What you should know

February 5, 2020

In this installment of What You Should Know, Kelli Weiland takes a look at what you should know about architecture school. She provides a list of Do’s and Don’ts and offers some great insight into what architecture school is really like. She should know; she’s a recent graduate of Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture and Design. Take it away, Kelli!

So, you’re considering Architecture School. I bet you’ve heard all the same responses I heard when I announced my decision to enter architecture school:
• “Oh, those architecture kids practically live in their building!”
• “Do you hate sleep? Do you enjoy total exhaustion?”
• “Can you draw?”
..and one I got way too often…
• “What’s an architect?” followed by “So, what will you do after you graduate?”

Yeah, there’s a lot of disbelief and shock from others who hear what you do. There’s a lot of back-handed “good luck” from skeptics who don’t realize your capabilities. There’s also a lot of people who severely downplay the level of intensity the program entails, much less the dedication and discipline it takes to make it through those seemingly endless studio nights. “You just have to draw a wall? That doesn’t seem too hard. Why is it taking you so long?” If I had a nickel for every time someone questioned how difficult the architecture program actually was, I could’ve paid for all the wood, glue, and other supplies needed for a model that took a week to be built and 40 seconds to be destroyed by a professor who “just wants to see something…oh wait, no, it was better before,” and handed it back, broken in half, much like my spirits.

But, despite all of that, there’s a lot of confidence gained. There’s also a lot of pride that comes with telling people, “I’m in architecture school.” For those who understand the breadth of what architecture school truly means, they’re genuinely impressed by your choice in major. Every time you complete a semester and make it through another final jury, alive or otherwise, you’ll feel the weight of the work you’ve put in. You’ll know there are many others who may not have made it as far as you have – and, sometimes, these are your own fellow classmates. Once you make it to that semester where it all just clicks, you’ll feel a rush of, “I know what I’m doing and I’m meant to be here.” You’ll know how to design, how to present, and how to portray the beauty you see in your design to the critiques. And there is no better feeling than on graduation day when you’ve gotten your well-earned degree and made it into the small percentile of architecture graduates. It’s a discipline that not everyone is cut out for, which is okay. I’m in no way cut out to be in the medical field, and I’m grateful for those who are because that means I don’t have to.

So now, where do you even begin to succeed in architecture school? I present to you “10 Do’s and 10 Don’ts of Architecture School Survival, as told by a recent (and employed) architecture graduate.


  • DO some research before choosing your school. There are a select number of colleges with an accredited architecture program. This means you go to undergrad for five consecutive years and graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture. The alternative is choosing a college with an unaccredited program, which is four years undergrad and no eligibility for licensure until you’ve achieved a two year minimum Master of architecture degree. This option is great for those who are unsure if they’d like to become licensed at all.
  • DO invest in a high-quality laptop going into school. Trust me, it is SO important to make sure your laptop is able to handle the storage space and driver accommodations needed to efficiently run large programs like AutoCad, Revit, Rhino, Adobe, etc. and run them all at the same time for hours on end. There’s nothing worse than losing three months’ worth of work because your computer crashed three weeks before final juries.
  • Speaking of crashing, DO invest in a quality external hard drive and BACK-UP YOUR FILES FREQUENTLY. Say you’ve just set your 7th cup of coffee down, unknowingly on top of your round blender tool, causing it to fall over, and it spills across your keyboard, disabling all computer functions. Things happen, and high-quality computers break. Lucky for you, you’ve just backed up your files on your beloved external hard drive, so you haven’t lost your progress. Go you. Thank me later.
  • DO take time to get out of the studio after you’ve been in there for days at a time. I found my productivity decreased after being in the studio for too long. Opting to work from home or a diner every now and then helped boost my creative flow. Get out of your studio space, change your atmosphere, and please shower before you head to your local coffee shop after a week-long stint in the architecture building.
  • DO try to work summer internship positions or Co-Op opportunities if you can. The benefits of internships are three-fold: you get your name on the radar for firms who are looking for full-time hire, post-grad, you get incredible firsthand experience in real-time, and you get to experience what a career at a particular firm in a particular location would be like long term. Because internships and co-ops are temporary, it takes the pressure off of learning you don’t enjoy a firm, its location, or even architecture in general without having the commitment of a full-time hire.
  • If your program offers architecture based organizations, such as Alpha Rho Chi, AIAS, NOMAS, etc., DO become a member! Get involved! You’ll create friends and resources within architecture school that understand your unique collegiate lifestyle, you get opportunities to connect and collaborate with other school organizations, and you just get exposed to so much diversity in advice, professional practice tips, and architectural events. It also helps to show your extensive architectural involvement on your resume.
  • When you become an upper-level student, and you will if you heed all my wonderful advice here, DO encourage and offer help to the lower-level students. Don’t be a know-it-all, but share your suggestions on drawing techniques, modeling tips, and design choices. Keep in mind; you were just in their shoes not too long ago. The upper-level friends I made as a first-year gave me more direction than some of the feedback I received from my professors.
  • DO give the program some time. I’ve always lived by the “give it a year” rule. Stay in the program for one year. Stay at your new job for one year. It’s going to be uncomfortable and hard. You may question your sanity. But please just stick it out for at least one year, and try each day to make it work. In a year’s time, if you’ve really put forth the effort, you’ll become adjusted, adapted, and acquainted. After that year, if you realize this path is just not for you, make your changes accordingly. You’ll feel better knowing you tried.
  • Before you begin a new project, DO start with some precedent studies and actually study them. Ask why or how the architect approached their design this or that way. Continue to do research all the way through. Read architecture books. Explore architectural blogs and articles. Get inspired by architects before you and learn from them. There’s a reason why famous architects became famous.
  • When you travel, whether it be across your home state, across the country, or across the world, DO seek out the architecture around you. Become diversified in the difference of architectural styles from place to place, and from time period to time period. You’d be surprised how much beautiful architecture is right where you are. You don’t have to go all the way to Rome to see beautiful buildings (but you should – I did, and I will again.)


  • DON’T fall into the trap of “pulling all-nighters” every three days. Despite what studio culture may present, it IS totally possible to get quality work out on time and still manage to have a steady and healthy sleep schedule. Tired minds make time-consuming mistakes – and tired minds nearly slice your fingers off in late-night model making. There will, of course, be some nights where you’ll be awake at ungodly hours after already having been awake for an ungodly amount of time, but this doesn’t have to be true for you EVERY night or EVERY weekend. Manage your time, choose to spend it wisely, and work well in your designated working hours.
  • DON’T drink 16 coffees a day for a week straight. I did this once. I literally had 2 cups per meal and 3 in between. That energy drink only helps you for so long. PLEASE limit your caffeine intake to a healthy amount and make it a priority to drink plenty of water especially as hell week draws near. Hydrate your body and don’t have a caffeine-induced mental breakdown. I’ve filed this tip under “Things I Learned the Hard Way.”
  • DON’T sacrifice your social life too much. Yes, prioritize your project goals each day, but find a balance that allows you to get completely away from the studio, mentally and physically. Go out with friends, have a movie night at home, get a work-out in, go to the football game. Work hard and reward yourself. You can get away from it for a little while. You may even find your mental capacity and health benefits from those social breaks, which results in better studio productivity. And try not to consider naps at your desk a “break.”
  • DON’T forget that school is temporary, though it feels like forever at the time. Studio won’t last forever. One day, you really will have your FINAL final juries. And typically, professional practice does not operate on the same intense “die-hard architecture” style as studio. You’ll actually have weekends again!
  • DON’T compare your progress and skill level too much to others, rather strive and be motivated by the upper-level students. I remember being a first-year, looking at some of the fourth year level work and thinking to myself, “Wow. I can’t wait to be at this level of skill and knowledge. Then one day, I began pinning up work for a design competition and a bright-eyed first-year came up to me and said, “I can’t wait to be where you are.” That’s when I realized at some point I had become that talented and skilled fourth-year for someone else! It’s a process, but that day will come.
  • DON’T take those bad critiques to heart. Bear the brunt, hold your ground against the harsh criticisms, sort through the critic’s comments and take only what can help you be a better designer, give a clearer presentation, and improve your graphic representations. Remember that at least a solid 85% of architecture critiques is objective. Design what you love, be confident in your design, and learn from the feedback. Don’t grow discouraged of your ability from one, or two, or fifty bad reviews.
  • DON’T skimp on building your portfolio early on and throughout your collegiate time. Consider every piece of work you produce as a potential element to include in the portfolio that will aid in your job hunt. Trust me, not everything you make is qualified to make the cut for your portfolio – see my first-year chipboard models, yikes – but document these pieces as if they were. Photograph those junky models well. Carefully scan those charcoal drawings. Edit them in Photoshop and file them away, just in case. You may decide later to use them as examples of iterative work, or even to showcase your growth and improvement.
  • DON’T rely too heavily on the “fake it till you make it” mantra when it comes to jury presentations. This may work in some cases in order to cover up a small mistake you’ve made, but more often than not, it won’t. Don’t think you can just make up some reason for your design decisions on the fly and have it go unnoticed, or your pride unscathed. The critics are not dumb, and they will make you KNOW you are not fooling anyone. One time, a guy in my year tried to play off his design choices as a result of the Fibonacci Sequence. His critic caught on to his bull and asked him to elaborate. Long story short, he didn’t even know what the Fibonacci Sequence was. He just knew it sounded smart.
  • If you find yourself loving architecture school and knowing you’re in the major you need to be, but you find yourself very overwhelmed and anxiety-ridden when studio inevitably gets the best of you, DON’T be afraid to talk to someone, anyone. It can be a therapist, it can be your friend, it can be me. As long as it’s someone who wants to help you through it. The program is a lot, but it’s not unmanageable. It’s possible you may have absolutely no issues whatsoever, and that’s great! Be a positive voice for those who are struggling. I was among the crowd who needed outside help, and I was fortunate enough to have a great set of people to fall back on during those tough times. I’m honored to say I’ve since become that same helping hand for my friends in the years below me.
  • Lastly, DON’T forget to be excited about your future. Whether you make it all the way through the program, switch majors halfway through, or opt-out entirely, you have a set of skills and qualities that will make you a key component in whatever field you end up in, and that’s incredible. It’s all good. But if you become an architect, I hope I get to work with you one day and see the fruition of my great survival guide.

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St. Catherine’s Village

January 21, 2020

CDFL’s relationship with St. Catherine’s Village, the state’s most comprehensive Continuing Care Retirement Community, spans over 30 years. We began our work at St. Catherine’s in 1987 with the design for the original, multi-phased facility and continue our work there today with renovations to the Skilled Nursing Facility. We are extremely proud of our work at St. Catherine’s Village and the relationships that have formed over 3 decades. In this new video, we take a look back at how our work started with St. Catherine’s, what we’ve accomplished over our many years working there, and what is happening now. Enjoy!



What We’re Doing

January 6, 2020

In this new What We’re Doing series, we’ll check in with our team since we last met them in the Meet the Team series and take a look at what they are working on, eating, reading, watching, listening, and even thinking about. We hope you enjoy a little look into our CDFL world! This week we are checking in with mechanical engineer James Toberman.



Happy Holidays

December 18, 2019

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the CDFL family!
We look forward to a great 2020.



CDFL Holiday Wish List: Part II

December 11, 2019

The CDFL Christmas Wishlist Vol 2

We had so many great gift ideas that we couldn’t fit them all into one list so here’s Part II of our CDFeLves’ wish list! There’s everything from a 3D printer to trip to Paris so make sure you check out all the great, and maybe slightly over the top, ideas from our team.



CDFL Holiday Wish List: Part I

December 9, 2019

The CDFL Christmas Wishlist Vol 1

Do you need some ideas for last-minute purchases? Or are you just curious about the items on the CDFeLves’ holiday wish lists? Either way, there’s no need to fret. We’ve gathered some of our team’s most coveted (…and sometimes frivolous) wish list items, and they’re right here for you to peruse. Here’s hoping we’re all on the nice list, and some of these things make their way down our chimney(s).  



What you should know when studying for the ARE

December 3, 2019

You graduate from college with an architecture degree, secure a job (hopefully), and then the real work starts to become a Licensed Architect. Internship hours and the dreaded Architecture License Exam (ARE) still loom over recent grads before they can add the elusive AIA after their name. Recent ARE test-takers, Samantha King and Ethan Warren, reflect on their experience studying for the ARE and what you can expect.

When Ethan and I decided it was time to start taking the ARE, we thought it would be easier, and slightly more fun, to do it together. We found that having the extra accountability was really helpful and encouraging to know someone was studying too while also working, raising a family, and having a life. It really kept us motivated over the many many months of studying and test-taking. 

Samantha’s right; it was better knowing we were working on this together. If you can find a study partner or group to join, we’d definitely recommend it. We know everyone is different and has different studying preferences but we wanted to pass along some ARE tips and takeaways that Samantha and I discovered while preparing for the ARE.

Things to know when studying for the ARE:

  • These tests are not like the tests you take in college. Meaning you can’t cram in a bunch of information the night before or memorize the material and expect to pass. These exams test you on how to apply certain principles within our everyday work.
  • A LOT of hours are needed for studying. I think we average around 80-120 hours per test depending on which test we were taking. Some weeks we would spend upwards of 30 hours studying, when some weeks it may have only been 10 hours.
  • If you are not good at taking standardized tests, then you may fail a time or two just getting used to the format – Practice tests are a very useful tool (We like Designer Hacks, Black Spectacles, and Ballast.)
  • Understand your most effective method of studying.
  • Make a consistent study schedule–and stick to it!
  • The sooner you begin the process after graduation, the better. It’s only going to be fresh on your mind for so long.
  • Schedule the exam; don’t just study–give yourself a deadline.
  • Assume things will come up that interfere with studying–plan to miss scheduled times every now and then for more important things in life.
  • Cut out extra activities you enjoy doing outside of work. Focus on studying so you can be done with the tests sooner rather than later.
  • Be honest with yourself about what you know and understand. Don’t waste time convincing yourself you understand something, or you will be swiftly humbled by the exam.

Takeaways from taking the ARE:

  • Seek out help from colleagues, former classmates or an online community. There are a lot of resources available for study schedules and recommended reading material. 
  • Don’t wait until you have kids to start testing. It’s not a good idea. BUT if you do have kids along the way, it can be done! 
  • We started by taking the two largest/hardest exams first. At first, it seemed like a great idea to get those out of the way early. It was a little discouraging after the first few failed attempts. But looking back, it still seems like the best order to take the tests.
  • Be sure to give yourself a couple of days or a weekend to relax after taking an exam. (We suggest margaritas.)
  • It’s very easy to get burned out taking these exams. Try to keep the end goal in sight and keep pushing on.
  • You can pass these exams without knowing all there is–don’t turn down an opportunity/experience just because you are done with that portion of the ARE
  • It took a few weeks to get back to normal life after the tests were finished. It was such a huge weight lifted after finishing, and such a relief to not have to study anymore.

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Happy Thanksgiving

November 27, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving from the CDFL family! Today, and every day, we are thankful for our
clients, both old and new, and our amazing team of architects, engineers, designers, and administrative staff members. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


What We’re Doing

November 18, 2019

In this new What We’re Doing series, we’ll check in with our team since we last met them in the Meet the Team series and take a look at what they are working on, eating, reading, watching, listening, and even thinking about.  We hope you enjoy a little look into our CDFL world! This week we are checking in with architect Chris Myers.



Project Updates

November 13, 2019

We are well into construction on several projects and wanted to check-in with our project managers to see what’s happening on-site and what we can expect to see next.

Children’s of Mississippi Expansion and Renovation
The expansion to the UMMC Children’s Hospital is now 57% complete. The structure has been topped out, and the roof is on. The windows and exterior materials (brick and metal panels) are currently being installed. The interiors are being constructed from the bottom up, with work currently in progress on all floors. Renovations inside the existing Batson tower began last week to make the connection to the new building. Four floors of the new parking garage structure are complete, and the contractor will start the construction of the final ramp to Level 5 next week.

Vicksburg YMCA
Construction is on schedule and the majority of the exterior CMU block has been laid, with brick to follow in the coming weeks. Structural steel framing has been erected and some interior CMU walls have been laid. We have electrical and plumbing rough-ins on the south addition (new fitness area), as well as ductwork installed.

University of South Alabama Hancock Whitney Stadium
Installation of elevated seating is taking place along the East Seating Bowl and will commence along the West this week. Progress is being made on the Press Tower and Operations Building. The Operations Building is now ‘dried in’. Steel is being erected in the North Endzone for the elevated concourse. Aluminum decking will begin in the next week along the East Concourse elevated seating. The Michelob Ultra Terrace will soon be complete which will round out all of the on-grade concrete seating bowl.

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Meet the Team: Kelli Weiland

July 29, 2019

It’s time again to introduce a new CDFL employee, or as we like to think of ourselves, the “us” in the Power of Plus. This week we are proud to introduce the newest member of our architectural team Kelli Weiland.  

What do you do a CDFL?
I am an Intern Architect, actively working towards achieving my license. I graduated from Mississippi State University’s Architecture program on May 3rd. That’s the day after my birthday, so I got my degree as my present this year!

What exciting thing are you working on right now?
I’m working on the Forest Hill High School and Coliseum renovation project. This is a really fun first project because it’s introducing me to the way CDFL likes to present final work. I’m excited for the day I get assigned to a project from the beginning of the design process!

What have you learned so far working at CDFL?
Since the project I’m working on is entering into the bidding and construction phase, I have learned a lot about job coordination and time management, mostly. I’m proud of how quickly I have adapted to making efficient turn-arounds on project deadlines.

What’s your favorite TV show?
I pretty much keep my TV shows in a constant rotation of the same 5-6 shows. I like regularity, I guess. My current rotation includes Friends (always), Supernatural, Gilmore Girls, Elementary, and, my classic go-to, Boy Meets World reruns. I don’t have cable so I watch what I can find on Netflix and Hulu.

What do you spend the most time doing outside of work? 
These days, my time is spent mostly on planning my and my fiance’s wedding next year! Apart from wedding planning, I am very passionate about physical health and exercise, I practice watercolor calligraphy and painting, and I do my best to keep my garden and plants alive. I’m not quite a green thumb yet, but I like to think I’m improving!

What is the best thing about working at CDFL?
I am so proud to say I work at CDFL. This firm has given me more knowledge, experience, and opportunity than I could ever ask for. All of my superiors are very patient with me as I continue to learn the practice, and they’re equally eager to continue to teach me. I appreciate that the most. Secondly, CDFL has great flexibility in the work hours, giving us every other Friday off. This small switch in schedule allows my creativity to take a break, lessening the risk of burning out and keeps my passion for architecture and design on fire. Third, my colleagues are all friends with each other. I think we all blend well as a team.

What’s the last movie you saw? 
I’m honestly not much of a movie person. I think the last movie I saw in theaters was one of the Avenger movies? I don’t really follow superheroes so I couldn’t tell you what happened in that one. Oh well. The last movie I watched via streaming was Into The Blue on Netflix.

What’s your favorite lunch spot in the neighborhood?
I really love Green Ghost or Basil’s. I don’t think I could choose between the two! But sometimes the hot plate from McDade’s hits the spot.

If you hadn’t gone to architecture school, what would you have wanted to do?
The unknown of the ocean’s floor has always been fascinating to me. I think it would be really cool to be a Maritime Archaeologist. Living on a boat and diving into the ocean to search and explore sunken ships or crashed airplanes sounds like a dream come true to me, which is why I’ve watched Into The Blue so many times! I am a little frightened by sharks, though.

What’s your favorite vacation spot?
I am a beach girl, through and through. I love the heat, I love the sunshine, and I love the water. Vacations where I can just be still, warm, and outside are all I ask for. Also, you just can’t beat coastal seafood restaurants.



Meet the Team: Intern Addition

July 22, 2019

We have another summer intern that we’d like to introduce! Shawn Hatcher is working with our Mechanical Engineering team this summer. This is actually his second internship with CDFL and we are excited to have him back for the summer. Shawn is from Olive Branch, Mississippi and attends Mississippi State University where he will be a senior this fall.

What are you doing at CDFL this summer?
I did a short three-week internship during my last Christmas break where I got my feet wet with Revit, calculations for A/C loads, and site visits for various projects during different stages of construction. Since this is my second internship with CDFL, and I’ve been here longer, I have been tasked with more of a workload. A bulk of my work this summer consists of designing ductwork and piping systems for projects through Revit. Also, I run preliminary calculations and help with the other engineers in any possible way.

Where are you going after you finish your internship?
After I finish up my time this summer, I will be going back to Mississippi State University where I will start my senior year studying Mechanical Engineering.

What do you spend the most time doing outside of work?
The majority of my time away from work is spent being outside, but more specifically, that time is devoted to my unhealthy fishing addiction.

What is the best thing about working at CDFL?
Because of having the internship status, I do not have the luxury of having every other Friday off, but if given the privilege I would choose it. Outside of having the intern status, I will use a quote to describe my favorite quality of CDFL “It’s the people that make the place.”

What was the last movie you saw?
The last movie I saw was Toy Story 4, and I was not impressed as I was hoping.



Office Update

July 16, 2019

This summer has been a busy one for the CDFL team! We’ve celebrated new babies, weddings, professional accomplishments, and many project milestones. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve been up to the last few months.

  • As y’all know, we love to welcome new babies into the CDFL family and this summer we’ve welcomed four! Mechanical Engineer David Luter and wife Rivers welcomed their son Samuel. Our CFO Chuck Stinger welcomed two new grandbabies into his family and Principal Gene Crager also welcomed a new grandbaby to his family. Congrats to all families!
  • We also celebrated the wedding of Jackie Hardin. She and her husband Mike were married earlier this summer. Congratulations to the newlyweds!
  • We are proud to announce that Ethan Warren has earned his Mississippi architecture license! This is an important professional step and we are excited to watch Ethan grow in his career.
  • The St. Catherine’s Tuscany project has finished construction and residents will be moving in later this month!
  • The Children’s of Mississippi project celebrated a milestone in June with a Topping Out ceremony. This marks the halfway point in construction on the project. The new hospital is estimated to be completed in 2020.

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Meet the Team: Intern Addition

July 9, 2019

This summer we’re proud to have Shelby Soyars working with our Interior Design team! Shelby is from Yazoo City, MS and a recent graduate of Mississippi State University. Here’s a little bit more about Shelby and what she’s been up to at CDFL.

What are you doing at CDFL this summer? 
I am the Interior Design intern this summer, helping alongside Katie Jo and Hannah with all their projects!

Where are you going after you finish your internship? 
During my internship this summer, I want to showcase my immense passion and love for design and hopefully join the CDFL team! 

What, if anything, has surprised you about the interior design field?
That you truly do learn so much more with experience and being in the workplace!

What have you learned so far working at CDFL?
That teamwork, communication, and creativity are key. When collaborating with a team and supporting each other’s ideas can result in an even greater outcome for a project!

What’s your favorite TV show? 
Golden Girls, hands down. I love a show that can constantly keep me laughing, and how can you not love someone like Rose Nylund?!

What do you spend the most time doing outside of work?  Outside of being an intern at CDFL, I love going to flea markets, traveling, listening to music on records, and helping my fiance work cattle (yes, I am marrying into 40 head of cows- its so much fun & always interesting)

What is the best thing about working at CDFL? 
The best thing about working at CDFL is the atmosphere and people. Everyone is truly genuine and is always there for you when you have a question or need help with a project! 

What’s the last movie you saw? 
The last movie that I saw was POMS, it was about how two women in a retirement community started a cheerleading squad. It was HILARIOUS!



Project Updates

May 13, 2019

There’s a lot going on in our office and on our project sites so we thought we’d do a quick project roundup and check out what’s been happening.

We are in month six of construction at The University of South Alabama’ s Hancock Whitney Stadium. The framing for the Operations/Administration building is being installed along with the cast-in-place seating, site utilities, concessions buildings, and press tower.

Our Raytheon Radar Production Facility reached a construction milestone last month and we were on hand for the topping out ceremony! 

We also celebrated the groundbreaking for our Vicksburg YMCA project. The renovations and expansion include a new gym, classroom spaces, wellness center, meeting spaces, and additional parking.

CDFL’s new office, along with Trustmark Woodlands Hills, is so close to being complete! We are moving in later this month and can’t wait to show you the finished project. Here are a few pictures from our last site visit.

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