Work Lessons from 5th Graders


Recently one of our firm’s Principals brought her 5th grade daughter and two classmates to the office to collect data for a school project about "How we express ourselves" with the central idea of "creative expression can lead to positive change in our communities". I was selected to be interviewed and not knowing what to expect, awkwardly accepted. I was pleasantly surprised that this interview turned out to be a moment of clarification and re-dedication for me.

The girls asked two simple questions that get to the core of why we get up and go to work every day.

“What do you do at your job?” and “Why did you decide to work at Trivers Associates?”

Taking into account that you are talking with 5th graders who are fairly sophisticated and worldly (they recorded me on their smart phone!), but also not familiar with professional lingo, what are your answers?

Being a project manager, I have a pretty technical and multi-faceted job description and I was stymied at first by how to answer the opening question. I had to stumble through “helping others to use the right amount of time” and “making sure the building doesn’t fall down or leak” and “making sure that people can be safe if the building catches on fire”. We also talked about a project with a work schedule that was as long as the conference table when we printed it out. The girls reduced all of that information down to, “So, you’re kind of like the school Principal on the project.” and I had to say that was pretty correct. (Very cagey this group!) But the thing is, finding solutions to problems and defining processes is, in fact, a creative expression for me that results in building up our community.

The next question was easier to answer. The kinds of projects Trivers Associates works on are things that I really enjoy being a part of. In particular, working on the adaptive re-use of historic structures and buildings that are an important part of our city’s fabric gives me great satisfaction. Plus, the people I work with are a great bunch of knowledgeable professionals who enjoy their work, are engaged in our community and like to have fun. I said this all in simpler terms, but I think they got it.

I realize that I am going to have to work on my “elevator speech” about what I do at work, but I have to say that I’m pretty clear on why I come to work. Answering these questions made me think about “action” and “purpose”, things that we forget in the hustle and bustle of “working”. Thanks to the simple inquisition of three fifth graders for helping me pause to self-reflect and validate my direction!

Posted by John Wilhelm, RA, CDT, Project Manager

Microhousing for Those Without

Hosted by AIA Chicago, the Tiny Homes competition sought a new typology of housing to address needs of the 18 to 24 year old homeless population living in the Chicago area. Unsheltered, or even sheltered youth (those living in homeless shelters) do not have the daily permanence or security provided by a consistent and stable residence. Even those staying in shelters overnight are typically ejected from the shelter each day, further hindering their ability to obtain a GED or maintain a job. Addressing the needs of this population at this age is a critical step in preventing future adult homelessness.

The competition brief identified the Tiny House movement and the emergence of Micro-Apartments as conceptual and development typologies to reference. Both have shared and fairly divergent qualities. Common to each is a pursuit for compaction down to bare essentials of space. While Tiny Housing focuses on creating opportunities of mobility and potentially off-grid freedom, Micro-Housing in urban contexts such as Seattle are driven by development pressures of high land values that can allow for 200SF apartments with rents of $1,000 or more. Trivers’ competition team members Neil Chace, Decorda McGee and Shaun Dodson submitted a proposal for the competition: Expanding Perspectives | Compact Living, which intends to blend the independence prioritized by Tiny Houses with the efficient use of communal space found in Micro-Housing communities.

Located in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, the micro-community is planned to be constructed on four vacant parcels. During the 1920s, the Bronzeville neighborhood attracted people from all over the southern U.S., leading to the creation of a vibrant Metropolis that emphasized upward mobility, achievement and success. As Bronzeville was a place of opportunity for African Americans moving to Chicago in the early 1900s, Expanding Perspectives would become a refuge for homeless youth trying to find their way in the Chicago urban fabric.

Fronting Vernon Street, the unique site is bound by an alley on both the South and West; an anomaly in the street grid, which creates the opportunity for a new housing typology to prosper. The Tiny Home modules energize and motivate residents and visitors by creating several unique spaces and experiences; places for rest and reflection, small interactions inside the space and larger social engagements in and around the communal structure.

The module itself features a bonus lofted area providing opportunity for an elevated perspective of both community and neighborhood. The added volume helps provide natural light while expanding potential for multiple experiences within the Tiny Home.

Arranged with an inward focus, the public space between structures creates an active community which enables a positive and confident upward movement in life for residents. Through the Tiny Homes project, Bronzeville can once again provide momentum for those seeking to better their future. Over time, as needs of this site change, the homes could be relocated to serve the next community of individuals in need, leaving behind communal space, a park, and neighborhood gardens.

Note: Winners of the competition were recently announced by AIA Chicago. Read more here: Although our design was not selected as a winning entry, the Trivers team hopes to use this competition entry to continue the important dialogue regarding homeless housing needs in and around the St. Louis community.

Posted by Shaun Dodson, Architectural Designer


Budgeting seems to be a great topic for the New Year since many may consider getting financials in order as a resolution for 2016.

According to Merriam-Webster:
budget definition

Creating a budget can be beneficial to all – whether incomes and expenses are large or small. It’s about implementing conscious decision making based on having a full understanding of your financial picture. Budgeting is a great tool to help work toward a goal such as building up savings or planning a vacation.

Perhaps more importantly, it is also a good chance to evaluate if what you are spending is in line with your priorities. For instance, if charity is important to you, are you as generous as you want to be? Do you really know how much you are spending on coffee or lunch out with friends? How does your current saving plan align with long term goals?

Now that we’ve established the importance of creating a budget, here is a step by step guide to help you get started. If you’re really excited, Microsoft Excel has some great budget templates available online. Otherwise, a simple spreadsheet format shown below will suffice.  

Step #1: Establish Monthly Expenses
Categorize your expenses over the past 2-3 months and come up with a monthly breakdown.


Step #2: Strategize Potential Modifications
Evaluate each category included in the breakdown and see if there is any change you want to work towards. Examples might include not eating out as much or changing the TV package if you aren’t taking advantage of it fully. It is also important to have some “fun” money… if the budget is too strict you won’t stick with it!


Step #3: Factor in Annual Expenses
Make sure to take into consideration annual or special expenses such as vet visits, car insurance, personal property tax and other non-recurring items.


Step #4: Implement
Pull it all together and decide if you can stick to the new budget. Work toward the goals you have set for yourself. A budget should be like bank reconciliation; check in monthly to verify you are staying on track. If not, take a step back and reevaluate to see if modifications are necessary.

Moral of the story: Knowledge is Power!


Good luck!

Posted by Ali Dougherty, Operations Administrator