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AIA Design Voice

By Eva Schone, AIA, LEED AP

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

Early on in my career as a young architect it became evident to me that my personal mission and goals are strongly interlinked with those of my professional life and this realization caused me to turn apparent challenges into potential opportunities and to find ways to actively contribute to my community.

I see it as my personal responsibility and obligation to contribute to society through my work as an architect. I want to apply my education and creative skills and talents to assist in solving some of the problems we face as a society and as a community. When I entered the work force full-time after graduate school in 2004, I realized quickly that it would be very challenging to establish myself in the work place as a capable and dedicated young architectural intern, prepare for the licensing exams after long work weeks, to live a decently healthy life style, as well as to contribute to my community. But I also knew that I did not want to limit my community service to the required IDP hours or wait many years to give back to my community – I want community service to be a significant and consistent part of my career. When relocating to Austin in 2006 I made it one of my top priorities to find a firm that was supportive of my mission and goals. I earned my architectural license in Summer of 2008 and when I joined the AIA as a licensed architect shortly thereafter, it was important to me that I felt represented by my professional organization. After attending several community meetings and workshops related to affordable housing and community building, the time seemed right to approach the local AIA chapter together with my boss and a couple of like-minded architects to propose a ”Community Action Group” – a group of architects and designers who’s goal it would be to give back to the community - with an initial focus on affordable housing. AIA Design Voice was born and initiated in January 2009.

It is the mission of AIA Design Voice (AIA DV) to enable the greater design community to connect and collaborate with organizations and individuals interested in and engaged in housing advocacy, development and community building in Austin. AIA DV wants to be a valuable resource and action group that furthers the community involvement of the AIA chapter. AIA DV works with the community organizations in developing a program, assisting in outlining specific goals and tasks and estimating the amount of volunteer time required. The information gets distributed to AIA members and community forums as a call for volunteers. Interested design professionals with matching interests, skills, and available time frames contact AIA DV which matches them up with the community organization in need. In year one of AIA DV, volunteers assisted a non-profit with space planning and subsequent installation of space dividers for a two-week long Back-to-School event which served 150 families a day. The event took place in an empty big box building and AIA DV supported community leaders in receiving permission for the temporary use of the building. We also collaborated with an affordable housing advocacy organization to design and build a physical model that is used to discuss neighborhood planning, density, and open space. We are working with high school students interested in architecture to give them close up looks at the world of architecture. We have collaborated with other AIA Austin committees on presentations for a summit on affordable housing and we are in the process of assembling a resource database of affordable housing projects and best practices. We are enthusiastic supporters of Public Architecture’s national 1% Pro Bono Program and will log AIA DV hours through their website. We would be very happy to share our organizational setup and experiences with other AIA chapters.

In conclusion and based on my personal experiences, observations, and discussions with like-minded individuals inside and outside of the profession, I believe that it is vital to make volunteering in the design field more accessible, manageable, and to provide more opportunities to contribute 15 or 20 hours at a time so that volunteers have a positive (non-burn-out) experience and most importantly want to volunteer again. AIA Design Voice has been especially popular with current architectural interns, reinforcing the notion that many of the younger generation want to make community service a priority throughout their professional careers. I believe it is fair to say that AIA Design Voice has already greatly contributed to the awareness of the community that architects can and want to be more active participants in shaping and improving our community and that our problem-solving and design skills are as applicable to seemingly mundane tasks as they are to complex design challenges.

A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back – but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you. - Marian Wright Edelman

About the Author: A German native, Eva immigrated to the USA in 1998 and is currently a project architect with Hurt Partners Architects in Austin, Texas. She co-founded AIA Design Voice, a community action group based out of the AIA Austin chapter.


(AIA Design Voice logo by graphic design competition winner Marina Petric, Austin)


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