President’s Message – June, 2019

Community and connection

A’19 has wrapped up and what an exciting and educational few days! Las Vegas was a unique host for a convention of sustainability-minded architects. It was a vastly different experience than A’18 in NYC, where hotels, educational courses and events were scattered throughout the city and walking and riding the subway were the norm. While Las Vegas was both warm (literally 103 degrees warm) and welcoming, ride-sharing and shuttle vans were the preferred modes of transportation. Much of the human-scale urban design largely happened inside the city-like casinos and shopping centers instead of outside. Las Vegas of course, evolved around tourists and cars and the opening keynote, focusing on Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi’s seminal work Learning from Las Vegas, was a reminder of the critical role that the automobile has played in shaping our cities and neighborhoods. It takes continued effort and focus from private sector and government leaders to remake many of our existing neighborhoods into walkable, inclusive, accessible, socio-economically diverse and ultimately sustainable places to live and work.

As much as I look forward to connecting with former colleagues and meeting new ones, I am just as excited about attending thought-provoking learning sessions. On this front, the conference was outstanding. More than any conference I have attended, this one had session after session focused on the role that research can and should play in guiding and enriching planning, architecture and design. In school, architects are taught the basics of building science and human-centered design, and in practice we develop a fundamental understanding of how to use this knowledge. So, it’s easy to continue designing projects and engaging with clients knowing that what we’re doing is responsible. One thing we can clearly take away from the climate science and humanitarian crises around the world is this: we, as architects, must do more. In the environmental and socio-economic world we live in, being responsible is not enough. The built environment can have such an immediate and lasting positive, or negative, impact on the world that we must dig deeper. We need to understand how people use our buildings and what resources our buildings use on a micro level that will ensure that we are doing the absolute best we can for the users, the community and the planet.

It was wonderful to see research-minded firms like Kieran Timberlake, HKS, HDR, Gould Evans and others share not only their results, but also their business strategies and methodologies around evidence-based design. Medium and large-sized firms can build research into their business plans and embed it into their workflows. Small firms, or ones with limited resources can develop case studies or apply for one of the numerous grants that are available for design research. There are tons of resources out there and we can all learn from each other’s good work. If you’re interested, a great place to start is the AIA website and the recently published AIA Architectural Research Agenda. And of course, reach out to your architectural community and connect. We all have a lot to gain from shared knowledge and there is no time like the present to share it!



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President’s Message – May, 2019

This past weekend it finally felt like spring has arrived. And looking at the calendar, summer is right around the corner. I know summer is close though because my kids are starting to talk wistfully of camp and summer plans. I was fully intending to write about summer to-do-lists, but the news of the past few weeks makes it hard for me to focus on the promise of summer. Two more tragic school shootings, one at a university, and one at a high school, have once again forced us to confront the reality that our children are growing up in a much different world than we did. Despite the emotional outpourings, the divisive issues of gun control and access to mental health treatment seem to keep us in a perpetual state of policy gridlock. I often feel helpless to affect any change whatsoever on the topic.

AIA is once again stepping up to confront pressing issues and provide a consensus-building path that not only improves the condition of schools but also provides a rallying point for communication and agreement on meaningful action. The goal, of course, is to provide design-based solutions that improve the safety of students and teachers, but still maintain a positive and nurturing environment for kids to learn and grow. The AIA is pressing for legislation mandating that the federal government build a database of best practices regarding safe school design and proposing that federal dollars be allocated for design services that will improve school safety.  If you or your firm designs schools, please familiarize yourself with best practices and the many new and innovative products out there. If school design is not in your portfolio, you can still have an impact by supporting The AIA as we push this agenda at the national level. Review the background information and talking points from Grassroots’19 then write or call your elected officials, tell them how important this issue is and stay up to date with what The AIA is doing.

This policy is one of a handful of critical issues that will be at the forefront of what AIA advances over the next year and will certainly be a topic of conversation at the AIA Conference, A’19, in Las Vegas. If you’re headed out there in early June, please come find me at the Maryland Meetup at the Eastside Lounge in the Wynn Hotel on Friday, June 7th from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm and let me know your thoughts on your priorities and what The AIA can do for you.

I always want to hear from you, regardless of the season!

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State Board of Architects – Winter Report – New faces, new challenges.

After nearly 25 years as the deployed Assistant Attorney General serving the five Maryland design boards, Milena Trust, Esq. has assumed the position of Principal Counsel to the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. From an outpost in DLLR with a $1.5 M budget, to a Department with $100 M+ budgets for unemployment funds, among other programs has meant a big increase in duties.  For those 25 years Ms. Trust has dispensed advice mixed with humor to elevate Design Board Meetings above dull routine.

Ms. Trust is a graduate of Towson University (BA, magna cum laude), and the University of Baltimore Law School (Juris Doctor, summa cum laude). She served as an associate at DLR Piper Law Firm before joining the Maryland Attorney General’s office where she was assigned to the DLLR Design Boards. None of the five Boards may meet without an Assistant Attorney General present during the entire meeting, so Ms. Trust is now a veteran of nearly 1,000 design professional meetings. These meetings have ranged from interminably boring to somewhat exciting when a Board will convene as an adjudicatory body to stand in judgement of a fellow professional. Stripping a colleague of a professional meal ticket (license) is not an action to be taken lightly, and Ms. Trust has seen Boards fine miscreants over $20,000.00 in some cases.

All legal activity could make a person dull, but the lively Ms. Trust is an accomplished pianist who has musically enlivened some NCARB activities outside her home of Baltimore.

The arc of the Attorney General’s attitude toward design professionals has evolved over time as Ms. Trust has served three incumbents, Curran, Gansler, and Frosh. In the early 1990’s, architects seeking to serve on the SBOA were encouraged not to join The AIA. The recession of the 1990’s led to tensions between engineers and architects over turf and fees.

Working with The AIA, key legislators, DLLR Staff, and Ms. Trust, the SBOA got the right to fine imposter architects. A memo in 1997 explained to the permit reviewers at the County Building Departments that architects were permitted to design the “integral parts” of their buildings. The memo was reaffirmed by the SBOA in 2002. However, in 2004 the Overlapping Practice Panels were felt by some to have weakened the intent of the memo to permit the components of integral practice.

The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court “North Carolina Dental Board” decision appears to increase risk to the role of volunteer professional boards across the nation, and a Study Group in Maryland with Ms. Trust as one of the members, evolved a law to protect the professional staff of Maryland’s Professional Boards. With the attitude of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission finding “Restraint of Trade” in the actions of most USA professional boards, those boards may be vulnerable to fines with triple damages. A Dr. Geier has won a $2.5M judgement against the Maryland Physicians’ Board. The Courts may set Dr. Geier aside, but he showed that Boards can be sued.

Into this complicated situation enters Ms. Jessica Praley, Assistant Attorney General, to serve as the new counsel to the Architects’, Engineers’, Landscape Architects’, Surveyors’, and Interior Designers’ Boards. Ms. Praley is a graduate of George Washington University (BA) and the University of Baltimore Law School (Juris Doctor) and has clerked with Judge Hon. Laura Kiessling. She has worked with several law firms before joining the Maryland Attorney General’s office. We wish Ms. Praley luck in service professional boards.

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NPS proposes to revise regulations governing the listing of properties in the National Register of Historic Places

By: Barton Ross, AIA
Chair, Historic Resources Committee

The National Park Service (NPS) recently proposed sweeping rule changes for handling nominations to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and other substantive amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which was enacted in 1966. This is being done without first seeking collaborative counsel and practical input from NPS staff, State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), or Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs). Specifically problematic is the proposal that directly affects National Register nominations allowing greater power and flexibility for property owners, especially the federal government, when objecting to nominations affecting their property.

What are the benefits of listing in the NRHP? In addition to honorific recognition, a listing in the National Register affords historic properties:

  • Consideration in planning for federal, federally licensed, and federally assisted projects through Section 106 and Section 110. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (appointed by the President) oversees and ensures the consideration of historic properties in the federal planning process;
  • Owners of properties listed in the National Register may be eligible for a 20% investment tax credit for the certified rehabilitation of income-producing certified historic structures such as commercial, industrial, or rental residential buildings;
  • Consideration of historic values in the decision to issue a surface mining permit where coal is located in accordance with the Surface Mining Control Act of 1977; and
  • Qualification for federal grants for historic preservation.

For the past 50+ years, the process for objecting to National Register nominations was clear providing “one property, one vote” for owners wishing to formally object to listing. For instance, an owner (or majority of owners) of property could object to designation by notarized statements, which would then be taken into account by the Keeper of the National Register, typically an appointed NPS official, who is responsible for deciding on the eligibility of historic properties for final inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. This was true for both individual properties and multiple properties as part of an historic district nomination.

However, the new proposed rule changes would extend the time the Keeper is allowed to make a decision (enabling bureaucratic delays) and creates a new method whereby ownership is counted as a percentage of the land area which is being nominated (not legally tenable). In other words, the greater percentage of acreage owned will now ‘somehow’ be calculated into an equation determining whose ownership voice matters more when objections are heard. This has never previously been part of the law and appears to lack a firm legal basis. It also fails to recognize the myriad of ways local governments and municipalities across the country currently tabulate up-to-the-minute property information, land survey data, plats, subdivisions, etc. Thus, the determination of actual percentages would be next to impossible to mathematically calculate and invariably lead to challenges and lawsuits, further impeding the entire process.

These new rules would also radically change how National Register Nominations are written and boundaries determined. Currently anyone can nominate properties to the NRHP using the appropriate forms. However, this proposal would require that only a federal agency can nominate listings affecting federal property. For example, what if a town wanted to nominate their downtown historic area for designation including the local post office? Conceivably the federal agency could now object and pressure the Keeper to hold the nomination in purgatory indefinitely, or force the boundaries of the historic district around government property, ultimately denying the valuable use of historic tax credits to affected private owners. Properties listed on the National Register are eligible to apply for a 20% historic tax credit (HTC) to support rehabilitation efforts, a key incentive for private investment in historic preservation and community revitalization. But nominations of large cultural landscapes with significant federal ownership could now be stopped entirely, especially concerning due to environmental concerns over oil and gas exploration.  Essentially and notably, this change enables federally-owned properties to permanently opt out of listing and oversight.

The ability of federal agencies to block these nominations under the new rule would further extend to National Register eligibility determinations under the Section 106 process. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires all federal agencies to consider mitigation measures to offset adverse affects caused by federally funded projects on properties listed or even eligible for listing on the National Register. Federal projects can include cell tower installations, power line upgrades, military construction, interstate highway work, or environmental degradation caused by building a new Bay Bridge. Because many significant historic sites eligible for the National Register are deserving of consideration under Section 106, but lack the monetary resources needed to prepare a formal nomination, we rely on the Keeper’s eligibility determinations to potentially reverse federal agency or SHPO decisions. This provision would be deleted under the proposed regulations, and, as a result, the Keeper would not be able to make eligibility decisions without a specific request from a federal agency and would therefore not be authorized to disagree with the federal agency’s views on eligibility.

So, why should we as architects care? The proposed federal rule changes discussed here would allow federal agencies to effectively block any nomination to the NRHP which affects their historic properties. This would in turn put unnecessary strains on state historic preservation offices, curtail new listings, and possibly diminish the positive effects of Section 106 consultations by failing to consider all National Register–eligible historic properties. In short, the federal government is taking steps to exempt its own agencies from fully participating in historic preservation review processes that have been successfully used to save communities, neighborhoods and properties in this country for over fifty years.

What can we do to voice our concerns? The National Trust for Historic Preservation is sponsoring an email form letter to make sure opposition voices are heard: Go to: https://actnow.io/F7N2feZ  Comments are due April 30!

More information and the actual text of the regulation change can be found here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/03/01/2019-03658/national-register-of-historic-places

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President’s Message, April, 2019

The ninety-day session has come and gone with some significant legislative victories but concluded with the devastating news of the passing of Speaker Michael Busch. The somber atmosphere on Sine Die did not deter the legislature from passing transformative and forward-thinking bills such as significant education funding and reforms under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the raising of the minimum wage and the Green Jobs Act. Our full legislative wrap up should arrive in your mailbox this week, but AIA Maryland was as active as ever either monitoring or engaging on over 50 proposed bills. I want to thank our Executive Director, Sandi Worthman and our board members who make it their mission to protect and defend the profession and the built environment. Chris Parts, Dan Bailey, Larry Frank, Kathleen Sherrill, Ted Sheils and Barton Ross have dedicated countless hours to meeting with legislators and staff, writing letters and testifying on behalf of Maryland architects.

Through our lobbyist, Joe Miedusiewski, we usually have a few days to draft a response to proposed legislation. On the afternoon of Sine Die, literally the 11th hour of session, we received a call from a senator wanting our feedback on a bill that was ready to go to the floor. We only had a few hours to digest and interpret the bill as well as the prior version proposed last year, formulate a response and prepare to answer any questions that the senator had. Immediate Past-President and Legislative Committee member, Larry Frank, dropped what he was doing to spend half an hour on the phone with the legislator and advised him to make meaningful changes to the legislation that would clarify the intent of the bill. The language made it in to the final bill and it passed!

With the heavy lift of session over, we now turn our attention to other things. National Architecture week began yesterday and is a chance to highlight how architects are making a difference in their communities and in the world. Each day of the week has a different theme and I encourage you to go to the AIA website to see how easy it is to be part of the action.

Finally, we are excited to begin the rollout of AIA Maryland’s strategic plan! We have worked to distill the plan into three clear and concise goals: to be the Voice of architecture, to champion the Value of design and, maintain the Viability of our component, AIA Maryland. The clarity of this vision will allow us to remain focused on ways to serve you more effectively. Look for more information on this as we roll out our new strategic plan this year.

Like always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments.

Happy spring,


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President’s Message – March, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend AIA’s Grassroots 2019 Leadership Conference in Washington DC with over 600 of our colleagues. It was an invigorating few days focused on advocacy, governance and outsizing your impact. We heard from change makers in our industry, visionary politicians and committed activists. As part of our swag bag when we registered, we were given a large felt folio with the words ‘I’m a citizen architect’ printed on the front in large white letters. It set the tone for the event perfectly. I was accompanied by an all-star Maryland cast of Strategic Council Members, current and past leadership of all four of our chapters, amazing staff, emerging professionals, future architects from our local universities, and a past National President of AIA. Your Maryland delegation represented our chapters with pride and purpose.

On a clear but chilly Wednesday morning, and after an inspiring pep talk, we stormed Capitol Hill. The two issues that we were focused on advancing were: 1) expanding energy tax credits to include renovations of existing buildings (they are currently for new construction only), and 2) allowing federal dollars to be used to pay for design of school safety upgrades rather than just equipment upgrades and creating a national clearinghouse of safe school design best practices. These two issues, although obviously design-centered, belie an overarching theme of the conference. The theme, reinforced by the tagline ‘People, Purpose, Partnerships’, is that architects do more than just design. With the multitude of issues facing our country and with constructive dialogue at an all-time low, architects, perhaps more than any other profession, are well equipped to lead the conversation on how best to plan for a more sustainable, equitable and safer future. In our practices, we take often competing ideas and work with stakeholders to find common ground. We filter out the noise and help our clients edit their thoughts to get to the root of the issue. We work with and lead diverse and expansive teams of consultants, civic and business leaders, stakeholder groups and government agencies to achieve consensus and ultimately functional and sustainable solutions. We are adept at adjusting on the fly and making quick modifications while keeping the concept, or principles, intact. We are expert listeners and creative problem-solvers. That sounds a lot like what our country and our neighborhoods need right now.

The notion of a citizen architect can represent many things. Successive days of panel discussions and lectures demonstrated many of those ways, from taking a lead on social justice in housing redevelopment to engaging in the socio-economic impact of urban revitalization; from the need to invest in systemic preparedness for the next natural disaster to equity and inclusion in the leadership of our own practices and organizations. Architects need to be at the forefront of these conversations. This is often not an easy lift for a profession that is somewhat isolated from larger policy conversations. But we can’t afford to be isolated anymore. The value we bring is critical to advancing these issues.

A panel of mayors, moderated by 2020 AIA President, Jane Frederick FAIA, further highlighted the potential partnerships between architects and civic leaders. Many of the mayors on the panel discussed how critical it is to have architects engaged in their policy discussions, particularly in the realm of development opportunities, gentrification and disaster preparedness. In fact, one of the panelists left the discussion feeling he had missed an opportunity by NOT having architects working with his administration as a resource. He stated that he wanted to work with the AIA to remedy the situation. THAT is a win!

As architects, we know our charge is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. This conference reinforced that is not enough. We need to grab a seat at the table when the policies that affect the health, safety and welfare of future generations are being created. Every city and every town needs the voices of its architects to guide the change. Engage your local civic leaders and contribute to the conversation however you can. Share your knowledge, your passion and your skillset. Be a resource. Be a citizen architect.

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