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.