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Clark Manus’s, FAIA, Inaugural Address Inspires Design Visions of the Future that Rest on the AIA’s Historic Past

On Dec. 18, former president George H. Miller, FAIA, introduced the AIA’s newest leader at a ceremony at AIA National Headquarters in Washington, DC, Clark Manus, FAIA, a principal at Heller Manus Architects in San Francisco, is the 87th President of the Institute. Manus’s speech, reproduced in excerpted highlights below, outlines Institute priorities for 2011 and references the role of design leadership in revitalizing a community and shaping a nation. Watch Manus’s entire speech here.

Excerpted Speech: Design Vision

Many of you know the story of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which brought down the Embarcadero, a terrible disaster that paradoxically offered a unique opportunity for the immediate neighborhood and the city to become better by design.

Before the earthquake, there were those who fought for many years to tear down the Embarcadero freeway. They saw this elevated highway with its on/off ramps as an ugly barrier that cut off the citizens from the city’s greatest physical asset, the Bay, and stood in the way—literally!—of vibrant historic downtown neighborhoods. There the matter stood until the earthquake. Almost immediately, powerful business interests wanted to see the Embarcadero rebuilt. They feared the loss of this artery would have a crippling impact on their business.

The fear was understandable; however, their solution—to rebuild—had a fatal flaw: It lacked a vision; it lacked a compelling design.

Design decisions are by their very nature integrative, collaborative processes. Envisioning the whole picture—how the parts can or could connect—is the key. This means factoring in all the elements of the problem, with input from all the affected parties—including the environment!

The case for rebuilding the Embarcadero lacked a big picture approach—including economics, property values, quality of life, environment, sustainability, rigorous cost/benefit analyses, and a comprehensive understanding of the physical movement through the city.

That’s what design does: it takes a 50,000-foot view of what’s there and then aims at solutions that benefit all the existing and potential future constituencies. It’s not confined by what is; but takes a leap of the imagination to seize what can be.

Helping others span the distance from what exists to what can be is what design and this wonderful profession are about!

Guiding the long arc of history

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years on the Board, the Office of AIA President succeeds to the extent that it’s guided and supported by collaborative thinking and team work. That and a commitment not to radical annual course corrections for the sake of change, but to an appreciation of the long arc of history, our eyes ever fixed on design and the challenge to provide the infrastructure to guide the profession through these tough times while laying the groundwork for a prosperous future. 

What is our advocacy program next year? To give our members the legislative and regulatory support that permits them to practice the profession’s core competency—design.

What is our communications strategy? To inform the public, clients, and decision makers about the value of design, an effort that I predict will take a great leap forward thanks to the integrated communications platform provided by the AIA’s new partnership with Hanley Wood, which will be informed and guided by the knowledge, experience, and unique communication skills of the Institute’s new Executive Vice President, Robert Ivy, FAIA.

What is our knowledge agenda for 2011? To generate and share the latest information, especially quantifiable data gathered from evidence-based design to ensure that AIA members are the acknowledged thought leaders wherever and whenever citizens gather to discuss the future of their communities.

What can we look forward to at Grassroots 2011? A celebration of the contribution of leadership at every level of this organization, and, in the days that follow, the training of a generation of leaders prepared not as caretakers of our profession, but to be agents of our profession’s transformation.

And what of our Convention in New Orleans next May? The focus will be on this remarkable city and the region it supports to explore sustainability and what makes for livable communities. And, from that, to distill lessons that can be applied around the country and, indeed, around the world.

What of next year’s commitment to diversity and inclusion? Unalterable as we seize the opportunities inherent in being prepared to address an increasingly diverse national and global society.

In architecture, more stories than we can count

Each time I arrive at the corner of 18th and New York Avenue the first thing I see is the historic three-story oddly shaped brick building into which the AIA moved in 1899. It is of course the AIA Octagon--a landmark in the transformation of L’Enfant’s vision into a great city, a chapter in the securing of this nation’s future, the historic home in which America’s architects rose to a position of global prominence, and of course a design of great beauty.

It was designed by Dr. William Thornton, who had won the national competition to design the U.S. Capitol, the legislative house of a new nation and the first architect of the Capitol in 1793.

Located at a strategic section of Pierre L’Enfant’s extraordinary design, it was intended to be the residential nucleus of the emerging city. The prestige of the architect and the Tayloe family who commissioned him would draw people to the neighborhood where their private lives and businesses coalesced into a living community.

In short order, the Octagon became the center of Washington’s social, intellectual, and political life. It’s here that President James Madison and his wife Dolley took up residence after the British burnt the White House. And it was on the second floor of the Octagon that the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the War of 1812 and establishing the protocol of peace that governs the relationship between the United States and Great Britain to this very day.

Whether or not the building has eight sides, it has far more stories than we can count including the founding of this city, the emergence of our nation, a chapter in the history of international relations, the art of historic preservation, a repository of the social customs of the time, a model of sustainable design, an important artifact of the Age of Enlightenment in the spirit of L’Enfant’s design for the city, the birth here of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the establishment of the Fine Arts Commission, the exhibition that led to the McMillan Plan (an important outcome of the City Beautiful Movement), the American Architectural Foundation, and the national home of the American Institute of Architects along with a retinue of ghosts in what is described as the second most haunted house in Washington.

With all that history within sight of the President’s office and in my mind wherever I travel, how can I not be both inspired and humbled by the legacy we all share through the American Institute of Architects?

As an AIA member, I stand in awe of everything that’s wrapped up in that building—the brilliance of its design, the impact that design excellence has on communities, and the men and women who are as much a part of the Octagon’s fabric as the bricks. That building reminds me of the difference the AIA has made in shaping a profession and a nation. It reminds me of the responsibility that I now bear.

An amateur architect designed it. A professional architect, 1898 AIA Secretary Glenn Brown preserved it for future generations. And men and women of greatness made the Institute’s and the profession’s influence felt throughout the world.

What a privilege to be another link in that history. What a privilege to be another link in that history. With your help and only with your help can I hope to be worthy of this legacy, a legacy that belongs not to one individual, but to everyone who has earned the right to be called an architect.


Clark Manus, FAIA, 2011 AIA President
Photo by William Stewart Photography.

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