Conventional Wisdom: Architects Grow Beyond Green

The AIA 2007 National Convention and Design Expo in San Antonio, which drew over 21,000 attendees, was packed with many exciting events and activities. Aside from the chronic humidity and heat that is native to San Antonio, the convention was a great success.

Gore: Architects Are Leaders
Former Vice President Al Gore
‘s sustainability-themed keynote speech on Saturday afternoon was an inspirational call to architects to solve the global climate crisis. He urged us to “find the power to affect the world around us,” and be aware of “the new alignment of forces emerging in our civilization.”

Gore told the crowd of about 5,000: “Society perceives value in the marketplace. Don’t get tired; you’re needed more than ever. We’ve been operating Planet Earth like a business in liquidation; that’s about to come to a stop. Architects will solve this, especially where communities take a more forceful and visible role through affecting change in advocacy. Architects are leaders,” the Oscar-winning ex-pol declared.

Gore hit his stride at the end of his speech. “The next generation will ask, ‘Were they paying attention? Didn’t they care? What were they thinking?’ or they will ask another question: ‘How did they find the uncommon moral prerogative and rise to meet that challenge?’ The choice is ours. Civilization is asking you to play a leading role in solving this crisis. The Greatest Generation won World War II, and was transformed by that crisis. They gained the moral authority to take the long view… Darfur, HIV, AIDS, the pillaging of our fisheries and rainforests, these are moral imperatives disguised as problems. We will find our moral authority and vision to get our act together and not to turn a deaf ear, to become the next greatest generation, except for the political will, but that too is a renewable resource,” Gore concluded, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Designing the Sustainable Workplace in the Civic Environment
I moderated a panel (SA13 on the AIA website) featuring Pritzker Prize Laureate Thom Mayne, FAIA, former GSA Chief Architect, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) Washington D.C. Director Ed Feiner, FAIA, and SOM NY office Senior Design Partner, Gary Haney, AIA, discussing the impact of sustainability and design for federal and public projects. Mayne’s dramatic images of the San Francisco Federal Building and other current work worldwide captivated the audience. Feiner provided context of the goals and constraints faced by a federal client seeking to implement design excellence. Haney presented the U.S. Census Building, with a series of spectacular images (See Architectural Record, March 2007).

Sins of Omission: Unfortunately, Mayne’s presence on this panel was not well publicized, which was a disservice to the membership. I attribute this to the fact that panelist names were not noted with the session descriptions in the convention catalogue or on the session website pages, which also made selecting sessions more challenging. I have indicated to AIA that this should be corrected next year, but received a noncommittal response. I encourage everyone who would like to see speakers included with session descriptions in next year’s catalogue to add this to your online session evaluation comments. Additionally, contact AIA Continuing Education, the 2008 Convention Committee, and our AIANY Regional Directors Leevi Kiil, FAIA, Peter Arsenault, AIA, and Dennis Andrejko, AIA. Perhaps if there is enough member feedback, this will be fixed.

Working the Rooms
Wednesday night, Communities by Design hosted an event at a sprawling private home with the Mayor of San Antonio, 2007 AIA National President RK Stewart, FAIA, and other AIA leaders past and present. Many attendees had been to the Citizen Architect program earlier, highlighting the role of architects in civic organizations and politics. The Architect’s Newspaper party attracted many New York Chapter members, who celebrated the installation of the “New Practices New York” showcase exhibition. Thursday, the AIA New York State party, held at an historic theater downtown, attracted many New Yorkers, as well as all the national AIA candidates.

Friday morning’s Architectural Record breakfast, announcing the best ads of the year, featured a panel that once again included Frederic Schwartz, FAIA. Later, Jeremy Edmunds, Assoc. AIA, PE, LEED AP, moderated an informative session with former congressman and Ambassador Richard N. Swett, FAIA; and President and CEO of the Congress for New Urbanism, former Milwaukee mayor, and AIA National Public Director John Norquist, Hon. AIA. The Fellows Investiture was held outdoors at the Alamo. The backdrop was architecturally significant, and the heat barely put a damper on a very special event for all the new Fellows.

Saturday’s Fellow’s Luncheon was held at a stately former train station not far from the Convention Center. We welcomed 1995 AIA National President Chet Widom, FAIA, of Los Angeles, as the new 2008 College of Fellows Secretary on the COF Executive Committee. There was just enough time to return for Al Gore’s speech, and then get ready for the Fellows Dinner. Aside from being elevated to Fellowship, few experiences are more gratifying than seeing your friends, colleagues, and those you helped, receive their Fellowships, and celebrating their personal milestones at this special event. I had that privilege in San Antonio.