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Experiences: An Entrepreneur and Community Leader Guides Students into the Architecture Profession

About Sanford E. Garner, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP ND, NCARB: Through his role as founding partner at A2SO4, Mr. Garner has focused on historic preservation, master planning, project assessment, and urban design. His experiences and interests in these areas were developed through his architectural studies at Howard University in Washington D.C., Helsinki, Finland, and at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as through his work with the D.C. Preservation League and HABS/HAER (Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Survey). In addition to his professional practice, Mr. Garner has maintained a strong commitment to community service and development through his involvement with local and regional advisory councils and boards.

Sanford, you are the current president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. What do you see as the organization’s greatest accomplishments since its inception in 1972?

NOMA has always been an organization steeped in mentorship. Its uniqueness is that there is no differentiation between the generations. What I mean by that is that our most senior members readily interact with college students both socially and professionally.

At our annual conventions, we plan our events so that we all readily interact with one another through-out the conference. Additionally, our drive to mentor young professionals has inspired the development of our Student Design Competition, which has become a huge hit over the years.

And where do you see NOMA heading over the next 40 years?

We are interested in further developing our mentoring opportunities as is evidenced by Project Pipeline (an architectural summer camp for middle and high school students) and leadership development opportunities for our professional and student membership.

We also strive to increase the number of licensed minority architects via support groups (both electronic and physical) and by offering Architectural Registration Examination (ARE) study material, which can be loaned out.

The AIA Diversity and Inclusion team and NOMA continue to partner on the path toward increasing the diversity and inclusion of the architecture profession. What are some of NOMA’s signature programs and projects, either nationally or locally?

Our two signature programs are Project Pipeline (our version of architectural summer camp geared toward middle and high school students), and our student design competition, which is juried every year at our annual conference. More recently, we’ve added a community service project on the Wednesday before our annual conference officially starts.

You recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion focused on corporate culture during the National Urban League’s Black Executive Exchange Program (BEEP) Leadership Conference. What was the purpose of that conference?

The purpose of the BEEP conference was to expose African American students to Black executives and allow then them to have the opportunity to engage in open and honest dialogue about the workplace. The setting provided these wonderfully talented students a platform to discuss transitioning into the workforce, workforce expectations, challenges, and the like in an open, yet protected, forum.

The feedback we received from the students was that they found it incredibly informative, while I and other presenters found it refreshing, engaging, and wonderfully invigorating.

What do you see as most important about establishing a relationship with the National Urban League?

First and foremost, I would say relevancy to the younger generation. As the conference is focused on students, it’s their show, if you will. We respond and react to their concerns and needs, not the other way around.

Additionally, I was able to engage with young minorities and expose them to the profession of architecture and entrepreneurship. What I found most interesting was that, while I represented the AIA, I was the only entrepreneur/business owner there. Furthermore, there wasn’t a single design or construction student at the conference—which leads me to say we really have to push our exposure with the organization as a whole.

Aside from being president of NOMA, you are founding partner and president of A2SO4 in Indianapolis. One of your firm’s core disciplines is historic preservation, and your headquarters is moving to a 132 year-old former Catholic church that has been vacant for 25 years. Tell us about that project.

It’s over budget and behind schedule. Seriously though, the project, called A2@St Joe, because we are renovating St. Joseph church, a decommissioned Catholic church, allows me to combine all of my passions: architecture, history, preservation, and urban design.

The concept of redeveloping a historic, vacant church in downtown Indianapolis prompted my fascination and my enthusiasm. We’re shooting for the project to be LEED NC Silver certified, and I’m using historic tax credits to help finance the project. Additionally, the move will save us between five to seven thousand dollars a month in operational costs.

You have an award-winning professional practice, were selected as one of eleven 2011 AIA Young Architect Award recipients, and served as the 2009 President of AIA Indianapolis. What’s your next endeavor?

Right now, the focus is surviving the economy and remaking my company so that we can become stronger and better. Times are exciting and challenging. I don’t think our profession will be the same, and that’s okay. We need to change to progress and grow.

While many of us may not appreciate the fact that we have to change and morph to survive in this economy, it will ultimately make us better at what we do (if we use our current circumstance as an opportunity).

Yeah, I know I’m a glass half full type of person. Outside of that, we’ll see what opportunities avail themselves in the next three to five years and I’ll go from there.

Finally, what would you tell emerging professionals about why they should join the AIA or renew their membership for 2013?

The AIA is the thought leader for addressing the professional needs of US architects. Organizationally, the AIA works tirelessly to advocate for our profession legislatively, to advance educational opportunities, and to promote the profession of architecture and the value of the built environment. Renewing my AIA membership is not an option to me, but a responsibility. It’s my way of supporting the organization that supports me. Additionally, I’ve come to develop deep friendships within the AIA community which have helped me advance both personally and professionally.



National Organization of Minority Architects

The National Organization of
Minority Architects’ (NOMA)
mission is to champion
diversity within the design
professions by promoting the
excellence, community
engagement, and professional
development of its members.

Project Pipeline


AIA Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion
remains a top priority of the
American Institute of
Architects as we continue to
equip our members with the
tools and resources needed to
remain competitive and
relevant within a changing
global marketplace.


AIA Career Stages

From architectural interns, to
associate AIA members, to
experienced licensed
professionals, the AIA is
committed to helping
architects through each career


Member Spotlight

Sanford E. Garner, AIA,
Founding Partner and
300 S. Meridian Street
Suite 250
Indianapolis, IN 46225
Phone: 317-388-8850

A2SO4 is a design firm
comprised of individuals who
strive to enhance the built
environment. They provide
their clients with the
experience of intellective
design and display the
profession in a light that
celebrates its importance to our
society. They are proud to
serve their community and
demonstrate our commitment
to excellence by providing
each client with affordable,
accurate, and timely design


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