March 29, 2013

Repositioning the American Institute of Architects

A letter from the North West and Pacific Region Associate Director, Joe Mayo:

Dear Associate Leaders,

Grassroots was a powerful event this year, and I wanted to send an e-mail to recount some of the most notable events.

First and foremost, AIA released a first look at their Repositioning Implementation Plan. Please see this web site for several videos on the Repositioning taken from Grassroots:

The first video, “What it is to be an Architect,” is less than 2 minutes and it is a succinct message at the heart of the repositioning designed to educate the public about what architects do, as well as to help us talk more clearly about what we do to the public.

The next video is the presentation that LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram gave at Grassroots. I would highly encourage you to watch this video as it outlines the entire Repositioning process to date, which is the largest collection of data LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram have ever compiled. The message is to shift the conversation away from what the AIA does to why we practice architecture and why architecture matters. The message is really about empowerment and empowering individual members to fuse practice with passion, focus on connectivity and become a messenger for change. Please see the following page for an outline of the Repositioning statements:
After LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram’s presentation the AIA responded with the video titled “Repositioning Forum.” I encourage you to listen to the AIA response to LaPlaca Cohen and Pentagram’s presentation as it demonstrates the leadership commitment toward action. After the Repositioning presentations we all broke-out into small groups to discuss what is most important to us. Many topics were explored such as:

· Leadership structure—are one year terms too short for consistency in leadership and institutional memory in the AIA?
  • Lack of coordination between local, state, regional and national components
  • Board size—are 60 members on the AIA National Board too many to get things done?
  • Engage the Emerging Professional
  • Inefficacy of Communications—the AIA sends out too many messages and lacks focus
  • Passive Reactiveness—the AIA should lead, not follow on important issues

Please see the image at the top, for a list of priorities we discussed and how the participants responded. This response shown here was fairly typical across all the groups in that there was a bell curve of importance, with the three most important items being “engage the emerging professional,” “inefficacy of communications,” and “passive reactiveness.” From this response it is clear that the Emerging Professional is one of the most important priorities among the respondents and with AIA National. This puts us in a great place to ask for what we think is important and to exhibit leadership within the Institute. This commitment to the Emerging Professional should transmitted to your local component leadership.

For the Repositioning the AIA wants actionable goals that signal real change. A few of the take-aways include:
  • AIA’s commitment to prioritize initiatives and focus on only those programs with the greatest value to the members and eliminate programs that have less value. This will require analyzing the benefits of different programs, seeking member input and making recommendations to the Board in the Spring of 2014. The AIA will also update/streamline their entire communication strategy and refresh their graphic identity
  • The AIA also intends to take a stand on important issues that define and impact the architecture profession.
  • Engage the emerging professional by hosting an Emerging Professionals Summit in November 2013. The purpose of this summit will be to develop an action plan for best serving emerging professionals
  • Generate a comprehensive study on Gender and Inclusiveness in the profession to be completed by 2014
  • Provide an Innovation Fund by 2014 for existing or new programs that can be replicated by other AIA Components
  • Select Repositioning Ambassadors to provide guidance in setting AIA-wide priorities

I think that there is a sincere motivation for change within the highest leadership at AIA, so I am hopeful that the changes outlined here will take place and have a positive effect. From discussions at Grassroots I think that it will be valuable to have Emerging Professionals on AIA Boards, including local components. Emerging Professionals should also be treated the same as licensed architects, and we should not be sitting at a “kid’s table.” We are the future of the profession need to be at part of the discussion and at the same table if the AIA is serious about engagement. I’d encourage you to discuss this with your local components. Another important issue is for local firms to value involvement in the AIA and allow time away from work for emerging professionals to be involved. A big change in culture is needed within the profession and each of you will be a part of this change! Making sure that individual architecture firms understand the value of involvement is an issue we can all help solve.

The AIA has also now published an Annual Report that details all of the Institute’s activities and is helpful in understanding the full scope of our Institute. Please download a copy here:
Finally, AIA National Convention is coming-up soon and I would encourage all Associates to try and attend. There is a discount for early registration, but it ends on April 10th, so please do not delay if you are interested in attending. This is the first year that we will have an Emerging Professionals Lounge within the main convention floor, so it will be an exciting time and we will be literally in the center of all the activity there. Please see this link for more information:

All the best,

March 24, 2013

The AIA Manifesto

The AIA is working on repositioning itself to better represent architects to the public and better serve its members. This short video is a poetic look at the value architects bring to society. I had the privilege of attending the AIA Grassroots and Leadership conference in Washington D.C. last week on a scholarship. It was an incredible experience to see how the organization works, lend my ideas on how it can be improved, and help advocate for important issues to our congressmen and women.

Watch this short video, visit the website, and offer your suggestions on how to make the AIA better address the issues facing the profession of architecture.

March 6, 2013

Public Interest Design: The Anthropomorphism of Architecture

By Stacy Scott

There is an instant of awareness in the career of a designer when one becomes overwhelmed with what design could be, yet also paralyzed with the thought that is absolutely too much and not enough. This mindset of impending irrelevancy has infected the very core of the art community sporadically over its history. As designers, we must become sympathetic to the fact that our calling is prone to feeling shallow and we will often deeply crave a reminder that we are necessary. The solution comes through design embracing the responsibility and power to house and add new borders to world progress. Public Interest design is completely self-defining; it is relevancy in its most urgent form. Finally, design is reclaimed by its rightful owner: the people.

Public interest design is an infant subset of sustainable design. It takes a new approach of immersing the practitioner deep into the needs of the environment to produce solutions from the inside, as opposed to architecture (occasionally known for under-prioritizing context) treating problems from a distant and isolated vacuum. 

In his Curry Stone Prize project summary video, Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group speaks about moving to Rwanda full time to work on a new hospital in the Burera District. “This kind of deep immersion, I realized, was something that was missing from the architectural profession.” 

One of the distinguishing factors of PI design asks the question: Is this inherently about making the lives of the people in the surrounding community better? 

MASS Design has become very recognized in the architecture and humanitarian community because of their extensive work in Rwanda. A winner of the 2012 Curry Stone Prize, their partnership with Partners in Health to produce the Butaro Hospital became a referencing point in what PI design should look like. An amazing example of the solutions that arose out of their dedication to focus on making the building work for the target user group was removing the hallways from the plan. The building, hallway free, allowed for greater ventilation, and a cliff-drop in the spreading of airborne diseases such as TB that were becoming worse due to the cramped setup of the previous clinic. The collaboration with the community members, Partners in Health and Harvard Medical School, as well as deep research on what caused past problems and how that could be eliminated represents how PI design has made a spinoff of what old design methods used to include. Teamwork is another distinguishing point in PI design that proves that more can be done when architecture opens its definition to include more multi-disciplinary focusing. 

What better way to encourage collaboration than to enlighten the community around you to what their options for betterment are? Project H Design, a humanitarian non-profit design group in San Rafael, California, sees design education as an amazing way to get the community to self-diagnose and treat design problems. Their education program Studio H, is a design/build program targeted at high school students. defines their program as on that, “… sparks community development through real-world, built projects.” Peter Smith in his 1994 article, Art and Irrelevance states about artistic education targeted at children, “I generally conclude that what [the students] have learned is that art is something that has nothing to do with here or now. It has nothing to do with their lives or feelings or knowledge encountered in their experiences.” Studio H takes a completely different approach. The students learn about practical design by gaining relevant skills that improve the creative capital and aid in the design future of their community. This type of approach is great because it recruits relevancy back into its own community patrons. 

Public Interest design is explicitly for people, by people. It is community born, and aligns solutions with resources. It is the late night propeller for many designers pouring over exacting and often needy work. It is psychosocial. It is empowering. It is given life by those that utilize it. If you are a designer or a patron of design, that is feeling haunted by irrelevancy, remember that the potency of design is not in size but intent and this can make it a catalyzer like no other.

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