Note: This letter is in response to “Why Isn’t Architecture a U.S. Export Priority?” by Lucy Bullivant, Hon. FRIBA, published in the Winter 2010/11 issue of OCULUS.

To Kristen Richards, Editor of OCULUS:

I was quite active in the AIA New York Chapter in the 1970s and ’80s, including five or six years on the board, and serving as president from 1984-85. I am writing in regard to the article authored by Lucy Bullivant, Hon. FRIBA, “Why Isn’t Architecture a U.S. Export Priority?” This has been a continuing problem for decades. However, in 1978 the Chapter organized the Overseas Practice Committee, which I chaired. Everyone on the committee was currently, or had been, involved in overseas work. We were united in our frustration over the lack of understanding in the U.S. State Department of the relationship between the architect and the development process. For instance, French architects, among others, were often financed by their government and could offer loans on their government’s behalf. Secondly, the State Department did not have a clue about the role of the architect in terms of specifying materials, mechanical equipment, furnishings, etc.

Our response to this was to contact the State Department’s Foreign Service Training Program. We offered our services and held a series of seminars to educate officers who were being trained to hold the office of Commercial Attaché in American embassies. Throughout the seminars we stressed the fact that it was the selection of the architect that set in motion a chain reaction of decisions regarding the nationality of sub-consultants, contractors, and the sources for specified materials. We had case studies of French, English, and other countries’ projects where the chain was well documented.

For a few years in the early ’80s I think we had some impact. However, to be truly successful I think we must become a continuing component of the Foreign Service’s curriculum. I would urge the Chapter to once again explore establishing a relationship with them — and this time keep it rolling!

Terrance R. Williams, FAIA
Professor of Architecture & Urban Design
The Catholic University of America
President, AIA New York Chapter, 1984-85