The AIA Mentor Dinner Series

A few weeks ago, I wrote a guest blog for the Business of Architecture: 10 Success Tips for Young Architects.

Tip #9 was to Seek Mentors:

Your fellow architects are resources. Find people who have skills and roles that you aspire to. These mentors will foster your development and be instrumental to your career advancement. Buy them a cup of coffee and ask them for advice and questions about the profession. Better yet, buy them a beer and you’ll get some real gems!


I have a confession..... I was inspired to write the 10 Success tips by an event I had just participated in.  That event was an AIA Charleston Mentor Dinner.  AIA Charleston hosts 2 mentor dinners a year and in my opinion it is our section's most valuable event.  Each dinner includes 2 senior level architects (the mentors) and 12 junior level architects and interns (the mentees). 

The mentors for this dinner were landscape architect and planner Scott Parker ASLA and architect Glenn Keyes FAIA.  

The locale for this mentor dinner was extraordinary.  Scott Parker was kind enough to host the dinner at a building that his family refers to as the River House.  It is located on the property of the Vanderhorst Plantation on Kiawah Island.

The River House is an open air screened in porch.

This is not your grandma's screened in porch.

The river house was designed by the architect Reggie Gibson.  It was pretty amazing.  

The kitchen and dining room is where we spent most of the evening.  The kitchen is all stainless steel, which is the perfect choice for a space open to the elements.  Funny story about the dining room table.  Scott said that when they commissioned Reggie to design the house, he said they wanted a dining room table that they could dance on.  Reggie took that to heart.  The table is a poured in place concrete surface with concrete columns as legs.  The columns extend through the floor into the ground below.  Now that's a table!

Now that's a view!

The Kiawah River in the background.

Not bad?

The Schmoozing

The event kicks off with a cocktail hour as everyone arrives.  It is a good opportunity to relax and meet some new folks.

The Bar

The Bongos

Unfortunately, no bongos were played.  I's sad.

The Staff

Dan Scheaffer AIA and Chris Bonner AIA are the ring leaders for this event.  They are responsible for inventing the mentor dinner series and have been running the show for about 5 years now.  I started helping out this year, but I mostly just get in the way.  My main job is to keep everyone's wine glasses full.

That's Dan Scheaffer making kabobs.  And Chris's hands.  He is a hand model.

The Grub

Chris manages to throw together an amazing menu each time.  This time the main dish was kabobs.  

Vanderhorst Plantation Tour

This mentor dinner was extraordinary in many ways.  One of the special features of the dinner was a private tour of the Vanderhorst Plantation.  It turns out that Glenn had actually done the restoration of the house in the early 90's.  How serendipitous.

The house has an alley of oaks that leads up to it.  In fact, the alley extends from the house all the way to the beach.

Let the mentoring begin!

After the tour, everyone returned to the river house and grabbed their seats for dinner.  Chris kicked off the conversation by asking each mentor to provide their background story.  

How did they become an architect?

Scott talked about some of the influential landscape architects and planners that he had previously mentored under.  He also told the story of his most famous clients the Guggenheims and how he landed the commission to design Daniel Island.

Glenn talked about his early passion for preservation architecture and the path that led him to Charleston.  Glenn has become the go-to architect for preservation architecture, which as you can imagine, is pretty impressive in a town like Charleston.

That's Chris at the far end of the table.

After the introductions, the table opened up to questions.  And it just flowed from there.  It was a great blend of story telling and words of wisdom.  Both Glenn and Scott were an open book and shared some wonderful stories.  

The Kudzu Lights

Those pendants hanging above the table are actually kudzu.  The first good use of the plant that is taking over the Southeast.

It was a great night.  I think people would have stayed all night if we didn't kick them out.

Yeah....I know.....amazing.

One last thank you to Glenn Keyes, FAIA and Scott Parker, ASLA.  It was a wonderful evening.  And to Chris and Dan for another great dinner.

Are you involved with your local AIA Chapter?

I would encourage you to start your own mentor dinner series.  It is a great service to provide to your younger members and it's a blast.


Steve Ramos, AIA