Sometimes it’s hard to read a person over the phone. Case in point: While prepping for a recent trip to Cincinnati for a continuing education program, I couldn’t get a handle on the personality of my host, Doug Richards, AIA. Doug and I had never met face to face. Judging from our planning calls, he seemed smart and professional, but also reserved. By the end of my stay, not only had I come to admire him personally, I realized that I had met someone with a compelling vision for the future well-being of the profession—a vision that was well worth sharing.
On the day I arrived, Doug picked me up at my hotel, and as he drove us to the first event, we traded the usual getting-to-know-you questions. We didn’t have any school friends in common (I went to Rice, and Doug is a University of Cincinnati alum) or work associates (he’s a project manager at the local office of Burgess & Niple, a firm with which I have had minimal interaction). He didn’t know my Cincinnati cousins, who are roughly his age. And my love of the local ice cream brand, Graeter’s, wasn’t bound to take us far, conversationally.
We finally struck small-talk gold when I asked Doug where he lived. He said that he and his wife have a large property outside of the city, where they run their own dog-rescue nonprofit. I’m pretty dog-crazy myself. (Regular readers of this column may have noted that my Shiba Inu, Mortimer, comes up with some frequency.) So learning that Doug and his wife dedicate their spare time and money to caring for the four-legged, tail-wagging homeless put him right onto my A-list.
Then we got to the event, and I was wowed once more. Doug is a former AIA Cincinnati president and still an active component member. On top of his day-job responsibilities and his animal-rescue work, he has launched a program called AIA Cincinnati: Vision, which is now in its second year. Working in concert with the local chapter and colleagues Marcene Kinney, AIA, and Miranda Mote, Assoc. AIA, and with the support of local firms, Doug has created a 10-month leadership program for architects who have had their licenses for less than a decade. He’s the kind of crusader that every architecture community and firm needs to thrive, and I sincerely wonder how much he gets to sleep.
My first night in town, I gave a talk to the 12 participants in the Vision program’s 2012 class (the audience also included AIA members who had come earlier to see the swearing-in ceremony of the chapter’s new leadership). The next day, in a closed seminar at the offices of Hixon, a prominent, locally based A/E firm, four of the Vision program participants made presentations about the current state and future potential of architectural practice. I was supposed to follow up on their presentations by offering my take on architectural practice, from the “10,000-foot view” of a national-design-magazine editor.
I needn’t have bothered. The four presentations before mine were diverse in topic, ranging from sustainable design to workplace communication. Together they hit on pretty much every key practice issue that hits my radar as ARCHITECT’s editor-in-chief. I was equally impressed by the participants’ sophisticated exchange with the speakers who followed me: two architecture-firm principals and the CFO of a national branding firm.
Admission to the Vision program isn’t automatic, and participation isn’t a cakewalk. You have to apply, pay tution, and be willing to devote serious time to the program—time outside of your normal work routine. You also have to be confident enough to have abstract, philosophical, and sometimes-heated debates with your peers. To top it off, there’s homework.
Doug and most of the participants in the program are my age, which is to say they are members of Generation X (roughly ages 32 to 47). I happened to take a non-traditional route after architecture school, but for the majority of my peers, those who followed a more-or-less conventional path into practice, this has been a difficult time. And not just because of the economy. Gen-Xers are stuck between two far-larger and more socially and professionally dominant groups: the baby boomers, who run most firms, and the Millennials, who (when they are lucky enough to find a job) have all kinds of exciting new skills to show off. Coding party, anyone?
For most Gen-X architects, the structured mentor relationships of the Intern Development Program are a thing of the past, and executive positions are an uncertain future prospect. It’s lonely in the middle.
The Vision program provides leadership training for architects who are at a point in their careers when cultivation is rare—and invaluable. When you get right down to it, architecture needs more Dougs. If I could clone him and send the resulting doubles to every AIA component in the country to support the launch of Omaha Vision, Seattle Vision, Albuquerque Vision, and so forth, I absolutely would. (I would be delighted if the Dougelgängers also started more animal-rescue programs, but I won’t push my luck.)
Unfortunately, I’m not trained in genomics. But I would like to encourage individual architects and AIA components to reach out and tell me about their own efforts to promote leadership among emerging architects. We’ll highlight the best stories and best practices in a future issue. And by doing this, hopefully you can help to inspire many more such programs in communities across the nation.