Build

Most significant lesson learned: A team of people that can work with mutual respect for each other’s talent creates a far stronger outcome than any one individual can provide.

Time is valuable, why AIA? Our profession is diverse, talented, and highly impactful. Anything that can strengthen the profession and in turn the community that surrounds it is something worth investing time into.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: Rotunda / Lobby of the Pennsylvanian. Not only does it represent so much of the city in a former time, it was also the location of my first job in the profession. I’ll always have memories of walking through that space.

Favorite drink: Old Fashioned, Bulleit.

Mantra: “It is not a problem; it is an opportunity for a creative solution.”


Dario McPhee, AIA, Treasurer
Indovina Associates Architects

Most significant lesson learned: Jack of all trades is a master of none but oftentimes better than a master of one. Not to downplay specialists, because those persons are important also. However, the more years I’ve put in, the more I’ve been put in positions where I’ve had to understand a little bit about everything.

Best way to overcome a creative block: Go to sleep, think while doing so, wake up, try again.

Favorite food: Peas soup and dumpling! Growing up in the Bahamas, this dish was a big part of my diet. Peas soup is a tomato based soup comprised of meat, a bit of vegetables and dumplings. Once I moved abroad, my appreciation for the dish grew even more.

Favorite drink: Gentleman Jack…..because who doesn’t love a smooth whiskey on the rocks?!


Bea Spolidoro, AIA, Past President
Fisher ARCHitecture

Best way to overcome a creative block: A 10 mile run along the Pittsburgh rivers. Smaller mileage doesn’t work…

Time is valuable, why AIA? Because you can connect with more people, in less time, and make a bigger impact.

Most significant lesson learned: Talk less, draw more.

Mantra: “Volere e’ potere” (Your will is your power.)


Jason Andrews, Assoc. AIA
Rothschild Doyno Collaborative

Most significant lesson learned: Every end is a beginning.

Best way to overcome a creative block: Extended coffee break

Time is valuable, why AIA: To help shape the future of architecture in Pittsburgh

Favorite Pittsburgh space: Polish Hill city steps

Favorite food: Tacos al Pastor

Favorite drink: Iron City Beer

Summer reading list: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Mantra: There is a solution to every problem.


Stuart Coppedge, FAIA

Most significant lesson learned: It’s not about me.

Best way to overcome a creative block: Forget about the problem for a while, get something done, and then come back to it.

Time is valuable, why AIA?: Because I believe the organization is a great way to serve both the profession and society. And as a side benefit, I’ve become friends with all kinds of amazing people.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: I’m still exploring and don’t have a favorite yet (but I’m really glad some engineer figured out that the inbound lanes of 376 needed to exit the Fort Pitt Tunned on TOP to capture one of America’s iconic city views).

Favorite food: Ice cream, but I rarely eat it.

Favorite drink: Smoked Old Fashioned

Summer reading list: I actually read more in the winter (summer is for being outside), but I enjoy books by Erik Larson, on Jon Krakuaer, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Mantra: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.


Joshua Lee, AIA
Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture

Best way to overcome a creative block: Go for a walk

Time is valuable, why AIA?: AIA provides a network for collective action that transforms practice and the built environment

Favorite Pittsburgh space: Frick Park’s Iron Gate mountain bike trail

Favorite food: Steak and potatoes, chilli

Favorite drink: shakerato, mocha, vanilla sweet cream nitro cold brew, hefeweizen

Summer reading list: Obsolescence by Abramson, The Architecture of Persistence by Fannon, Laboy, & Wiederspahn; Designing Disorder by Sendra & Sennett; Adaptable Architecture by Schmidt & Austin; and Adaptive Reuse by Wong…


Prerana Paliwal, Assoc. AIA

Time is valuable, why AIA?
Architecture is my passion, my profession, and my calling. It offers me the opportunity to curate the built environment for restorative experiences. Experiences that make people feel nurtured, empowered & inspired by the spaces they inhabit. AIA empowers architects by sharing knowledge, enriches problem-solving by building networks & reinforces the impact of our profession on the world by engaging with public policy. Being a part of the AIA is an opportunity to build robust systems for creating restorative experiences.

Most significant lesson learned: “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it”: Antoine de Saint Exupéry

To enable a future in which all individuals have an equal opportunity to thrive, we need complex and systemic problems to be solved by diverse combinations of thinkers and doers through evidence-based innovation.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: The view of the city from Mount Washington. There is something magical about watching the city rise & roll out across from the Monongahela. The narrow streets that were once designed for horse-drawn streetcars, the bridges connecting neighborhoods and the beautiful vistas of the city nested within a drapery of dense green – Pittsburgh’s contagious charisma draws me in every single time.

It inspires, encourages to reflect & re-energizes the designer in me.

Mantra: लोकः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु – Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu is a Sanskrit mantra meaning – May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

R. Joseph Chaffin, AIA
Michael Baker International

Best way to overcome a creative block: Just walk away… Physical separation typically works best, with a personal preference for flat-water kayaking.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: Phipps Conservatory, specifically the Japanese Courtyard Garden that evokes peaceful “found space” shaped by the metal and glass building forms.

Favorite drink: Kentucky Bourbon. As a senior at the University of Cincinnati, a seminar course was comprised of regional field trips to study Architecture examples in context. After a morning of Lexington area horse stables, a group of us happened upon a road sign for a “Kentucky Bourbon Trail,” we headed towards Frankfort and never looked back.

Summer reading list: “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse; and the Race to Electrify the World” by Jill Jonnes; “Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick; and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America” by Les Standiford; and “The Whiskey Rebels” by David Liss.


Quintin Kittle, AIA

Best way to overcome a creative block: Take a nap.

Time is valuable, why AIA? To promote/inform the value of an Architect’s service.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: Glass enclosed stairs at the Scaife Gallery.

Summer reading list: New York Times and Washington Post (daily to get caught up)

Mantra: It’s all the same (one word)


Christine Mondor, FAIA

Most significant lesson learned:The race is really the prize. We all have a fundamental need to shape our built environment and we architects are uniquely prepared to lead those efforts. I recognize that the built environment influences what people do, how they feel, and what they believe, and we need to be deliberate about how we work, knowing that the process can be equally transformative to an organization or community. The race is really the prize.

Best way to overcome a creative block: Eat chocolate and read a book about someone who inspires me. I love NOMA chef Rene Redzepi’s book, A Work in Progress, where he chronicles how he and his team dream up novel dishes that challenge people’s expectations. I love that he is honest about the frustrations and the dishes that didn’t work out. Also love how he makes otherwise unappealing ingredients desirable!

Time is valuable, why AIA? There is an energy on the board that I appreciate. We architects are needed now more than ever and I enjoy being around folks who are equally inspired by this moment in time.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: Market Square is an amazing public space. This is the best place in the city to see such a rich layering of the old and the new…vernacular buildings and signature buildings…the intimate scale and the monumental scale. When people shape the space with festivals and furniture and farmer’s markets, it is never the same place twice.

Favorite food: Anything meal I am eating with my grown son and daughter…best food ever. Usually Mexican or Vietnamese.

Favorite drink: A morning cappuccino at a coffee shop. No matter how fancy my coffee equipment, a cuppa at a local coffee shop is amazing because I did not have to make it.

Summer reading list: I have a serious list…Reciprocal Landscapes: Stories of Materials Movement and Breathe: Investigations into our Tangled Futures, etc., but my summer reading guilty pleasure is any Clive Cussler historic adventure mystery. They are enjoyably predictable and the hero is always confident about the right thing to do. What an escape from reality!


Rebecca Schwartz, AIA
Michael Baker International

Most significant lesson learned: As humans, it’s inherent that we make mistakes, but it is best to be honest and upfront and address the issue expediently both clients and contractors (and your boss!) will always appreciate and respect you despite the outcome.

Best way to overcome a creative block: Taking a break in nature is usually the most effective; a long walk with my dog Luna will typically clear my mind or if the weather is poor, I hit the pool for a long swim.

Time is valuable, why AIA? Looking to reconnect with the local community of architects after many years of travel and work outside the U.S.

Favorite food: Mediterra’s quiche, a go-to breakfast favorite!

Favorite drink: Red wine, pinot noir preferred

Summer reading list: Still waiting for Patrick Rothruss to release Book 3 of Kingkiller Chronicles “Doors of Stone”, but in the meantime, looking to read a recent gift received, “How to Lead” by David Rubenstein.

Mantra: Everything’s just “peachy”; keeping a positive outlook on life.


Michelle Fanzo, Executive Director
AIA Pittsburgh

Best way to overcome a creative block: Get out of your head. Stop trying to make your brain do something and instead move your body. Yoga, cross-country skiing or kayaking tend to work for me. Another way is to cut myself off from all distractions and let my thinking be less cluttered and more expansive for a number of hours – like when walking in the woods or on a long-haul flight.

Most significant lesson learned: a. Be ready for what comes up. b. Work with it. c. Be ready to let it go.

Favorite food: Oysters (followed by ice cream)

Summer reading list: Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (fascinating), Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson, United by Corey Booker, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

Mantra? “Less is more!”

Jordan Luther, AIAS President,
Carnegie Mellon University

Most significant lesson learned: It is great to be inspired by others but comparing yourself is not always helpful, especially in a profession that can be competitive.

Best way to overcome a creative block: Taking a break and going on a walk outside or flipping through a book or magazine.

Time is valuable, why AIA? For me, being a part of the AIA means being a part of a supportive community that dedicates its time to helping our profession thrive. I joined the AIAS as a first year undergrad in 2017 and ever since then I have felt very lucky to have met many mentors who have helped me through my educational journey. AIAS members empower each other to take on more responsibility and be advocates for what they believe in, Everyone I have met within the AIA and AIAS has a passion for what they do, and it truly shows.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: The Phipps Conservatory

Favorite food: Macaroni and Cheese

Favorite drink: Iced Chai (if you’re looking for an alcoholic drink, my favorite would be a Peanut Butter Cup Martini)

Summer reading list: I just finished reading “The Architecture of Good Behavior” by Joy Knoblauch which was fantastic. One non-architectural book I look forward to reading is Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.

Mantra: Life isn’t a race. You don’t need to rush everything; there is something to be said for taking your time. This is a saying I heard from another AIAS member and remind myself of it all of the time.

Michael J. Cremonese, Esq.
Burke Cromer & Cremonese


Best way to overcome a creative block: Swimming.

Favorite Pittsburgh space: PNC Park.

Most Significant lesson learned: Be Confident. Be persistent.

Mantra: Every day is the best day!


Omar Khan, Professor and Head
School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University

Best way to overcome a creative block: Walk in the forest or a hot shower, preferably in that sequence if it’s a serious block. Doodling can assist.

Summer reading list: Novels by Susan Sontag. Just was reading some of her essays in Under the Sign of Saturn and was moved by her intellect and writing.

Most significant lesson learned: Your experiences don’t necessarily translate to others, never assume your truths are universal.

Favorite food: Chicken Curry

Favorite drink: Tea- hot and with milk.