• Credit: Sara Rubinstein

Alissa Luepke Pier, AIA, a 2013 AIA Young Architects Award recipient, has spent the majority of her short career balancing practice, teaching, and public service. As a principal for Minneapolis-based A.D.L. Pier Design, she has designed two dozen buildings in four states, she has led design studios for hundreds of students as adjunct faculty, and as a commissioner for Minneapolis’s Planning Commission and a past commissioner for the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, she has steered policy decisions to keep Minneapolis growing in the right direction.

The thing I tell my students, or even the high school kids I mentor, is get involved in something—anything—if you think you can make a difference. Community service and civil service aren’t the areas I thought I’d be most engaged in as an architect. If someone told me 10 years ago that I’d be on a planning commission, I would have scoffed at them. And yet here I am touting the need for more architects to get involved and serve, too.

But it wasn’t until I joined a neighborhood housing committee that I really took the plunge. I went to my first meeting, and a question about a vacant lot came up. So I suggested that we have a design charrette to find out what the neighborhood should have on that lot. This ended up with me recruiting some of my fellow University of Minnesota graduates to spend the next year and a half working with this neighborhood in our free time and to ultimately come up with a master plan for an entire block-and-a-half of the city.

That led to being invited to serve on a larger steering committee for a quadrant of the city, which led to being recruited to serve on the Board of Adjustment, and then to be recruited by the mayor’s office to serve on the Planning Commission, which deals with land-policy issues on a grander scale but still centers on what’s best for the city. I know from working in communities—on commissions, in schools, and in practice—the value of design has to come through as the architect’s contribution. And design has to be responsive.

A lot of people think the term “young architect” just means “young.” It’s a deceiving phrase, in the same way that “intern” is deceiving. That said, I definitely see myself as a young architect. When I think about the term in light of the AIA Young Architects Award, I see how different my colleagues are who also received the award.

Architecture is a profession—not just a job. Whether I’m teaching professional practice, interior detailing, or a course on AutoCAD, I tell the students that the public holds great expectations no matter what kind of work you’re doing. So the student’s first job is to understand the ethical obligation they are taking on by pursuing a career in this profession. The student’s second task is to understand that, if they are unwilling to get involved and use their creative talents to serve the greater good, they have to put forth the extra effort on the projects that impact those most in need. —As told to William Richards

Learn more about the AIA Young Architects Award at aia.org/practicing/awards.