A’17 Conference on Architecture – Chapter Update

Over 16,000 architects and allied professionals spent the last few days in Orlando, Florida to discuss and celebrate the profession of architecture. The week started off with the business of the Institute at the annual meeting where bylaw changes and resolutions were voted on and new officers for the board were selected. Following the election, the next three days were full of Keynotes, CEU learning sessions, and booth upon booth of manufacturers and product representatives eager to learn about the work we are doing and ready to assist with their products and services on the Expo floor.

The 160th Annual Meeting:

160th Annual Business Meeting – American Institute of Architects


As William Richards wrote on AIA.org, April 27, 2017 AIA’s 160th Business Meeting laid bare a range of social, political, and humanitarian issues that promise to propel Institute programming—and its purpose—forward.
Several key resolutions echoed the 2017 conference theme in asking architects to anticipate the needs, changes, and challenges not only within their own businesses and design practices, but in their communities. Among the more substantial resolutions, a picture emerged of a membership committed to creating advantages for disenfranchised urban and rural poor as well as retired architects. A picture also emerged of an Institute willing to explore a specialty credentialing program that could create advantages for architects in the marketplace.

What follows is recap of the resolutions and their outcomes:

Bylaw Amendment 17-A: Appointment of Delegates addressed a question raised after a Bylaws amendment in 2015 opened the door for state organizations (other than statewide chapters) to form sections of the Institute. Amendment 17-A provided that, when a local chapter dissolves and becomes a section of a state organization, the dissolved chapter’s delegates are to be reallocated to the state organization. Bylaws Amendment 17-A passed with 4352 votes in favor, and 168 votes against (with 40 abstentions).

Bylaw Amendment 17-B: Technical Amendments to the Institute Bylaws addressed some technical items resulting from the Institute’s continuing governance transition. Those items include eliminating references to the Public Director and Vice Presidents (both defunct positions), eliminating obsolete text related to the selection of At-large Directors, and eliminating references to Governance Policies, which no longer exist. Bylaws Amendment 17-B passed with 4535 votes in favor, and 8 votes against (with 24 abstentions).

There were 13 resolutions presented with all but one passing by votes.

There was not much debate on the resolutions as presented. However there was much speaking for the resolutions beyond the initial presentations by the sponsors.

The most lively discussion of the meeting was during the discussion of credentialing. Resolution 17-4 as presented by the California Council and amended by AIA Baltimore. 

Resolution 17-1: Where Architects Stand: A Statement of Our Values, sponsored by the AIA Board of Directors, passed with 4436 votes in favor, and 90 votes against (with 16 abstentions). Responding to the nation’s “unprecedented challenges” the resolution’s sponsors adopted the text of a statement released by AIA this year to underscore the Institute’s foundational values, particularly in the areas of equity, human rights, architecture that strengthens communities, sustainability, climate awareness, and economic opportunity.

Resolution 17-2: Emeritus Membership—Proposed Amendments to the Institute Bylaws, sponsored by AIA California Council, passed with 4436 votes in favor, and 77 votes against (with 18 abstentions). The resolution’s sponsors sought Board support to amend pertinent sections of the Institute Bylaws regarding eligibility criteria for Emeritus Membership. Leading up to convention, the Bylaws required eligible members to have reached 70 years of age, be fully retired, and (in most cases) have maintained 15 successive years of membership. However, the resolution clears a path to admit retirees who were, previously, members for at least 25 non-successive years.

Resolution 17-3: Housing Humanity—Elevating the Human Experience, sponsored by AIA California Council (and co-authored by AIA Chicago and AIA Illinois), passed with 4358 votes in favor, and 86 votes against (with 70 abstentions). Citing the national and, indeed, international housing crisis, in addition to the “growing body of evidence linking poor health to a lack of adequate housing,” as well as the “comprehensive action” urged by the World Economic Forum, the American Hospital Association, and the Gates Foundation, among others. The resolution’s sponsors sought to “elevate the discussion and duty of the AIA to prioritize and develop a member engagement strategy” around the topic.

Resolution 17-4: Specialty Credentialing, sponsored by AIA California Council, passed with 2227 votes in favor, and 2096 votes against (with 187 abstentions). The resolution’s sponsors sought to establish “an inventory of principles and guidelines to shape development and implementation of Specialty Credentialing programs and activities.” Responding to “widespread” adoption of recognition programs that indicate the bearer’s special expertise in areas beyond the architect’s conventional purview as “a generalist and team leader,” the resolution posited that specialty credentialing in yet unnamed areas could “elevate the value of continuing education, while also expanding the definition of architecture and of architectural practice.” Jana Itzen, AIA, President of AIA California Council, proposed an amendment to the resolution such that the cost to earn a credential would be set in a way that allows the AIA to achieve its operational objectives without creating a barrier to credentialing based solely on individual financial resources. Sharon Day, AIA, President of AIA Baltimore proposed to further amend the resolution by adopting into its language four specific concerns raised by Carolyn Sponza, AIA, President of AIA DC. Namely that credentialing could deepen the divide among specialist tracks within the profession; it could construct a barrier to entry for small or medium size firms in competing for certain types of work. Clients, if not properly educated, might overlook other experience in favor of credentials; and, ultimately, credentialing could devalue the meaning of “AIA” as a stand-alone designation. Both amendments were accepted.

Resolution 17-5: Investigation of the Total Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, sponsored by Daniel Barnum, FAIA, and 50 Members of the Institute, failed with 4113 votes against and 182 votes in favor (with 179 abstentions). The resolution’s sponsors questioned the conclusions offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2008 about the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7. They argued that the Institute should support “a new investigation into the total collapse of WTC7.”

Resolution 17-6: Appreciation to Retiring Strategic Council Representatives and Board Members passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-7: Appreciation to Members, 50 years, passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-8: Recognition of Newly Licensed Members passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-9: Recognition of Component Executive and National Staff Service Anniversaries passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-10: Appreciation to the Host Chapter passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-11: Appreciation to Convention-related Committees passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-12: Appreciation to Exhibitors passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye.

Resolution 17-13: Appreciation of Thomas Vonier, FAIA, and Françoise Vonier passed by acclamation, with a clear majority saying aye. (Richards, 2017)

General Sessions

The following Keynote summaries are by Steve Cimino, the digital content manager at AIA:

Day 1:

Four keynote speakers opened AIA Conference on Architecture 2017, each drawing from their shared commitment to architecture’s capacity to drive positive change under the day’s theme of “Anticipate Need: Design That Cares.”

Francis Kéré, Hon. FAIA, led off with a retelling of his desire to give back to his home country of Burkina Faso. Its capital city of Ouagadougou, once a carefully planned urban environment, has been spreading wildly for the past 70 years and taking its citizens farther and farther away from the infrastructure and resources they need to thrive.

“The urgent problem in architecture today is urban growth. This is the challenge that we have to tackle.” – Francis Kéré, Hon. FAIA

One of Kéré’s goals as a young architect was to build a school in his village—something it lacked during his childhood. But, garnering support proved more difficult than he imagined. Community elders and the instructors who would make his vision come to life, questioned Kéré’s proposed ideas about materials—specifically clay—which they initially deemed “poor people’s material.” He convinced them that using clay, both readily available and inexpensive, was paramount to the village’s success in realizing a dearly needed cornerstone of community infrastructure.

Even then, Kéré had to prove clay’s worth, once jumping up and down on an arch comprised of clay bricks to demonstrate its durability and value. “If it had crashed,” he said, “they would have said, ‘We knew clay bricks were not a very good material.’ But when there was no crash, everyone said, ‘Oh, very good technology.'”

Ultimately, the Berlin-based Kéré reinforced the need for architects to instill faith in their communities. The founder of Kéré Architecture spoke of simple design solutions everyone can understand and embrace, such as using a replaceable pot with a hole in the bottom to dispense water to tree roots as opposed to a pipe system that would require much more maintenance.

“How do you explain to people, when life expectancy is under 50 years, to dig a big hole, fill it, and grow a tree that they’ll never see?” he asked. “I do that with access to information. You have to show care for your people.”

“Architecture is always social.”

Kéré was followed onstage by Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group, who cautioned architects to understand the implications of their work each day.

“As architects, we have tremendous power in the choices we make. Whether or not we intend them, the consequences of our decisions cannot be divorced from the social and political impacts they have on the public. The question is not whether we have social impact,” he added, “but whether we make humane decisions that empower the communities we work for.”

Also, he wondered whether “social architecture” was a label worth using in the design world any longer, “because it suggests we have the choice to do this.”

“Architecture is always social,” he said. “We must reject this false choice and not ask what architecture is, but what it can do.”

“What’s more important than what we’ll build is what we won’t build.” – Alejandro Aravena

His answer included a discussion of MASS Design Group’s projects around the world, including hospitals in Rwanda and Haiti built to combat tuberculosis, cholera, and other diseases through research-supported design features like open spaces, better ventilation, and natural light.
“Simple, site-specific designs can make a building that heals,” he said.

As he finished, Murphy returned to an example he cited at the beginning of his talk that illustrated the implications of an architect’s choice: Nazi architect Albert Speer’s decision to locate labor camps adjacent to granite quarries throughout Germany, effectively supplying him with enough stone to carry out his grand designs. Murphy’s MASS Design Group submitted a proposal for a Holocaust memorial in London that would implicitly reference the quarries by installing a pile of six million stones. Visitors would be invited to take the stones and carry them home, entering into an unspoken contract of remembrance for each death the stone represents.

“This architecture is radically vulnerable,” he said,” but in that vulnerability it becomes ritualized; it becomes alive. And then, it disappears. And what remains is a space of calm, a space of peace.”

Traversing the High Line

Elizabeth Diller, the founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, then took the stage to relay the story of perhaps her firm’s most famous project, the High Line in New York City.
The 1.5-mile-long park reclaimed an abandoned stretch of city land and turned it into a renowned green space, including a suspended grandstand that provides intimate views of Tenth Avenue traffic.
“This is a place where you can’t really do anything,” she said. “This is about celebrating doing nothing, which is very exotic for New Yorkers.”

In discussing the High Line, she referenced today’s renewed interest in Jane Jacobs and her work in urban planning. Though the High Line overachieved on many of its expectations, including raising billions in real estate and taxes for the city and receiving more than seven million visitors last year, it also had unforeseen impacts that Jacobs would have criticized as detrimental.

“Architecture is always social. We must reject this false choice and not ask what architecture is, but what it can do.” – Michael Murphy

“High rents have made it difficult for the neighborhood to maintain demographic diversity, which Jacobs saw as necessary to building a vibrant city,” she said.

“Once a place of tranquility,” she added, “the High Lane became a place to look at each other. It’s now a cosmopolitan mélange of tourists, executive socialites, retirees, sunbathers, fitness buffs, fashionistas, and locals, sauntering among the closing sea of open parking lots.”

Nevertheless, the “High Line effect” has gone viral. Cities around the globe are pursuing similar projects to add green space to their cities and hopefully achieve the same level of development. For these cities, Diller implores they ask themselves how to handle and properly disperse the benefits of urban renewal and growth.

“Was there something we could have done differently?” she asked. “Could the tax revenue generated by the project be directed to rental and small business subsidies? Could the city have created a land trust to defend lots that could be developed into cultural centers?”

“Looking back, it was, and remains, difficult to rebalance the interest of the future against the present,” she added. “And as architects, we step into the lifecycle of the city, and we accelerate or slow down that cycle. But what is the responsibility of architects in shaping the aftermath of urban change they have prompted, and how do we make allies and not enemies of time and shape?”

Fulfilling needs and desires

Finally, Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena dazzled attendees with a frenetic and passionate overview of a project that highlighted the architectural responsibility to not just meet needs, but desires, as well.

Noting that criticism toward architects had vacillated from “architects should move away from spectacle and starchitects” to “architects are too socially responsible,” he stated that the real answers come from a place in the middle.

“This presentation aims to dismantle, or reshape, that argument on both ends,” he said. “What we ultimately do is contribute the specific knowledge of form making, forms that are informed by very different forces like economics, politics, social, even aesthetics. How can design channel those forces in a way that can contribute to people’s quality of life?”

“What is the responsibility of architects in shaping the aftermath of urban change they have prompted, and how do we make allies and not enemies of time and shape?” – Elizabeth Diller

On a white board, the founder of Elemental S.A. outlined an example: one of the firm’s projects in Chile that sought to provide housing for 100 families with very specific space and financial restrictions. If his firm went with houses, they’d have the capacity for 30 families. If they built a high-rise building, they could fit 100 families but acknowledged evidence that those projects are cheaper in the short term but ultimately being demolished at a higher rate.

What they went with was an alternative in between: duplex apartments on top of houses. This would allow lower-class families to expand from the smaller apartments to middle-class homes if their means improved. Doing so was not an example of Aravena and his firm performing their civic duty; it was taking proper advantage of housing subsidies and expensive land that otherwise would not have been fully utilized. And, at its most basic level, giving residents a clear and real opportunity for upward mobility.

“These discussions are not specific to architecture; they belong to society,” he said. “That’s what we try to do: apply what we know, whether it’s geometry or structure.”

Because, as Aravena noted, while this was a “modest case in the corner of the world,” we will need to build for a million people per week with very little money in the very near future.

“If we can’t solve this issue, it’s not that families will stop coming to cities,” he said. “They will come anyhow, and they will live in awful conditions. Can we come up with very different design strategies that channel people’s own building capacity?”

We’ll have to forget what we were told in schools, he said, about artistic control over form. “We will have to start this conversation ourselves, and then the achievement of the middle-class standard will be thanks to the design, not in spite of the design.” (Cimino, Anticipating need and fulfilling architecture’s mandate, 2017)

In a special conversation with 2017 AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA, the former First Lady underscores the urgency of diversity, gender, and equity issues in architecture and beyond:


Michelle Obama and Thomas Vonier, FAIA, engage in a conversation on diversity, equity, and working with architects.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama made one thing clear to AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 attendees: She chose A’17 to be her first post-White House speaking engagement for a reason. During a lengthy conversation with 2017 AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA, Obama reinforced the need for all professions to embrace fresh, diverse voices from all walks of life, especially a profession as important as architecture.

In an interview that touched on Obama’s past, present, and future, she made it clear that, though her time in the political world may have ended, she sees more of an opportunity than ever to focus on inequality and improve the lives of those in need.

“One issue that I’m excited to keep working on is to help young girls around the world get an education,” Obama said. “Education, to my mind, is key to giving women the voice, the structure, the strategy, the tools to improve their conditions. Because if you change the life of a woman, you change the life of a community, a family, a nation.”

Closing the gender gap

Along those same lines, Vonier asked Obama what the quest for better work-life balance from the female perspective has meant to her.

“It’s not easy,” she said, “and it’s never going to be. The one thing I can say to working mothers out there: Don’t beat up on yourselves. What you are doing is hard, and we still don’t live in a society that supports it.”

She noted that workplace policies like maternity and paternity leave still haven’t been implemented on a wide scale, forcing progressive employers to pick up the slack and employees with influence to fight for what they deserve. She shared a story about potentially returning to her job at the University of Chicago Medical Center after having children and asking for what she felt she deserved, including a larger salary and a flexible schedule. When her employer agreed to her terms in full, she quickly realized that she would have to go back to work; progress for her as a working mother would, in part, be progress for women as a whole. “If you have leverage, you have to push for the women who don’t,” she said. “We have to start asking for what we need, and then we need employers to be more open to what work-life balance can actually look like.”

Building a diverse profession

Turning to the larger question of diversity within architecture, Vonier admitted, “Our ranks do not resemble the American population,” and asked Obama about her perspective on balancing imbalances and empowering underrepresented groups.

“That’s not just the field of architecture,” Obama replied. “Look at law, look at science, look at so many professions. The struggle is still real. You can’t start recruiting from a pool that doesn’t exist. You have to build that pool, and you have to start at a young age.”

“So many kids don’t even know what an architect is,” she added. “They don’t think about how buildings are built; they don’t know anything about developing or planning. I know I didn’t, and I was an educated kid. You have kids growing up in communities where people don’t even work, period, let alone as doctors or lawyers or architects.”

“But that’s where all of you come in,” Obama insisted, asking the architects in the room to make an impact wherever they could. “You need to go to schools, neighborhoods, communities, any place where underrepresented minorities exist, and start talking. Start small. Make a friend.”

The Obamas and architects

When asked by Vonier, “What’s it like working with an architect?” Obama praised the efforts of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects on the design of the Obama Presidential Library. “I don’t get to work with them often but our architects are so much fun,” she said. “The creative process—space, time—they think about things that we wouldn’t ever think of. We’re also closely considering the exterior, how it will relate to the community. The architects we’re working with are phenomenal; they’re listening, they’re doing their homework, they’re researching and starting to understand the South Side of Chicago.”
The crowd, some 5,500-strong, erupted into cheers after Vonier reminded everyone that Michelle’s husband, former President Barack Obama, once wanted to be an architect.

“Barack is an artist,” she shared, “though he tries to downplay it. He’s the kind of guy who says, ‘I don’t care what the living room looks like,’ and then has a thousand questions and opinions about everything. He’s someone with ideas, he’s someone who thinks big. That’s what architects do too, right?” (Cimino, Michelle Obama speaks to A’17 on the impact of design, 2017)

Day 2:

A Perkins+Will neuroscientist and two NASA design engineers presented compelling research work to a rapt audience of more than 5,000 architects and designers under AIA Conference on Architecture 2017’s second-day theme of “Anticipate Challenge: Design That Overcomes.”


Michael Bierut, Eve Edelstein, Dan Goods, and David Delgado pushed A’17 deep into the messy process of design thinking

Dr. Eve Edelstein, Assoc. AIA, discussed the advances made in measuring the influence of design on health and wellbeing. As research director at the Perkins+Will Human Experience Lab, she is an enthusiastic advocate for brain science in architecture, specifically how we mentally and emotionally process space.

“I have an audacious goal,” she announced as her opening statement. “I want to change the way we think about design. I want to change the way we apply research-rich data in our process, because with this knowledge we can change our clients’ lives.”

She asked the crowd, and the profession at large, to take a deeper dive into the human mind, as a means of producing more efficient and healthier buildings. It wouldn’t just be for the greater good of humanity, she said, but it would also lead to tangible benefits for profitability, too.

“Put simply, brains are good business.” – Dr. Eve Edelstein, Assoc. AIA

As an example, she relayed a story about being seven months pregnant and going into labor unexpectedly. Standing in the neonatal intensive care unit with her newly born child, she recognized that her own fear was compounded by the lack of spaces in such a busy unit for rest or respite. It prompted her to think, “Somebody needs to design this differently.”

And so Edelstein has. Over the last two decades, her fascination with doing things differently and saving lives through design has led to advances in how Perkins+Will factors in elements like light and color.

“I want to change the way we think about design. I want to change the way we apply research-rich data in our process, because with this knowledge we can change our clients’ lives.” – Dr. Eve Edelstein

“We know we can have real effects,” she said, “but what we need to do is understand them before the building is built.” As such, her lab has created a new system that renders cellular responses to receiving light, which helps them predict how different materials interact with each other to change the amount of circadian exposure.

Her work is not only about healthcare. Edelstein noted that while hospitals and other health-centric facilities offer distinct returns regarding comparable data. These ideas are meant to be spread to office building design and other areas throughout architecture: “What we learn about people in a healthcare environment applies to all people, in all places, everywhere that people are in our built environment.”

“I want to challenge your thinking,” she added in closing. “All of us can benefit from brain-based decision. As we look deeply inward, we can then go rapidly forward and, in a matter of years, it would be unthinkable to plan a building or a city without what we learned from laboratories of human experience.”

Seeing and hearing the skies

Edelstein was followed by David Delgado and Dan Goods, two design engineers and visual strategists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Both were art school students who were told to “go play” and ended up putting their skill-set to work answering big questions in fun ways.

“We [often] have no idea how to do the things we want to do,” Goods said, “but we love big ideas, interesting ideas, and we love to collaborate.”

Their laboratory at NASA is a creative think tank of designers who embark on captivating projects like visualizing the data coming or going from all spacecraft as a light sculpture that pulses and fades appropriately. “It really gives people a sense of the heartbeat of space exploration happening right at that moment,” Goods noted.

They’ve also gathered the sounds from 19 different spacecraft and looped them in a carefully designed space equipped with “surround sound on steroids,” giving the vessels what Delgado called “a voice, almost as if they’re saying ‘hello’ when they pass overhead.” They partnered with Jason Klimoski, AIA, of StudioKCA, to design that space as an “object of wonder”; it resembles a magic seashell that reverberates with the ‘voices’ and creates a truly unique setting.

Ultimately, the duo emphasized their desire to create what they called a “Museum of Awe,” which to them is no more than everything around us. The experiences they produce—at JPL or in their off time—remind people that the world is exciting and unique, returning them to the state of a three-year-old who is enthused by whatever they come across.

“We’re so busy all the time, with so many things required of us,” Delgado said, “and it really pulls us from the presence of seeing the beauty that could be right in front of us.”

Science and beauty

After their presentations, all three keynoters joined Pentagram’s celebrated designer and partner Michael Bierut on stage for a focused discussion about the creative process. Bierut opened the panel with a question stemming from the recent marches for science that took place across the globe: “Is design a science?”

“When we think about how these forms work with each other, there’s a great deal of work that supports that,” Edelstein replied. “And when we want to dig into why it works, then we start touching the science.”

“Does it mean I understand everything about the ephemeral reasons why we all look at something and feel a certain way?” she added. “We don’t understand all of that yet, but we do understand some of it.”

“We [often] have no idea how to do the things we want to do, but we love big ideas, interesting ideas, and we love to collaborate.” – Dan Goods

When asked if the awe that Delgado and Goods referred to can be measured, Edelstein answered that we can measure heart rates, watch breathing, and draw conclusions appropriately. However, she also reminded everyone that, when you ask someone why they love a building, “the answers are often insufficient to understand which elements of design created that feeling.” So while observing reactions is valuable, it also leads to more questions and additional experiments to determine where these feelings came from and what they really mean.

Finally, when Bierut asked his panel how beauty factors into their work and if, perhaps, beauty is simply too “elusive, naïve, or controversial” for those immersed in the scientific side of design, Delgado defined it as “almost a gracefulness of science itself.”

“The engineers are probably a lot more direct with their version of beauty. For a lot of us, we deal with visual senses all the time. But when you’re in direct science or engineering, you may not be as adverse to that word. I’m really interested in the idea of mathematical beauty and mathematical elegance,” said Delgado.

“Are we responding to the Fibonacci series? Are we responding to the golden ratio?” Edelstein wondered. “There have been some interesting studies that show preferences toward that, but is that the only thing that dictates how we feel beauty? I would say even from neuroscience, the answer is no. Our brains are plastic. Our experience changes the way we perceive.” (Cimino, Anticipating challenge and embracing new methods, 2017)

Day 3:

The final A’17 keynote session uncovers the opportunities that music, sociology, and behavioral science present architects in any client situation.


Frances Anderton (right) led a panel on the last day of A’17 featuring (left to right) Nóra Demeter, Intl. Assoc. AIA; Cheryl McAfee, FAIA; and Michael Ford, Assoc. AIA.

On the final day of AIA Conference on Architecture 2017, a panel of innovators and a famed behavioral scientist took the stage in Orlando with a theme of “Anticipate Change,” addressing what’s next for architecture and design’s evolution.

The panel, led by Frances Anderton, host of DnA: Design and Architecture, featured Michael Ford, Assoc. AIA; Cheryl McAfee, FAIA; and Nóra Demeter, Intl. Assoc. AIA, all speaking to the opportunities at architecture’s frontier. “The theme today should be called ‘affect change,’ because each of these designers is really trying, and achieving, to steer the profession in new directions regarding access and architectural expression itself,” Anderton said.

“You were probably drawn to this panel by the word ‘hip-hop,'” she noted, referencing Ford’s nickname ‘the hip-hop architect.’ Addressing Ford, she asked, “To any of us not familiar with your work with hip-hop architecture, are we talking about a style?”

“It’s something that baffles people,” Ford responded. “When I give lectures, they come prepared to hear a gimmick. I don’t believe it’s a gimmick. To me, hip-hop is a voice for the voiceless. I definitely don’t describe hip-hop architecture as a style [since] -isms got communities of color in trouble before, so hip-hop architecture won’t be classified as ‘modernism.’ It’s more of a new mindset: getting communities engaged who don’t have a voice in the process.”

Ford urged the audience to print and read the lyrics to “The Message,” a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five song that served as his entrance music, because it speaks to the sociological impacts that designers, architects, and planners have on people’s lives.

“Do not build communities that inspire the lyrics you have to ignore when you listen to hip-hop,” he said. “If you want to change hip-hop, change the architecture that inspires those lyrics.”

“Our clients are going to change; the color, gender, and sexual orientation of our clients will change. We have to be a reflection of that, or we’ll be left behind as a profession.” – Cheryl McAfee, FAIA

“In terms of diversity and bringing people into the profession,” McAfee said, “It’s very important that we meet people in their communities. Our world and our country are only as good as we treat the least of us. Our profession has to continue to mold architects that maintain that passion, to help those who can’t help themselves.”

“This country is changing because the demographics are changing,” she added. “Our clients are going to change; the color, gender, and sexual orientation of our clients will change. We have to be a reflection of that, or we’ll be left behind as a profession.”

“Discussing diversity, if you look at the composition of this panel, I don’t think you could get a more diverse group in our profession,” Demeter said. “At the same time, there is a very common theme: that we are all committed to the social impact of architecture. We as architects are social providers, waiting for clients to come to us, and we in turn offer a service. This has to change, in the sense that we have a much greater responsibility to turn to the policymakers. If we as architects aren’t proactive, if we don’t address major issues, the clients will be coming too late. We have a role in helping society.”

“We have to be socially engaged and socially responsible as architects, to try and lift people up,” McAfee agreed. “I have lived challenges all my life. I have lived the challenges of integration, the challenges of bus-ing; I take those challenges as a call to act. And I think that’s what we have to do as architects.”

Understanding the need for power

They were followed by Amy Cuddy, renowned speaker and one of TED’s most popular presenters. A Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist, she encouraged her audience of 5,000 architects and design professionals to embrace the confidence and positivity that power provides.

“When people talk about power, they think of the word ‘corruption,'” she said. “Which is too bad, because there’s a good kind of power that doesn’t corrupt. It reveals. When you feel powerful, you stand up and do something. If you see something wrong happening, you intervene. You’re more likely to see challenges as opportunities.”


Amy Cuddy, a renowned TED Talk speaker, implored her audience at A’17 to embrace the power of confidence.

Powerless activates inhibition, she said. “When we feel powerless, our bodies tell us to fight, flee, or faint.”
She relayed a story about feeling out of place at Princeton during graduate school and having to put together an elevator pitch for an upcoming conference. She nervously rehearsed the pitch over and over, and then abruptly ran into three giants in her field in the actual elevator. One of them turned to her and said, “Okay, we’re in an elevator: Give us your pitch.”

Her pitch did not go well, but it later revealed that going into the pitch with such negative feelings virtually guaranteed a bad experience. She realized she wasn’t present. By feeling so much dread, anxiety, and regret, she was projecting pure self-doubt instead. And being present and confident reveals itself to others, especially important when pitching a design or a project to others.

“When I talk to venture capitalists who are pretty good at quickly judging if something will work or not, they say, ‘If I sense for a minute that they don’t buy what they’re selling, there’s no way I’m buying what they’re selling,'” she said. “If you don’t believe your story, other people don’t believe your story.”

Presenting studies on oft-ignored elements of life like posture and sleeping position, Cuddy emphasized the need to consider how environment and personal choices affect how well you come across to others. Stand tall, sleep on your back, and sit up straight when you can, she shared, because being alert, expansive, and open makes you feel better. Most importantly, don’t equate feeling good about yourself with being boastful or conceited. “Confidence,” Cuddy said, “does not require arrogance.”

“When people ask me how to get women in the boardroom,” she declared, “I think, ‘Start early.’ Teach your daughters to expand, to take up space; to express their ideas; to show their strength, unapologetically.” (Cimino, Anticipating change means understanding your clients, 2017)

AIA Blue Ridge members in attendance in Orlando, Florida:

JW Blanchard, AIA, [AIA Blue Ridge Vice-president, President-elect]
Cory Bonham, AIA
Jack Davis, FAIA
Helene Dreiling, FAIA
Darshan Shah, Associate AIA


Cimino, S. (2017, April 28). Anticipating challenge and embracing new methods. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from AIA.org: https://www.aia.org/articles/82911-anticipating-challenge-and-embracing-new-methods

Cimino, S. (2017, April 29). Anticipating change means understanding your clients. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from AIA.org: https://www.aia.org/articles/83026-anticipating-change-means-understanding-your-clients

Cimino, S. (2017, April 27). Anticipating need and fulfilling architecture’s mandate. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from AIA.org: https://www.aia.org/articles/82701-anticipating-need-and-fulfilling-architectures-mandate

Cimino, S. (2017, April 27). Michelle Obama speaks to A’17 on the impact of design. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from AIA.org: https://www.aia.org/articles/82746-michelle-obama-speaks-to-a17-on-the-impact-of-design

Richards, W. (2017, April 27). New resolutions propel AIA forward in a time of change. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from AIA.org: https://www.aia.org/articles/82671-new-resolutions-propel-aia-forward-in-a-time

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