I am from Austin, Texas. It is a city that shimmers on an imaginary global line stretching from the North Pole through to the South. Historian Walter Prescott Webb says this line, the 98th Meridian, is mystical. It divides the United States between forested lands and plains to the east, and mountains and deserts to the west. It has come to be the line between East and West in the U.S.—geographically, socially, and culturally. And so, Austin, in a sense, is a border town and a threshold, a complex convergence of culture and perspective.
The wonderful weirdness Austinites so passionately guard has its roots in its deep history of converging cultures. The connections between the past, present, and future are ephemeral and imaginary, yet powerful and compelling.
My service this year sits on another imaginary line in our shared history—I am the 98th president of the AIA. That synchronicity, the 98th Meridian to the 98th AIA presidency, makes me reflect even more deeply on the meaning of imaginary lines, connection, and my own responsibility.
We all take our place in a line of colleagues who came before and who will follow. That line—that connection—is imaginary, but important and powerful.
What we do daily as architects is draw lines that define, protect, delight, and inspire. Our work shows that imaginary lines can distinguish, illuminate, and bring people together.
The reverse is also true: Imaginary lines, if we are not careful, if we are not paying attention, can divide and become barriers.
That places a great deal of agency in our hands as architects, because we manifest the power of design through imaginary lines. That means we have the influence to make those lines barriers that separate us or bridges that bring us together.
When our work resonates with society, we are relevant. When we are relevant, we become valuable. When our true value is clearly understood, we have expanded opportunities to prosper as a profession. Put another way, we can do well as we do good.
We are at a pivot point, a threshold; a liminal space where things going forward are going to be different from the past we have known, a point where we must decide whether and how to realize the full potential of our society. It will not be these challenges that define us—it will be our response to them.
That is powerful and it is the magic and the superpower of architecture: to bring people together and to create places and spaces that are bridges to a better future for families, communities, the nation, and global society through design thinking.
The question we must answer through what we do, say, think, and design is: Are the imaginary lines I am creating producing division or connection?
The role our profession will play in the emerging new reality and the extent to which our value will be evident, I am convinced, has everything to do with showing our relevance. It is true, we can do good as we do well. I am convinced, for us to do well, we must do good.
What will you do in this crucial moment?
Together, let us resolve to shape the built realm, using imaginary lines, in ways that create an enduring connection to a brighter, fairer, and more sustainable future for everyone.
The power is in our hands.