On Saturday at the 2015 AIA Convention in Atlanta, the AIA announced that Thomas Vonier, FAIA, has been elected to serve as vice president of the AIA's board of directors in 2016 and as its president in 2017. Vonier, who is currently an AIA vice president, founded AIA Continental Europe and served as its president from 1994 to 1995. He also represented the AIA International Region as a board member from 2010 to 2012. He founded his practice, Thomas Vonier Architect LLC, in Washington, D.C., and later, established a base in Paris as well in order to work on overseas projects. He continues to practice, working on a wide range of projects, but focuses on designing security for industrial facilities. ARCHITECT checked in with Vonier via email following Convention to learn what the architect's priorities will be in leading the AIA.
In your candidate speech at Convention, you talked about the 2016 national election. How will you bring architecture to the forefront of public discussion?
Many of the pressing challenges we face as a nation have an architecture component. The abysmal state of our infrastructure. Ongoing growth of sprawling, automobile-dependent residential and commercial areas with little regard for environmental and social costs. Near abandonment of low- and moderate-income urban populations and neighborhoods. The degraded quality of public buildings. The shortage of affordable housing near the places where people work. Homelessness. Extreme weather. Architecture and design—aren’t they essential parts of tackling these issues? As the AIA president-elect in 2016—the coming national election year—I will lead the “Agenda for Building a Greater America
.” Let’s engage the candidates for U.S. president directly. Let’s call for action on our country’s buildings and communities. Let’s show what we can do. Let’s put architecture onto the podium and into the platforms.
You also discussed the need to expand the influence and demand for architecture. How do you hope to accomplish that?
Clients and users are the best advocates for the value of design. Let’s make a national effort to identify highly persuasive people to document what design delivers. Let’s identify projects that show how and why design produces value and sustains it. Facts matter, so let’s use evidence-based approaches, and let’s engage our best universities to do the research with us, making great case studies, especially for business schools. The “Agenda for Building a Greater America” will generate demand for architecture. The AIA’s national advertising campaign—the largest public outreach effort in our organization’s history—must stress the inherent value of design. Influence is the power to affect outcomes. Many tools are at our disposal and we have to use them all. Through the Board Advocacy Committee I now chair, the Institute is engaging with the executive branch of government—with the agencies and departments that actually commission buildings and implement public building policies—as well as with the legislative branch.
You founded and served as president of the AIA’s Continental Europe chapter and served on the Board of Directors for the International region. You have also worked on many projects abroad with your practice. What are your goals for AIA’s international influence?
Nearly 2,500 AIA members now work outside of the U.S., and many of our firms derive significant revenues from offshore projects. American design know-how is sought everywhere, for everything from hotels to horse farms, from resorts to hospitals. But we have competitors, and they are growing in number and strength. The AIA is admired worldwide thanks to our unity of purpose, the clarity of our aims, and our posture. We stand for ethical conduct, for lifelong professional learning and development, and for codified knowledge of the legal and technical aspects of design and construction. We’re engaged on a global basis with our professional counterparts. We lead in the International Union of Architects
, the world body of 1.3 million architects. We have excellent relations with many national professional bodies. Our partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce has led to architecture trade missions in key emerging markets. These diplomatic relations and export promotion efforts will continue.