With the A'22 Conference on Architecture scheduled from June 22 to 25, elections for The American Institute of Architects new board leadership are upon us. From June 10 to 14, accredited AIA delegates will cast their votes for the Institute's national level leadership and, in the event of a runoff, a second round will take place from June 15 to 17. These delegates, each selected by their local chapters, must be AIA members—Architect, Emeritus, Associate, or International Associate—in good standing.

As is tradition, ARCHITECT asked each candidate running for elective office about their qualifications, platform, and outlook on the profession. Below, you will meet Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, and Evelyn Lee, FAIA, the two candidates running for the dual role of 2023 irst vice president/2024 president-elect. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. You can also find videos of the candidates presenting their platforms at the end of this article.

Kimberly Nicole Dowdell

Kimberly Dowdell
Danielle Eliska Lyle Kimberly Dowdell

Title: Principal, HOK
Local AIA component: AIA New York
Leadership Roles: AIA New York Nominating Committee Member (2021); AIA Chicago EVP Search Committee Member (2021); AIA New Urban Agenda Task Force Member (2019-2022); AIA Equity and the Future of Architecture Committee Member (2019-2020); Architects Foundation Board of Directors (2021-Present); Chicago Architecture Biennial Board of Directors (2021-Present)

Why do you want to hold this leadership position at AIA?

I wish to serve as the 2024 AIA National President because I believe that I am uniquely qualified to build upon the momentum created by my predecessors, while also unlocking new possibilities for the Institute and the entire profession of architecture. I have been a member of AIA for over 15 years and have contributed in meaningful ways both locally and nationally. I have also served as a national president of a peer organization, the National Organization of Minority Architects. My experience in that leadership role not only provided significant preparation for the national presidency of AIA, but my contributions to NOMA during my two-year term had an undeniable impact on both NOMA and our profession. While AIA and NOMA are organizations of different sizes with different scopes of work, one thing that they have in common is a tremendous amount of potential to advocate for the power of architecture and support members in their pursuit of fulfilling careers. I want the great responsibility and privilege of raising the profile of the architect on the world stage as the 2024 AIA national president. I would also be profoundly honored to serve as the first African American woman to be elected national president in AIA’s 165-year history. The significance of such an election would mean a lot to the people in our profession who have struggled to see themselves represented in leadership. I believe that representation matters, and I am well positioned to represent all architects in our collective pursuit of a more prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable future.

How have your experiences prepared you for this role?

I have been preparing for this role since I was seven years old. That was when I was first elected president of the youth usher board at my church in Detroit. At that point in my life, I wanted to become a doctor because I wanted to help people. Several years later, at age eleven, I made an important decision to pivot toward architecture. This was driven by my desire to help people at a larger scale, at the urban scale. I wanted to get involved with transforming the then boarded-up buildings in downtown Detroit, thereby improving the quality of life for Detroiters who were negatively impacted by the blight and disinvestment that was characteristic of so much of the city at that time. My passion for design prompted me to pursue a scholarship to attend boarding school at Cranbrook Schools in suburban Detroit. I continued my pursuit of architecture as a B.Arch. student at Cornell University, where I took planning, art, real estate, and government classes to round out my education as a future city builder. I served as president of my sorority’s chapter and was recognized among the top 1% of leaders in my senior class at Cornell.

Once my professional career began in 2006, I created the concept behind what is now known as the SEED Network, which has a mission to advance the right of every person to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community. This idea emerged from my experience as a summer intern with the General Services Administration, where I was first exposed to public service at the federal level. While I have spent most of my career in the private sector, I appreciated my public sector experiences with GSA and the City of Detroit, where I worked for a year following my graduation from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow in the Center for Public Leadership. Earning my Master of Public Administration helped me to better understand the importance of policy design and coalition building, which will serve me well as AIA President.

I also owned a small design firm and other businesses that have given me a solid understanding of the challenges and opportunities that accompany entrepreneurship, particularly in the design field. I spent several years working as an owner’s representative in New York, hiring and managing architects on behalf of my clients. In addition to my recent leadership of NOMA, where I worked to cultivate our 80-plus student chapters, I taught graduate design studio and urban planning at the University of Michigan for several semesters. Through these experiences, I have maintained connectivity to the desires, concerns and great potential of our future architects, who have so much to contribute.

I currently work in the context of a large global design firm, HOK, where I am a principal and co-chair of the firmwide Diversity Advisory Council. All of these experiences informed my successful tenure as NOMA President in 2019 and 2020, where my administration more than doubled our membership and established several new programs and initiatives that would significantly raise NOMA’s profile in the industry. I have been entrusted with leadership roles at various levels over the past 30 years and I would submit that my range of diverse experiences coupled with the consistent success that I’ve had in leadership makes me particularly well prepared to serve at AIA’s 2024 national president.

What key issues do you hope to address in this role?

As we envision the future of AIA, we have to focus on a select set of priorities in order to achieve the great possibilities that we know are within reach. In alignment with the 2021-2025 AIA Strategic Plan, I wish to advance a platform that prioritizes advocacy for:

  • architects in practice
  • belonging in the profession
  • climate action
  • designing for the future

I believe that the 21 AIA Knowledge Communities represent a huge amount of potential that can be more effectively leveraged to advance our collective goals as a profession. As AIA President, I would like to better understand how AIA can support our Knowledge Communities in their work and take action to make progress. With over 200 chapters in the U.S. and abroad, I would also seek to establish meaningful connections with chapter leaders to support them in facilitating great membership experiences for our 94,000-plus AIA members.

What are the greatest challenges facing architects today? How can AIA respond to them?

I often give lectures that feature a statement that I think more people need to understand, which is, “architects can see the future.” It may not seem obvious at first, but if you really think about it, this is a very special skill that most people do not have. Unfortunately, our value as architects is deflated for several reasons, which reduces our earning potential as a profession. One of our greatest opportunities for growth is to promote the value that architects bring to the table. Not only will that help to increase our earning potential, but it will also help us to attract new talent into the profession and retain that talent in a very competitive job market. We do not frequently discuss the prosperity of the architect, but I believe that we must do this in order to address our vulnerability as a profession. While prosperity is generally associated with income, I would challenge us to think about how AIA can help promote a greater sense of fulfillment among our members, which could include money, but it could also include a better work-life balance, interesting work, and mission achievement. In addition to being stronger advocates for the value that architects can create, AIA can do more to connect our work to that of other professionals who are also seeking to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. For example, the more collaboration that we can foster between our profession and others that are actively working on climate action, the better results we will all have as silos are broken down. AIA is well-positioned to initiate conversations with other professional organizations to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems. As AIA president, I would actively seek out strategic conversations that not only help prosper the architect, but also protect the communities that we all serve.

Evelyn Lee

Evelyn Lee
courtesy AIA National Evelyn Lee

Title: Senior experience designer, Slack Technologies; founder, Practice of Architecture; co-host, Practice Disrupted Podcast
Local AIA component: AIA San Francisco
Leadership Roles: Treasurer, AIA National Board (2020-2021); At-Large Director, AIA National Board (2017-2019); Chair, AIA National Young Architects Forum (2017); Vice-Chair, AIA National Young Architects Forum (2016); AIA CA Representative, AIA National Strategic Council (2015-2016); PR Director, AIA National Young Architects Forum (2014-2015); AIA CA Regional Director, AIA National Board (2014); Vice President of Communication and Public Affairs, AIA CA ExCom (2011-2012); Associate Representative, AIA National ExCom (2008); Associate Representative, AIA National Board (2007); Vice President of the Academy for Emerging Professionals, AIA CA ExCom (2006-2007); Chair, AIA National Associates Committee (2006); Regional Associate Director, AIA CA Board (2005); Associate Director South, AIA CA Board (2004). (The above are elected volunteer positions; for the complete list, please visit aia.evelynlee.com)

Why do you want to hold this leadership position at AIA?

AIA has helped me find my voice in the profession. I want to help the profession find a more significant voice within our global community.

I often refer to AIA as my extended family. From the time I first visited AIA Orange County in 2003 in search of an IDP (now AXP) mentor, the AIA and its members:

  • have been there to encourage me to get a license
  • provided a supportive community to grow as a leader in my career, even in a non-traditional role
  • and push me to think critically about the future challenges and opportunities for architects.

AIA National finds itself in transition with a new executive director and first VP; a large AIA Headquarters renewal project addressing climate action and equity within the profession; a new state structure for the Strategic Council, the Young Architects Forum, and the National Associates Committee; and the necessity to create new revenue streams.

I have nearly 20 years of volunteer leadership experience in the AIA and a record of being a catalyst for change within it. I'm uniquely positioned to ensure successful transitions honoring the organization's history and legacy and helping it chart a new path forward that further elevates the collective voice of our members.

How have your experiences prepared you for this role?

At each stage of my career within the Institute, I have taken the opportunity to create meaningful change with, and in support of, the AIA community.

As chair of the National Associates Committee, I led a campaign to change AIA's Public Position statement on architecture licensure, encouraging concurrent experience and examination. The revised position statement created a more significant conversation for the profession to seek ways to shorten the licensure path.

As chair of the Young Architect's Forum, I reimagined the quinquennial Young Architects Forum Summit as the first Practice Innovation Lab. The lab positioned the YAF as the voice of the profession's future. The program continues to have legs through the YAF’s handbook on “How to Facilitate the Practice Innovation Lab” and its successful rollout across seven states.

As treasurer of the National Board, I led the research and decision for AIA to move its long-term equity and fixed-income investment portfolio to 100% sustainable investments in alignment with the strategic plan goals of climate action. The finance committee is currently working on creating resources to help other components do the same.

As the Institute's 100th president, I understand members' and national staff's complex needs and priorities and can craft solutions that bridge both. I will continue to work collaboratively to design innovative programs and implement successful initiatives that will continue to position architects and the profession for the future beyond the tenure of my term.

What key issues do you hope to address in this role?
We are better together. At 94,000-plus members strong, we are the largest design organization globally, and our collective voice can create real change at scale. AIA can better empower our members through technology and programs to connect across components so we can bring together our expertise to be better positioned to solve problems within the global community regularly.

The AIA is positioned to build upon the foundational work of the 2021-2025 AIA Strategic Plan goals of climate action for human and ecological health and advancing equity. We can do this by helping our members access the tools and research available and providing additional implementation support for resources such as the AIAs Framework for Design Excellence, Guides for Equitable Practice and its supplementary editions, and the findings from the 2021 UC Hastings report,The Elephant in the (Well Designed) Room.

Finally, we can continue to grow in influence, helping the public recognize our capabilities through design thinking by re-engaging individuals who have followed non-traditional paths and reimagining our role as architects.

What are the greatest challenges facing architects today? How can AIA respond to them?

Over the past few years, we have had to adapt to continuous change. Over the next two years, how we evolve coming out of the pandemic will be critical to the profession’s future success. We face a talent shortage and a looming demographic cliff that will require us to increase the pace of change to ensure architects can meet the needs of a changing society.

Now is the time to reimagine our practices to become a more agile profession, ready to meet the growing demand for design thinking in the critical years ahead. As problem solvers and critical thinkers, architects are needed more than ever to meet these new challenges. AIA can be the resource for transforming practice, diversifying the value we bring as architects, and promoting the importance of design to the public.