What’s in a name?

Intern. The term that has been the source of debate, ridicule, scorn, and general hair pulling for years. Until this past December, the AIA regarded all unlicensed persons practicing architecture as “interns”, much to the dismay of… just about everyone. The term was seen as demeaning to those who go to work every day and put in the time and work at a professional architectural practice. It was seen as a title that should have been left behind as soon as that person walked across the stage and was handed a diploma from their NAAB accredited program. Finally, though, there is movement forward.

In December of 2016, the AIA opted to pivot away from using intern to describe all unlicensed persons working in the field of architecture. Instead, it will now only refer to those that are still in school and working at a professional architecture practice. Those that are unlicensed will now have the titles of architectural associate or design professional. I cannot speak for everyone, but it seems that this shift is a long overdue step in the right direction.

Without doubt, these two titles will not please everyone. In my own experience at work, the title “associate” is used to describe someone that has been elevated within the firm to a position of leadership, so using that term will most likely not work for our office or a great many other offices. The term of design professional indicates a level of professional aptitude, but omits any reference to architecture, so is inherently vague, which is possibly by design so that it encompasses those not directly working in the field of architecture.

Each term has its own positives and negatives, but all in all, the move is a positive one. A person that is forty years old and has been practicing for fifteen years, moved up within the profession, and is highly regarded by their peers, but never got around to taking their tests should not be referred to as an intern the same way that a twenty year old student with three months of experience is. It defies logical reasoning.

Regardless of how the architectural community responds to the change, it is a positive step for the AIA to be taking. The organization has taken its share of backlash over the years and even more so recently. However, the American Institute of Architects still holds, and will continue to hold, major sway in the architecture community, with government entities, and with the general public. The name carries with it major influence and represents a wide array of members. While AIA may be a bit tardy in catching up with the shift away from outdated terminology, steps are being made to set things on the right track. That being said, I will leave you with this: the best way to ensure the AIA is representing architecture and all members is to continue to stay engaged, demand accountability, and to relentlessly push forward on the issues that matter. This change would not have come about if not for a strong push from members. It’s a small step, but it is indicative of the influence that members have and will continue to have.

Colorado Architecture Month: What’s Your Impact?

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It’s that time of the year again. Opening Day for the Rockies, at-capacity patios downtown, and Colorado Architecture Month! You might be familiar with some of the events that occur during April around the state, but do you know why Architecture Month exists?

Architecture month has the potential to serve as one of the greatest public outreach campaigns we do. A series of public events are set up all around the state to highlight the importance of architecture in our everyday lives and ensure the community also understands that design matters.

You can find a series of events on the AIA Calendar throughout the month. While the events are great, what are you doing to share the value of architecture? Does your firm have a blog? Are you able to share images via social media? AIA Colorado has put together a series of blog tips and ideas to encourage you to get out there and write.  Personally, I have found one of the best ways to share what we do as architects and why it is so vitally important to our communities is to just talk about it. The other day I took a Lyft and the driver asked what I do. As soon as I said architecture there was a sense of awe from the driver. I then took this as an opportunity to explain how our projects impact the community and why it is so important to have an architect. I don’t know if I converted a community member into an architect-believer but having these conversations with as many people as possible is the best way to engage the public and our neighbors.

As seen with this Lyft Driver, there is an aura of respect around the words architecture and architect. But we have a difficult time communicating why everyone and every community are deserving of good, well-designed architecture. In my opinion, good architecture doesn’t solely need to be the construction of a beautiful museum or new music hall. Good architecture should have an impact, whether big or small.

In October of last year, the Emerging Professionals of the AIA Western Mountain Region an afternoon and visited the 4th and 5th grade students of Silverthorne Elementary School in Silverthorne, Colorado. We took a few hours to explain to them the basics of architecture and why it is so important. We then took them through the process of design by designing Little Libraries, which will be installed in their communities. A few of our EP members, Max McCloskey, Assoc. AIA and Jim Hillard, AIAS UC Denver President led an effort to actually construct these little libraries. I have to say, the community of Silverthorne is quite lucky to have these well-designed, albeit little, libraries in their community. Our EP team is taking the rest of Architecture Month to finish these up and will then deliver them to the school for installation in the Silverthorne Community.

We all have the ability to impact our communities. Use Colorado Architecture Month as an opportunity to share your impact.

The Value of Outreach

If we think back to when we were ten years old, what did we believe architecture was? What about in junior high or high school? What was the point at which we believed we had a basic understanding of architecture and what it meant to the world we live in? Or, when did we decide architecture was more than what we found out from George Costanza? Did we ever grow out of that state? For some, the answers to these questions are simple and straightforward. For others, there may not be exact answers to them.

Recently, our office had the opportunity to help with some of these answers via the Cleworth Architectural Legacy (CAL) program. CAL is a program organized through the Denver Architectural Foundation in Denver Public Schools where we attempt to teach a basic understanding of architecture and the process of creating our built environment to a classroom of young children. We had the opportunity to work with a group of fourth grade students at University Prep in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver to create “space architecture”.

Because the idea of “space architecture” is such an abstract one that continues to fuel speculative and fantastical designs from even the most world renowned architects, it seemed like a great opportunity to allow the students to delve into the world of planning, three-dimensional space organization, and abstract concepts. While most students had a great time with the multi-week project, some did not see the point of creating something so impractical. After all, seeing the value of designing buildings and neighborhoods down to the stairway that you ascend every morning isn’t always readily apparent by using sticks, marshmallows, and plastic wrap to create colonies on Mars.

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That all being said, providing an outlet for fourth grade students to think about a community in which they imagine themselves living helps to provide a lifelong lesson, even if it is only over the course of few months. If we were all given the opportunity to imagine and physically create, even abstractly, the ideal environments in which we would like to live, would we still be living in the same environment today? Or would the value of design have been rooted deeply within us to demand higher standards?

This is all a very far-reaching claim to make from a few weeks working with fifty students in a single city. But, I can’t help but wonder what our buildings would look like if the public at large was more informed about architecture and held it to a higher standard from a very early age. I would venture to say that we would demand that our buildings perform at a higher rate, be more user driven, and push the envelope as far as possible in regards to aesthetics and a cohesive urban environment.

Ultimately, the point of architects reaching out to children is to help further the understanding of the value of architecture and design within the every day lives of every person. It may turn out that only a couple of these students pursue architecture as a career path and it may turn out that none do. What is an invaluable message, though, is that the spaces and places that they inhabit were (usually) carefully planned and that there is a tremendous value to fully thinking about the spaces in which we occupy and move through everyday.

Otherwise, most people may just end up sitting around a diner with a few friends speculating on what architecture is and the fanciful and out of reach possibilities of such an industry.

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Shameless plug: if you would like to get involved with  programs like CAL, please reach out to AIA Colorado or the Denver Architectural Foundation for more information.

The Year of the Advocate

If you haven’t noticed, the AIA has rolled out a new campaign titled the “Year of the Advocate”. (I can hardly blame you if you haven’t IMG_3774noticed). We receive multiple emails a day from National AIA, Advocacy AIA, I Look Up AIA, AIA Colorado, and various others depending on which lists you are subscribed to. However, I feel that this specific email regarding Advocacy is more important than the others. The mission of the campaign is to get AIA members involved in advocacy efforts and hopefully donate to ArchiPAC. Before you write this post off, bear with me. I want to explain why Advocacy is so vitally important to our profession. It is arguably one of the greatest benefits of the AIA membership. If you aren’t sure why advocacy is important or why ArchiPAC needs your money, I hope to help explain that.

Three Reasons Advocacy is Important

  1. Advocacy affects you (all of you!) It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do or where you work. The Advocacy branch of the AIA helps to reach out to elected officials (national works at a national level, states work at state legislature levels) and support those politicians that support architecture. If you own your company, if you care about the high cost of student loans or if you design energy efficient buildings, Advocacy should be a priority.
  2. Advocacy efforts and ArchiPAC are bi-partisan. If you are anything like me, you have followed the news closely and it seems that America may be more partisan than ever as well as the politicians that represent us. This is not true for ArchiPAC. ArchiPAC donates an equal amount to each party and its candidates. It is not about Republican, Democrat or Independent. The support goes to candidates whose views align with the legislative agenda of architects.

Wait… What is ArchiPAC? ArchiPAC is the federal Political Action Committee of the AIA. Fundraising occurs every year and then the money is dispersed to support leaders who support architects. It is important that we have a PAC because that is how support and awareness is raised in the Hill in DC. AIA is not allowed to donate to campaigns so ArchiPAC is funded solely through its members.

  1. Influence = Ability to Shape Our Profession. There has been one President that has been an architect. AIA Advocates aren’t asking all of us to run in the next presidential election, but sitting on community and local boards helps to create architectural influence within our communities. Architects should be sitting on Planning Boards, Infrastructure Committees; whatever it may be in your community. We are experts in our field and have a responsibility to share this expertise with the rest of our community. Not only does the community benefit when we share our expertise but architecture as a profession benefits when we are recognized as valuable and relevant. This is easily done when architects get involved in the community and helps the community to understand what it is we do.

Like most efforts, this takes a grassroots approach. Not everyone can donate a lot of money. Not everyone has the desire to serve on a local committee. The first step is figure out what you personally feel is important and advocate for that. When we all step up and advocate for the profession together, we are a stronger profession.

Speaking Numbers 

We all know money speaks. As of November 30, 2014, ArchiPAC raised $276,142.70 with a total of 1,610 contributors. (http://archipac.org/) There are 85,500 members in the AIA. Imagine if we all just donated one dollar? Even more than the dollar amount increase, can you imagine how much awareness would grow if every member donated a minimal amount? Influence comes in many forms. Money helps. But recognition is where the influence lies.

If you are now feeling inspired to support the future of the architecture profession, please make a contribution to ArchiPAC today.     http://archipac.org/

If you aren’t sold yet, feel free to reach out and ask me about your doubts.

Advocacy is important. Donating and volunteering may not be your thing. But I challenge you to reach out to one person today that may not know anything about an architect and ask them why they think architecture is important. You might just be pleasantly surprised in their answer, if they don’t have an answer take a moment an explain it to them. Just by spreading the word, you have supported the “Year of the Advocate”.


Information from http://www.aia.org/advocacy and archipac.org

Disclaimer: Under federal election law, all contributions must be from U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Contributions to ArchiPAC are not tax deductible. Federal law requires political committees to use best efforts to collect and report the name, address, employer and occupation of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year. Amounts are suggestions only. Contributions are strictly voluntary and do not affect AIA membership status. Corporate contributions are prohibited by law.