Corey Clayborne, AIA
Photography: Vincent Ricardel

Corey Clayborne, AIA, has made the most of his decade-plus in architecture. Along with serving as president of AIA Richmond for 2016, he was appointed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to serve a four-year term on the commonwealth’s Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Certified Interior Designers and Landscape Architects. Factor in his nine-to-five as a Wiley|Wilson project manager and participation on numerous NCARB committees and you have an architect who has found a home in the behind-the-scenes efforts that keep the profession fully operational.

When you’re in school, you think of architecture as this awesome thing that produces amazing designs and could land you on the cover of a magazine. But at some point you realize where your strengths lie and where you can make the biggest impact.

That happened early for me. I found my architecture skills were in building consensus, emphasizing teamwork, and being proactive in planning. I could use those to make a big impact in my firm and within my community. Then I came to find that, “Wow, a lot of people respect architects.” I would hear from local leaders, state leaders, even national leaders that they really respect our skill set. By and large, as an architect, people listen to you.

When you say day job, the key word is “day.” You have a block of time put aside for work, and I have a fantastic team that allows me to do what I do within my firm. But there are more hours in the day that you can use to invest in other things. One of my weaknesses at the start of my career was that I didn’t know how to say no. Now that I have an infant daughter and am working on my MBA, I have had to sharpen my time-management skills.

Being an African-American leader in the profession is also a substantial part of what I do. I mentor for an organization called 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, and I serve on their board of directors in Charlottesville. The organization’s mission is to eliminate the achievement gap in African-American males in grades K–12. When you talk to these young men, they want to be professional athletes or hip-hop stars. They sometimes don’t consider being a dentist, architect, or school administrator. My role is to set an example and share that there are other opportunities out there. Many of them have never heard of, and certainly never met, an architect. There may not be millions of dollars in it, but it’s a rewarding life.

Architecture is so much bigger than buildings. I’m an award-winning architect, but not for design. They’re all service awards for being an architect who uses his skill set to improve his community. There’s room in architecture for much more than just the great designers. We need all hands on deck. —As told to Steve Cimino