About The AIAAbout The AIA
About Thomas Hirsch, FAIA: Thomas Hirsch, FAIA, is the 2011 President of AIA Wisconsin, the state society of the American Institute of Architects. There are 1,400 members and four all-volunteer local chapters in the state. Hirsch also represents AIA Wisconsin on the state building code advisory council for means of egress and accessibility.
He has his own firm in Madison. Examples of his recent projects include the revitalization and re-use of facilities for municipal and tribal housing authorities, utilizing Section 42 tax credit financing.
Hirsch graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1968 (B. Arch). He is a registered architect in Wisconsin and a land use planner. He has been in practice since 1958, when he was employed by Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, working on an urban renewal project in Chicago.
Congratulations, Thomas. You were recently elevated to the College of Fellows in recognition of your public service work. Why do you, as an architect, think it is so important to be a civic leader, to be an active participant in your community?
The built environment both reflects and shapes our cultural values and individual behavior. As architects, it is important for us to consider the social and political aspects as much as aesthetics and structure. Participation in civic functions is an integral part of my professional and personal endeavors.
As the president of the AIA Wisconsin component, a state chapter with more than 1,400 AIA members, how do you encourage your members to have a similar presence in their communities? Are there programs or events offered that provide leadership development or opportunities?
“Community service” has been part of AIA Wisconsin’s strategic plan and program of activities for years. We encourage our members to serve on boards and committees in their communities and try to match members with local leadership opportunities.
The AIA’s “Citizen Architect” program does an excellent job of recognizing members for taking on community leadership roles; and I wear my pin with pride.
Education has a large presence in AIA Wisconsin’s centennial celebration. Your component is collaborating with teachers to bring architects into classrooms, and you have a statewide competition to encourage high school students to design a sustainable school. Has there been a particularly memorable experience to share?
Our “Architects in Schools” program works to introduce architecture into the classroom by connecting teachers with local architects. Every other year, we sponsor a “Design Your School” competition for high school teams from across the state. We’ve enjoyed a great response from students and teachers, as well as the architect mentors.
In alternate years, we collaborate with elementary schools and the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center on “Terrace Town” to introduce community planning concepts for designing livable and sustainable neighborhoods.
Last year, for example, I mentored a fifth grade class along with a municipal planner over a 14-week period, covering street layout, site orientation, zoning setbacks, and water and renewable energy management. A three-dimensional model was developed for public display in the exhibit hall.
Can you discuss one other AIA Wisconsin centennial project that you’re particularly excited about?
As part of AIA Wisconsin’s 100th anniversary, we are addressing three questions. Where have we been? Where are we now? Where can we go?
A variety of activities are planned for throughout the year to commemorate the accomplishments of AIA Wisconsin member architects and illustrate the power of architecture to enhance our local communities.
We will be highlighting buildings designed by member architects over the past century that contribute significantly to the state’s rich architectural heritage. With our local all-volunteer chapters, we will be sponsoring educational programs and public lectures to enhance awareness of emerging architectural topics and issues.
Through community leadership and service, our members also are contributing to the sustainability and livability of cities, villages and towns across Wisconsin and demonstrating the power of design to create positive change.
Today, our profession faces enormous challenges in this period of economic recovery. Our centennial celebration will help prepare our members and position the profession for the future.
The headquarters for AIA Wisconsin is in the historic Joseph J. Stoner house, near the State Capitol in Madison. How does working in a historic building influence the way you approach designing a modern structure?
In 1984, AIA Wisconsin collaborated with our charitable educational ally, the Wisconsin Architects Foundation, to move and renovate the historic Stoner House. Located just a few blocks from the State Capitol in Madison, the sandstone structure provides a beautiful and tangible presence for the organization.
The Stoner House also is symbolic of the broader societal need to re-think our existing stock of buildings and see how we can revitalize them to meet current and future needs. We can’t afford to continue to throw away buildings and replace with new.
As an architect, I’ve been involved in dozens of adaptive re-use projects, some to historic preservation standards, bringing forward the character and cultural values imbedded in them while blending in new activities and technologies. Each building is a challenge I enjoy, as well as being able to delight the end users in a way that often is not possible with new construction.