Birch Thomas

I remember the first time I saw a row of burned-out houses. I was 13, and as I looked down from the perspective of a highway overpass, I was struck by the thought that these were once people’s homes. I was unsettled by the image of the charred frames with glimpses of past vibrancy. When you are on the ground level looking up, you do not always see the magnitude of an issue. It may hit in a new way when you see it from a different perspective.

The profession, and our society at large, is dealing with its own burnout. I hear from individuals who express feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and lost self-confidence—both on the individual level in their day-today work, and in the existential challenge of climate action and equity. While many issues are at play, including stress, instability, and shifting expectations, often the burden is on the individual to find a remedy, even though research shows that environment is a strong contributing factor.

When I feel my own sense of burnout or frustration, it has been the larger AIA community that has spurred me toward action. Knowing that there are others who share my experience affirms that I am not alone. Seeing the inspiring stories of progress that others have achieved allows me to reframe my mindset—and that has made me a better architect.

We now live in an age when we are used to almost instant answers, and our short attention spans require immediate rewards. When we are trying to solve the big issues like climate change, we want to do it now. We must fight that urge because creating a pathway that is welcoming, sustainable, and inclusive requires planning and collaboration.

I have been an architect long enough to ride some of the cyclical waves of economy, technology, and society. I have also seen the profession grow in numbers and cultural awareness to address structural frameworks that limit opportunity for women and people of color. With every shift and change, our profession continues to advance, albeit not as quickly as we may want.

As AIA members, we know the power of the collective, of coming together to create the change that we want to see. With our enthusiastic volunteers and champions of the profession, there is no shortage of voices, but we need to channel that passion for the greatest impact. We need your talent and tenacity along with your ability to mentor the next generation of leaders.

The pace of change will span a horizon much longer than our professional careers, but then, so do the life spans of the buildings we create. The daily work we do individually and collectively to advance the profession is our ground-level view. Every so often, we should pause and picture the bird’s-eye view and the magnitude of the change we are making over time.