Alumni Spotlight: Morgan & Hyland
December 3, 2020
Names, Major and year of graduation?
Chris Morgan and Caitlin Hyland. We each graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 2013 from Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design.
Why did you start the Digital Mentorship Collaborative (DMCO) at Virginia Tech? Why do you continue to engage with the group?
As students, we cofounded DMCO with Professor Kathryn Albright, who was the Chair of the Foundation Program at the time, to find student talent and make it available to the School as a resource. Our aim was to build a service, not a club. The idea is still strong years later: students teaching students. DMCO runs weekly workshops on workflows that anyone can join; a student in any year or discipline can email firstname.lastname@example.org for help and get connected with a mentor. No barriers to entry and no dues.
Now, we support the DMCO team as an alumni advisor. They asked for our help to grow their visibility so more Virginia Tech School of Architecture and School of Design students can excel from the model. It’s an opportunity for us to give back to the Virginia Tech community, and to practice a challenging form of leadership where we are not directly in charge.
Explain what Morgan & Hyland does.
We create spaces and tools, such as a new house for a family or a new website for a school. On the same day, we'll write code, design graphics, model a condition, detail an assembly, outline a project workflow, edit a brand message, or meet with a client.
Why did you start Morgan & Hyland?
To work together and with many different people at the same time. When we graduated, several professors hired us for different projects. That was the unofficial start of our practice in hindsight, but only after working full time at offices such as SOM, Chicago and Robert M. Gurney, FAIA did we realize that we could make a business out of taking on a portfolio of clients.
What lessons have you learned since graduating?
Learning never stops. It accelerates after school. Now, you are the teacher.
Are there any classes or professors that have aided in your success?
All of them. We often recall moments from School to help us work. Education is a reservoir you can tap into. You can keep it in play. We had the same mindset about first year when we were thesis students.
How do you think your education at Virginia Tech impacted your practice?
Sometimes you hear that excellent education teaches you how to learn, not what to learn—we experienced that at the Virginia Tech architecture program. Taking ownership of our education started day one in summer lab. We transferred into the School, so it was summer long design lab, 5 days a week, with 5 professors, 50 students, and with the added stakes of having to repeat first year in the fall if we did not qualify to advance to second year. We still hold on to that intensity.
What got you interested in website creation?
The internet is the most public space. You can deliver an experience to anyone in the world, instantly, for free. Iteration continues after you build, and the designer is the builder.
What are you most excited about in the new website?
Our top goal as consultants and alumni is to bring the feeling closer to what you experience as an enrolled student. The gravity of the School's environment is hard to imagine. It is a completely new kind of world for prospective students compared to high school or any other learning or working atmosphere. How do we create that energy in a matter of seconds? The new website brings you closer than it ever has before.
What did you learn from the last website and implement in the new website?
We learned to question the fundamentals many iterations later. In this version, we refocused the website to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible in time for recruitment season. Director, Aaron Betsky, challenged us to make it more inviting, more immersive, more free, and more active. What ideas are bigger than the four disciplines? What voice speaks to visitors and what does it say? We reopened core design decisions, and unlocked new opportunities across the site.
Website creation and coding seem so exclusive, how did you teach yourself?
It's a balancing of patience, curiosity, discipline, resourcefulness, and enough boldness to take on projects just above your current capacity. Virginia Tech helped us develop all of these qualities. If you're interested in writing code, start with the workshop we did with DMCO on “how to code your own website (start to finish).”
Where do you see website creation and architecture meeting?
Both are spaces and tools. When people say, "the architecture of something," and they are not referring to a building, what do they mean? We are equally interested in when architecture means buildings and when it doesn't.