Day 1 of the AIA National Convention 2013: Becoming “Citizen Architects”

Mosenthal_convention center

Denver’s Convention Center

With the AIA 2013 National Convention literally in my backyard, I was perhaps a bit laissez faire when arriving at the Convention Kick-Off early this morning.  Having spent the time prior to my arrival carrying out my usual daily routines, it wasn’t until I arrived at Denver’s Downtown Convention Center that I realized I wasn’t attending a local or regional meeting, but rather, a 16,000 person event meant to celebrate, facilitate dialogues and provide continuing education for architects nationwide.

The Blue Bear welcomed me into the Convention Center..

The Blue Bear welcomed me into the Convention Center..

Upon my arrival, I was quickly shepherded through registration, waited on an unreasonably long line for a cup of “meh” Convention Center coffee, and was off to the BellCo Theater for the opening ceremony.

As a first-time Convention attendee, I felt immediately at home with the architects seated all around me.   Why, you might ask?  Well for starters,  just about everyone was wearing black and carrying small notebooks (preferably moleskins, although apparently some people are becoming Ipad converts, which feels a little like cheating to me).   Secondly, many men were wearing bowties and circular glasses, which is a fashion statement I wish other industries might adopt so everyone might look dapper and intelligent at all times.  The third is a bit more important; everyone around me shared a calling to pursue architecture as a profession, passion, and optimistic means to shaping our environment and communities.


Mayor Hancock welcoming 16,000 architects to Denver

After a riveting video of an “AIA” cyclist riding from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains transformed into an in-person stunt man traversing the stage of the theatre, AIA 2013 President Mickey Jacob, FAIA kicked off the convention by emphasizing the importance of paving the way for Emerging Professionals, hence the theme “Building Leaders.” Robert Ivy, FAIA and CEO of the American Institute of Architect’s followed by discussing the AIA’s current “repositioning” efforts, while suggesting the changes being made to current AIA programs and policies are in response to the tangible shifts in our professional practice(s) that have arisen in the 21st century.

As a young professional working for an international corporate firm, I am often put on teams and in collaborative scenarios where I am asked to think locally and globally at the same time.   In listening to the opening remarks, this idea of being part of a 3000+ person firm was complemented with a new realization; that as a member of the AIA, I was also part of an 80,000+ person network of architects worldwide.

As I continued to listen to the various speakers talk about our profession’s balance between “Conscious Capitalism” and architects in today’s society playing the role of  “Citizen Architects,” the idea of being part of a huge network of professionals advocating for more “livable, healthy, productive, and sustainable communities” really hit home to me.

On a daily basis, we often think about small and measurable impacts of our design work.  Whether we are doing residential or commercial work, we might think about user experience, or the ephemeral quality of a specific design feature, etc.   On larger scale projects, we might think about the logistics and functionality of our design, as well as the user interface.  Stepping out of the role of architect or designer, and into the role of “AIA Member,” today’s dialogue emphasized that architects’ (or as Billie Tsien called everyone, “Optimists”) roles extend beyond the studio, and into the political and social realm in both explicit and implicit ways.

In other words, while I’m just wrapping up Day 1 at the Convention, today’s broader dialogue proved a useful reminder that design is not discrete, but rather directly related to community, policy, sustainability, advocacy, development, socioeconomics, etc.   While it’s important to dive into the details of the spaces we create on a daily basis, I’m looking forward to the next two days as an opportunity to explore a continued, broader dialogue regarding the power of design when shared amongst a diverse but collective community of architecture and industry-related professionals.

Women in Architecture dinner panel

Women in Architecture dinner panel

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