Please join us in congratulating Principal Steve Schoch, AIA, LEED AP, on his impressive 40 years with the firm! Steve joined the firm within days of his college graduation and, little did he know, he would be here for more than four decades. His dedication and commitment to creating high-quality affordable and supportive housing has been evident in every apartment unit, group home, and affordable community he has influenced. The impact of his creative designs is often captured at ribbon cuttings in the heart-felt remarks expressed by grateful residents who have just moved into their beautiful new homes.

His unwavering commitment to designing housing for all as well as his guidance and leadership at Thriven Design has benefitted us all.

“For many years, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working alongside Steve in our affordable housing studio,” said Principal Mary Johannesen, AIA, LEED AP, who recently celebrated 30 years with the firm. “Together, we’ve cultivated a strong team of talented professionals who are dedicated to continuing Thriven’s legacy as a top-notch affordable housing firm — a legacy that Steve has been so integral in developing and sustaining. I am grateful for having learned many valuable lessons from Steve about affordable housing, leadership, professionalism, and integrity, and am looking forward to all that we will accomplish together in the years ahead.”

Principal Geno Schiavo, AIA, PP, LEED AP, who also recently celebrated his 40th anniversary with the firm, reflected, “To my colleague who is not only a talented architect and professional, but a good man: Over the forty years together we rode many ‘roller coaster rides’ filled with many memories as we built a strong foundation and maintained the legacy established by founders Ben & Beth Kitchen. Happy 40th Anniversary, Steve. May the ride continue for you only on the up hills.”

In honor of Steve’s remarkable career milestone, please enjoy a special 40th anniversary interview in which he shares insights into his career journey and the meaning behind his work.

Reflecting on your extensive career, what have been some of the most rewarding moments or accomplishments you’ve experienced in your work with affordable and supportive housing? Is there a particular project or milestone that stands out as especially meaningful to you?

Steve: Affordable Housing is at the heart of our social mission as a firm – and a commitment to that mission is the primary reason I’ve chosen to remain here for my entire career. It’s too easy and detached to approach affordable housing simply from the perspective of a ‘project’ with a certain ‘number of units’, or the need to comply with the myriad of funding regulations. There is a real person who lives behind every front door – and over the years I’ve been privileged to meet many of them, hear their stories, and come to see how having a place to call ‘home’ (many for the first time in their lives) is genuinely transformative for them – both in terms of their physical surrounding as well as how it gives someone a foundation for self-respect in their community.

Supportive Housing is very special to me personally. As the father of a now-adult daughter with severe developmental disabilities, I’ve used architecture and design as a platform to advocate for greater levels of inclusion for the disabled in the community, and I aspire to bring a more thoughtful approach to building design that does often go beyond what the ADA and other codes require. It is very rewarding to now be currently active on a project that may very likely become her ‘forever home’ when she makes that transition from living with her family to being more independent.

The concept of “home” holds different meanings for different people. How do you approach the design of affordable and supportive housing to create spaces that not only meet basic needs but also foster a sense of community, dignity, and belonging for residents? Can you provide examples of design features or strategies that promote this sense of home?

Steve: Sometimes people ask me if I ever get tired or bored of doing housing projects. Never. Not once. There is nothing more intimate that an architect can do than to create that special place that someone will call ‘home’ – where they feel most safe and secure at the end of the day. On those rare opportunities when I get to meet the future residents beforehand – such as in a redevelopment project where current residents will have a right-of-return – you have to really listen to what they have to say. After all, it’s their home we’re designing, not mine, and they know the nuances of what it’s like to live in their neighborhood. In these situations I think good design flows out of having fundamental respect for people, listening to what they have to share, and then following through wherever possible. At times, it means having to say that something they may want is simply not possible, or beyond the means of the funding program – but I’ve found that people respect and trust you at a deeper level when you approach them with respect and honesty, instead of simply telling them what they want to hear. When you do this – and then SHOW them how something they’ve said has been specifically included in the design, you can literally see how meaningful it is to them when someone makes that connection and realizes, ‘What I said mattered…’.

Specific examples are usually small things. I recall one person had requested a linen closet inside the bathroom, so she could reach the towels from the shower, rather than out in the hall. Other design features are more hidden, such as improved sound acoustics between neighboring units. Sometimes design can speak to the intangible ‘sense of home’, like when people who have only lived in apartments or public housing projects express the desire to ‘simply live like everyone else’. To be able to have a normal street address without a stigmatizing ‘project name’ attached to it is a huge difference for many people who previously could not even hope to have a pizza or Amazon delivery come to their door.

There is nothing more intimate that an architect can do than to create that special place that someone will call ‘home’ – where they feel most safe and secure at the end of the day.

Steve Schoch, AIA, LEED AP
As a principal architect closely involved with the development of supportive housing for individuals with disabilities, how have you seen this type of housing evolve over the past 40 years, and where do you see it heading in the future?

Steve: It’s amazing to think back and realize that the Americans with Disabilities Act [1988] literally did not exist when I started my career. While the ADA focused on public accommodations, there were also amendments to Fair Housing Act, also passed in 1988, which broadened the scope of the ADA’s goals to include almost all forms of multifamily housing. It is so rewarding to see that many people with disabilities are now thriving in a variety of community-based housing options when previously only isolated institutional settings were the ‘norm’ for so many people. Bolstered by the Olmstead decision of the Supreme Court [1999], the inclusion of supportive housing units in affordable multifamily projects moved from being regarded as a special niche to becoming embedded in almost every project that receives funding – and I think the success of the community-based model has proven itself many times over.

Beyond the regulatory improvements, however, what I have seen is a societal mindset shift that gives me great hope for the future. Yes, there are still times when we have to battle against fear-based resistance and NIMBYism, but there is also a greater sense of acceptance – even a desire to help – on the part of many people from all walks of life. I believe that the general move towards inclusivity and acceptance has had a positive impact on the ability to give people who are differently-abled more choices on where to live, and more opportunities to become a positive, active presence in their communities.

What advice would you give to aspiring architects just beginning their careers? Are there any key principles or lessons learned that you believe are crucial for success in this field?

Steve: Don’t be afraid to ‘go deep’. While I understand that creative professionals often crave a ‘new’ challenge, that pursuit can often lead to a wide set of experiences that remain somewhat superficial. ‘Going deep’ requires a strong internal set of values to remain committed to learning as much as you can, focusing on a particular aspect of design, and then applying that depth of knowledge and refining your approach time after time. Especially in our current culture where attention spans seem shorter than ever, this is a very counter-cultural piece of advice – but there are rewards to be found in the ‘deep’ that you simply cannot find on the surface. For me, it becomes the difference between doing this as my profession, and doing this because I’m called to do it.