Britt Stokes

Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, was inaugurated as the 91st AIA president on Dec. 12, 2014, succeeding Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA. Born in Nanjing, China, Richter grew up in Hong Kong and Dallas. She earned her B.Arch. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974 and joined Kipp Richter & Associates in 1989. Richter won an AIA Young Architects Award in 2001 for her role in increasing public awareness about regional and urban issues through her public radio series, "The Shape of Texas," which ran on NPR affiliates from 1998 to 2011. In 2005, Richter entered the College of Fellows of the AIA, and in 2007, she served as president of the Texas Society of Architects. She has also served as a regional director representing Texas on the AIA's National Board of Directors. Currently, she not only serves as the AIA president but also maintains her position as principal of Corpus Christi, Texas–based Richter Architects.

ARCHITECT spoke with Richter about her background, how she is juggling her new position with responsibilities at her firm, what the AIA has in store for her 2015 term, and the future of architectural education.

Tell me about your practice, Richter Architects.

It’s a midsize company and we've had a lot of opportunities to hone our skill and talents on a wide variety of projects and clients. We've been really lucky, too, that our work has been recognized for our design and our contribution to the profession.  We've received design awards: state, local, and some national, including a National AIA Honor Award for Architecture in 1999 for the Brooks County Safety Rest Area in Texas. We also received Architecture Firm Award from the Texas Society of Architects in 2011.

What are some projects the firm currently has in the pipeline?

Our firm philosophy is no matter how big or small a project is, there's always an essence about a project that calls for people to include the environment that makes it really special. As far as our work goes, we've designed higher education academic buildings, research institutes, museums, visitor centers, performing arts theaters, science and technology buildings, and a lot of transportation projects. Currently we are working on three ports of entry, two in Texas and one in New Mexico under the General Services Administration Design Excellence Program. The firm is also working on a visitor center for the Texas Historical Commission, a safety rest area for the Texas Department of Transportation, some industrial administration buildings, and a master plan for a living history center for the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

How involved have you been in the firm’s activities since taking over as AIA president?

I have extended my work week to a full seven days. As for this year, I will primarily focus on providing design influence and business management [at the firm] while I'm serving as AIA president. While I'm away on AIA business, I stay connected with the firm through email and phone calls. So I am still pretty active in the firm. I'm excited about being able to do that.

What are some of your specific goals for your position as AIA president over the next year?

An overarching goal is to help build a very strong profession that is in high demand locally and globally. I believe we have to be globally competitive as well as strong in domestic markets. I'm so passionate about this because I believe our work has a great impact on people’s everyday lives. The minute we get out of bed, we are surrounded by architecture. As architects we are trained to imagine what isn't out there yet. Realizing what is in the future is when our work becomes real. No matter how humble your setting, I believe we can always find and express the beauty and the delight that our work can bring. It's totally worth dedicating a lifetime to it. It's important that we share this love of architecture because I think the more people realize the impact of architecture on their daily lives, the more they are empowered to help shape the quality of life and the narratives that become a record of our culture.

What are some of the initiatives and key areas that AIA is going to be working on this year?

We started a public outreach campaign [the “I Look Up” campaign] to elevate the dialogue about architecture and its impact on our everyday lives, and to help people understand a little bit more about what we, as architects, do. We're also hoping to raise more awareness about how design can help promote health and prevent diseases, and help in more active living. Another area is resilience. We're very much involved in creating a more resilient strategy to help communities to build strong and to build well and to prepare before disasters strike, and then to be able to recover as soon as possible. And of course sustainability is still very much a part of what we care about going forward.

Looking to the future of the profession, what are your thoughts on NCARB’s exploration of a new integrated curriculum as a potential pathway to licensure upon graduation?

I think it’s really a good thing to explore. I know that for many years it has taken a long time between education and training, and then the exam, before you can get your license. As a pilot program, it’s really good to test out—how can we integrate the training with the education? I hope they will be able to involve more firms for practical training during education. That could be a real plus. One thing about education that, to me, is worth exploring is how we can better provide architecture education that is more accessible and more affordable, and how can we use technology by working with firms so we can help integrate firms with academia to build a more concrete training program for new architects.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Check out Richter's AIA Perspective piece in our January issue.