Mike Schwaller, AIA, Selected for AIA Kansas City Pillars Leadership Program

Helix architect Mike Schwaller has been selected to participate in AIA Kansas City’s Pillars Leadership program, continuing our perfect record of having our firm represented in the program every year since its inception. The leadership training program prepares young leaders from the industry for their role in shaping the future of both the architectural profession and the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. Topics covered included politics and advocacy, academic and mentorship, business and legal issues, project delivery and partnership, communication methodologies, outreach, industry trends and economic development.

To celebrate this significant achievement, we asked Mike a few questions about his career, goals for the future, and the greatest lesson he learned — from a somewhat unique teacher.

Q: What project are you most proud of thus far in your career?

A: I’ve been lucky to have touched many great projects, some award winners and others that should have won awards (no salt). I hold pride for each one because of milestones in both my life and career, but I can’t name one I’m most proud of. I will say the most fulfilling are the educational projects. Being able to enhance the learning culture for current and future students is an incredible opportunity and a great responsibility.

Q: How would you describe the Kansas City design community?

A: It’s six degrees of Kevin Bacon; everyone is within one connection of each other. But this lends itself to some amazing creative partnerships that focus on making the best Kansas City possible. There’s something special about the worldliness of our city that’s rooted in midwestern values and the stark landscape of the plains; and there’s no other place I’d rather be a designer.

Q: Why did you want to get involved in Pillars?

A: I see Pillars as an opportunity to hold a forum with some of the brightest of my contemporaries; to be a part of a young collective that has a venue to express their thoughts and ideas for the future of our City.

Q: What attributes do you think you bring to the program?

A: I’ve been lucky to have worked at three great firms that have emphasis in three different areas. My experience has introduced me to all sorts of different people and places that have tailored my specific outlook on design and human interaction. Merely being a voice at the table will be a great attribute, but the ability to listen and adapt my own way of thinking will be the greatest takeaway.

Q: When we began working from home, you quickly mastered the art of the Zoom virtual background. Which background (or theme week) was your favorite?

A: The week I photoshopped out key musicians from famous album covers so my face could take their place was pretty great. I was the least costumed member of KISS for a day, and it felt amazing.

Q: You mentioned that you make time to read a Calvin and Hobbes comic every day. What is an important lesson you’ve learned from Calvin and Hobbes?

A: That reality is yours to shape. The use of imagination can do anything from nurturing creativity to dulling emotional pain. That, and tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich.