While I had the opportunity to think about what being an architect as leader means to me through the AIA’s blog off prior to the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver, I had not thought much about what being an architect as leader and building leaders might mean to the AIA. After attending the keynote presentations on Thursday and Friday and several other sessions, two themes emerged about how the AIA wants its membership to build leaders.
The first theme encouraged architects to become leaders by publicly advocating for the value of architecture through active community engagement. Community engagement emerged as essential to architects as leaders through the two keynote presentations I attended as well as two of the awards presented to distinguished AIA members. Both keynote speakers, Blake Mycoskie of Tom’s Shoes and Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity, have created success in their businesses by authentically serving the communities and individuals that they touch. The movements that both men have created are not about quick fixes, but about a multi-layered approach to making real and lasting change for the people they help. For Tom’s Shoes, their business is not only about providing shoes for children who need them to attend school, but also about creating jobs for local shoe manufacturers. Architecture for Humanity builds architect leaders in every project that they embark on. Every project involves a local architecture and engineering team, building up their professional knowledge and creating opportunities for architects to become leaders in their own communities. Like Tom’s shoes, they create skilled jobs for local men and women, teaching them construction methods and trades that they can bring to future projects. Each Architecture for Humanity team stays in the community they help until the project reaches completion, instilling trust and demonstrating the value that architect leaders bring to the communities they serve.
Both the recipient of the Whitney Young Jr. medal, Harvey Gantt, FAIA, and the AIA/ACSA Topaz medallion, Robert Greenstreet, demonstrated the ability of architects to be leaders through public service. As an urban planner and mayor of Charlotte, Mr. Gantt led his community through a process of good city planning that influenced the growth and success of Charlotte today. Mr. Greenstreet broke barriers that many universities face with their local communities by serving on the Milwaukee City Planning Board and making sure that his students participated in their city. Many of his efforts have helped put Milwaukee on the architectural map, advocating for good design in public projects. Both men are architects leading their communities and building the value of our profession in the public view.
In addition to building leaders in the public realm, the AIA wants us to build leaders within our own profession. The second theme of the National Convention for me was emerging professionals. Giving greater support to emerging professionals is one of the key aspects of the repositioning that the AIA is starting to deploy this year. Young architects and emerging professionals introduced the speakers during each morning’s general meeting, highlighting their own accomplishments along with those of the speakers and award receivers they introduced. Much was also made of the Emerging Professionals Town Square at the AIA Expo. While I was impressed and inspired by the speakers during the convention who were serving as leaders in their communities, I saw less concrete evidence of how the AIA is engaging emerging professionals on their path to become leaders. I was excited and intrigued by the announcement that the AIA will be hosting an Emerging Professionals Summit this fall as part of the repositioning process. After this announcement I immediately sought out the Emerging Professionals Town Square at the Expo hoping to find out more. While I may not have been there at the most active times for the booth, I was disappointed that no one was there to answer my questions about the Emerging Professionals Summit or even about how emerging professionals are really fitting into the AIA’s repositioning process.
I did see evidence of efforts to build the emerging professionals and young architects of the AIA into future leaders in some of the seminars that I attended. Two of the sessions, one with a professor of architecture at Kansas State University, Bob Condia, and University of Maryland’s Dean of Architecture, David Conrath, and the second with Emily Grandstaff-Rice of Cambridge 7 Associates, both addressed topics dealing with the education of architects and what we can do to engage younger generations of professionals in their learning process. The first, Teaching Architects to Teach: Or the Art of Being an Invited Studio Critic, discussed how to address students and ask questions in a way that validates their work and encourages them to further exploration along their path to an architecture degree. The second, You Will Learn Something: New Professional Development Strategies for Young Architects, addressed a similar topic of the learning process and how to engage learners in the context of professional and continuing education, and especially how technology can engage a new generation of learners on their terms. What struck me at both sessions was the large number of audience members who were interested in how these topics could apply to their own practice and opportunities to mentor emerging professionals and young architects. It is clear to me that supporting the younger generation in our profession so they can grow to become our future leaders is something that is important to AIA members on all levels.
Hopefully other attendees of the convention were as positively inspired by the convention to engage more actively through the AIA in our communities, both public and professional, to make the value of architecture and architects known. I am looking forward to learning more about the plans for the Emerging Professionals Summit this fall and seeing how the AIA repositioning continues to develop in support of building leaders.