Credit: Noah Kalina
You’ve had a lifelong relationship with the institute.
I grew up with it. When I was a young architect in Mississippi, the AIA served as the vehicle for architectural culture. I practiced in a small town and would drive 250 miles to my AIA meeting. This was my opportunity to interact with other architects and find out the latest ideas.
If you were a recent graduate of Tulane today, practicing in your home state, do you think the AIA would play the same role?
There are probably more opportunities for young architects today to learn about architectural culture—there are more schools of architecture, there are websites. You can be in Mississippi and know what’s going on with architects in Russia. So maybe that aspect of the AIA is less important. On the other hand, there is still something vital about my ability to sit down with another architect, in an environment that is nonthreatening and noncompetitive, and share ideas. That’s outside of the culture, that has to do with our work, and that happens with the AIA. People meet and interact with people they ultimately learn from—or collaborate with. In that sense, someone graduating from Tulane has every reason to join.
Do you have concerns with trajectories that the institute has taken in the past?
The way I see the institute, it’s not a club. There have been times that people have looked on it as a place where architects are welcome, and no one else can come in the door. A vision I have for the AIA is as a place where architecture is accessible and easily understood, a network of people who share common interests and have common skills, with potential for sharing this wonderful discipline with others.
How do you balance the dictates and necessities of leadership with the multiplicity of strong, smart voices on the AIA board?
There is a new strategic plan. It is not written by the CEO; it is written by the executive committee and the board. That group is tasked with determining the strategic direction for the entire institute. The CEO’s role is to undergird that, to share this information, to see that it works throughout the body of the organization, and that it is effectively implemented—but it isn’t to make the policy.
Can the AIA take a leadership role in the construction industry and drive its agenda aggressively on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures?
The potential is there, because the need is great, and the role of architects is central to the construction process. Having said that, the number of registered architects in the United States is very small relative to the entire construction industry. To be a dedicated lobbying organization you have to have the resources, the entertaining budgets—all those things that lobbyists require. That is a question of priorities and how money will be spent.
Communications can result in the same things if legislators understand from their constituencies that better schools make better students, or that effective planning makes more vibrant communities and economic development. There needs to be a balance, given a finite pool of resources.
And the communications tools would be things such as advertising?
Major national advertising campaigns obviously cost a great deal. There are other, more cost-effective ways to gather national and international attention, including having communication vehicles that share this story well, having other people write about what we do. There is a greater interest, as we all know, in design and in architecture particularly, than there has been in decades.
So that opportunity is real, and could be capitalized on. But it requires an external communication plan. The institute is reorganizing itself to do that even as we speak. By the time I arrive at the job there will be new personnel in place who will be working on those very things.
The profession is beset by an unprecedented level of unemployment. I would imagine it’s easy in that scenario to look for a villain and say, “The AIA isn’t doing enough for me.”
Well, in associations everybody asks, “What have you done for me lately?” And that warrants a response. Dues are not cheap, and members need to know what they’re getting for their money. Traditionally they get certain benefits. They get access to contract documents; they get a communications vehicle, ARCHITECT magazine, and it’s going to be more directly related to the institute and what it’s doing. So there’ll be greater understanding, one hopes, by the average member about what’s going on.
Many chapters have forums to help people find opportunities for employment and alternative ways to make it through this difficult time. And many chapters now serve as advocates for architecture—the numerous storefronts that invite the public in and display what architecture can do. They’re making friends for architecture, and that’s something you can’t assign a dollar value to.
Do you have thoughts about how to reinforce the sometimes challenging relationships between AIA national and the other components?
Components are the core of the institute. They are what make us who we are. It was a component member who picked me as a board member. It was a component member who chose Sam Mockbee to be a gold medalist. This is where these things originate. One of the first things I hope to do is get out in the field and listen to people and hear what their thoughts and concerns are at the local and regional level—not just in the boardroom in Washington. I’ll let members tell me what needs to happen.
How will your work as an editor inform your new role as CEO?
I see communications as central to the role—not make the story or share the story, but help set up the process. Communications is something I’ve spent my lifetime doing. That’s only one aspect of the job, but it’s critical.
Another is participating in the change in the nature of the institute. My own view of where the value for the member resides is in each other. There are few of us, and we need each other. I feel sorry for the architect who feels that he doesn’t need to join his peers or her peers.
Ultimately, the AIA is not Harvard; it’s not going to be the source of the information. But what it can be is a wonderful network of people who are intimately connected and transparently allied. We can make it easy for an architect to find the information that he needs, in the head of another architect.