Newsletter | May/Jun 2015

View of Prague from Visirad, watercolor by Lucia Bogatay 2014

ATLAIANTA 2015: Reflections on the 2015 AIA National Convention

by Pamela Tang
We came by the thousands to Atlanta to celebrate, to connect, to recharge, and to be inspired. We were not disappointed.

Equity by Design, EQxD, was a huge success at the Convention. It is a timely topic with broad support. Having AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, at the helm was instrumental in its success. As many of you know, Elizabeth demonstrated interest and support for AIASF's Missing 32% Committee from the beginning, attending our third symposium in October 2014 as President Elect of AIA National.

With Elizabeth's guidance Rosa Sheng was able to put the Equity in Architecture resolution as the FIRST item to be voted on at the AIA annual meeting and it won by a landslide. I will let Rosa update the community because she is our Chairwoman and has all the statistics and reports (see article above). The media is also covering this topic because it is poignant not just to women but to men as well. See video posted at the AIA's Equal numbers of women and men attended the workshops and spoke up about the need to have creative solutions to an old problem. It is a cultural shift that we can now openly talk about because of EQxD.

With our 42nd President, Bill Clinton, gracing the podium as our first presidential keynote speaker, and with our 2015 AIA Gold Medal and 2015 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion medalists, Moshe Safdie and Peter Eisenman, ATLAIANTA 2015 set the pace for meaningful discourse and action that will transform the profession of Architecture into one befitting its members and the communities we serve.

With her inimitable style and energy, AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, kicked off the convention with the theme "IMPACT". Uniting the audience with the common goal of advancing architecture's visibility and position in the world, she demonstrated how design excellence provides tangible value that positively impacts society at all levels. With the support of the AIA, architects can reaffirm the value of creativity, collaboration, and design by innovating the way we present ourselves.

Richter showcased the AIA's promotional video, #ilookup, to raise public awareness of the importance of architecture in society. As part of the AIA Repositioning Initiative started in 2013, this is the first phase of the AIA Public Awareness campaign to bring about meaningful change to remake and advance the profession of architecture and the AIA. Through diverse stories about their architects, the Convention emphasized the importance of every project, irrespective of size or prominence, in defining our collective achievements as a profession. As the 2015 AIA award projects confirmed, neither size nor program garner an advantage. Instead, recognition is bestowed on projects that demonstrate design excellence through integrated project teams and user collaboration.

Inside the Georgia World Congress Center – thousands of architects on their way to the first keynote featuring former President Bill Clinton and AIA gold medalist, Moshe Safdie.

Former President Bill Clinton urged architects to step up to the plate and channel their creative resources in a joint effort to solve the world’s problems. As designers of the built environment, our work will have a large, and lasting, impact. As he noted, there are many low-hanging fruit, but it requires the resources of our profession to provide effective solutions. Our strength lies in our ability to collaborate and work together to problem-solve, to analyze and synthesize across disciplines. Hands down, Clinton observed, a team of motivated individuals working together will always produce better results than any genius working alone.

Moshe Safdie, 2015 AIA Gold Medalist, brought the audience to a roaring standing ovation with his poem, “If we seek Truth we shall find Beauty”. Safdie both reminded us of the cyclical nature of our pursuits and articulated the fine line between the perils of our ambition and the noble purpose that motivates us. Vanity, arrogance, and gratification must be checked so that the built expression of our work can embody a validated sense of place, the ultimate truth. As Safdie illuminated, beauty is the reward, not the purpose.

Peter Eisenman, 2015 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion recipient discussed the history and current scarcity of ‘Heroes’ in architecture. With the recent loss of Michael Graves, Eisenman remembered his heroes who have been the impetus in advancing Architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, James Stirling, Robert Venturi and Aldo Rossi. He defined heroes as those who challenge convention and create cultural value. As the digital age and environmental challenges consume our attention, however, we risk losing the essential building blocks that provide the kind of transformative ideas and leadership necessary to evolve architecture. Looking forward, he stressed the value of Master of Architecture programs; M.Arch preserves the rigorous education of future theorists, practitioners, and educators and provides the necessary incubational period to focus on thoughtful exploration.

Although this year’s honorees are predominantly men, I am not in the least discouraged. Change is on the way. For every Bill Clinton there is a Hillary. For every Moshe Safdie there is a Zaha. For every Peter Eisenman there is a Meejin. At my MIT Architecture Alumni gathering at the Convention, I met bright, talented, resourceful young women ready to step up. All this would not have been possible without the sacrifices of previous generations.

We came to Atlanta to learn, to question, to be inspired, and to be recognized. We left elevated, charged, united, and ready to bring about change and IMPACT. In the words of Louis Kahn, “Even a common, ordinary brick … wants to be something more than it is. It wants to be something better than it is.” With IMPACT, with #ilookup, with collaboration, with honesty, and with heroes, the 2015 AIA National Convention laid the foundation to be something more.

View this page in your browser