ALISSA WEHMUELLER  

PRINCIPAL
HELIX

 

 

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TWITTER      @alissa_may


Showing value is hard; designers can get a reputation for doing things because they look good – you have to show you’re being thoughtful and responsible.   We have to understand our client’s culture and know what will make an impact on their organization – there has to be a trust.


You were part of the first Mayor’s Challenge Cabinet; tell me more about the program and what came out of it.
It was interesting because it was the first year, and that year they didn’t have a set of predefined expectations.  It allowed the program to be really fluid – the mayor came to our kickoff session and said ‘I don’t know what success looks like for this group’ but said no matter what we did our work was going to make Kansas City better.  We broke into task groups and covered specific topics which let me learn a lot more about the city and it built more of awareness for me about the issues impacting the city.  It definitely was a spark for me wanting to go into Centurions.

What is your favorite restaurant in KC? 
Lidia's. 

You’re in Centurions right now – what has been the most impactful moment so far from that program?
It’s hard trying to point to one.  I knew so many people that had gone through the program and had gotten so much out of it, but a big thing I wanted to know was how do you get to know 80 people, and have form life-long relationships?  Once you are at retreat and see the way it is structured and how you interact with people made it easy to see how those relationships happen.  There has been one really key thing I learned at each of our task forces – it’s exposed me to several topics I wouldn’t have been really exposed to if I weren't part of the program.  I also really enjoy the volunteer hours - I've gotten to work closer with my fellow Centurions and build those relationships, but also getting to see the impact all of the organizations we are volunteering with have and what they are doing in and for Kansas City.

Favorite App?
Instagram – I love the visual communication aspect of it way more than Facebook. 

You’re a principal at Helix, what do you think has been the biggest key to your success at such a young age?
I think there are two main factors; one of the biggest things has been my involvement with IIDA.  I started being involved a year out of school and it quickly let me learn a lot of skills I wasn’t getting exposed to at work.  I was able to lead teams, plan events, and delegate tasks through my involvement on different committees.  It made me more well-rounded and let me realize I wanted more of that kind of responsibility in my day to day role. 
Also, having the chance to work with really awesome people.  At 360 I had a great mentor and friend that I learned so much from.  I hope every young professional gets to have someone like that, you trust, and can ask questions, and is also is a good friend.  I think that is really an important part to everyone's growth.
 

What are your top 3 movies of all time?
Tommy Boy
Beauty and the Beast
What Dreams May Come   

Biggest challenge facing KC in the next 5 years?
We have such an amazing energy and momentum right now – we just have to find a way to make that sustainable.  And, that momentum isn't just because the Royals won the World Series or Sporting KC is winning – it can exist just because really great things are happening here.  Another challenge for downtown is all of the huge opportunities coming to downtown – the convention center hotel, the streetcar; but I also feel like we could throw ourselves off-track really quickly.  It feels really fragile - we need to make sure that stuff doesn’t go away.  

The design & architecture industry is still in many ways very much an older white guy’s world.     What do you think is the most important thing we can do to help change that for the next generation of designers?
I feel like it will be interesting to see how our industry keeps changing in terms of how projects are done.  I think firms that embrace new ways of doing projects and that hire the people embracing the change will succeed.   I also think it will be interesting to see if the idea of the ‘freelance millennial’ that has taken hold in other industries will happen in architecture and design.  I feel like we’re in an interesting time because the old white guys aren’t necessarily retiring in the next 5 years, so they’ll still be around which is huge to have their knowledge and experience.  So, I think it's important how we embrace their knowledge and combine it with this new generation that has awesome energy and excitement.  The firms that are able to build great communication between those two will be the most successful

If you could spend a day with anyone (must be living) – who would it be?

The best professional advice you ever received?

This is the best part about working in KC:
I moved to Kansas City not thinking it would be a long term deal, but I’m here 11 years later.  I think we’re big enough and we’re small enough.  We have all the things I would crave in a big city, but we’re small enough that collaboration and relationships are possible.  We’re the right size in the right place. I also love working on projects in KC because I feel like I’m working in my own neighborhood or backyard.

Favorite Building/Space in Kansas City?
I love Union Station – usually I take the bus downtown and I would walk through it in the morning.  It had a really cool energy. But, I also love the Nelson – every part of it.  I love the Bloch building, but I also love the old galleries.  It’s a great thing to have in Kansas city. 

TV show you watch, but were embarrassed to tell anyone until now:
I don’t have any good guilty pleasure shows right now…I don’t know if this is a guilty pleasure, but I will watch Sex and the City reruns on a Sunday afternoon.  Game of Thrones, True Blood, Girls are all favorites.

This makes you angry:
I hate when people post pictures of their bare feet - it’s disgusting and I wish that trend would stop!  Just take a picture of the beach or pool – I don’t want to see your dumb feet.  And, once people figure this out they send me screenshots of bare feet, so I see even more now than I did before.

You just won the Powerball ….what is the first thing you buy? 
My husband, Dan, and I actually have a well thought out plan – we have a security plan!  I think the most fun thing would be being able to go make a charity's day – I would be just like Oprah to a lot of different charities by going around and giving them gifts. I think gifts like that really do make a difference - for example the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge- I thought it was a silly internet thing, but they raised a ton of money and it’s actually making a difference.  It would be fun and rewarding to be able to have that kind of impact. 

The hardest thing about being a designer is:
To be a good designer you have to show the value behind the decisions and recommendations you make.  You can’t do arbitrary things just for the sake of looking good; you have to show something that can make a difference in the way a space operates or connects people.  You can’t always show the ‘numbers’ behind design - Showing value is hard; designers can get a reputation for doing things because they look good – you have to show you’re being thoughtful and responsible.   We have to understand our client’s culture and know what will make an impact on their organization – there has to be a trust.  

 

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