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Jeff Potter, FAIA, Inaugurated 2012 AIA President: Shaping a Sustainable Future for the Next Generation of Architects

Jeff Potter, FAIA, began his AIA career as president of the AIA Northeast Texas Chapter in 1998. He was president of the Texas Society of Architects (2004) and as a member of the national board of directors (2006- 2009), served on the Board Advocacy Committee, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee, and was 2008 chair of the AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education Jury.

The Library of Congress was the inspirational backdrop for this year’s inaugural ceremonies. Here are excerpts from Jeff Potter’s speech:

The Library of Congress is a testament not only to the science and the arts, but to the acceptance that inquiry and aesthetics are the foundation of culture; of a free and advancing society. Architecture is unique because it lies at the intersection of science and art.

And, the spirit of Washington, DC, as conceived by the architect/statesman, Thomas Jefferson, whose books formed the nucleus of this library and after whom this building is named, is founded on a commitment to aspirations and ethics that soar beyond analysis and expression--an experiment in community where all have a vested interest.

The manifestations of culture in the built environment--edifice and landscape--serve as markers of time, exposing with only a little mystery the dreams, desires, and sometimes fears of their creators. I've always been fascinated by commitment to ideals so durable that generations contribute to the built places, which mark, sometimes literally, sometimes veiled in metaphor, the times of their creation. Places like Deir el Bahari, Machu Picchu, Chartres, and this great alabaster city.

When we think of great centers of design, Washington, DC, may not represent the avant-garde (or maybe it does--it's one of the greenest cities in the world), but it is an extraordinary marker to the greatest experiment in community--democracy. This is a city through which policy flows--policy that affects design and is affected by it. So yes, in many ways, it is a center of design, a center of architecture. Friends, we are the inheritors of and actors in this vision--we are the American Institute of Architects.

Washington, both in its plan and character of edifice, celebrates the potential of our covenant with each other. That all of us can touch the spirit of the thing, and we all have a stake in it. Here, we look to the end of an axis, at the end of it, might lie something worth walking towards. Then, we realize that the journey might actually be the greater prize. The plan of the city suggests to us that tomorrow, we won't have to start over again. And within the fabric, we often find symbol and metaphor, proof that the designers had at least a little confidence in their ancestor's ability to advance democratic ideals.

If we weren't faced with challenges from time to time, like we are now, how would we know what we are made of? Where our limits lie? What our privileges are? I have unshakable confidence in our currency: design thinking, place-making, professionalism, inclusion, and ultimately, the pursuit of beauty.

What then, will be our marker? How will we build upon the foundations and advance the vision of our predecessors?

I believe our mark will not be recognized so much by edifice on site, but in a broader stroke: a nation that honors its landscape by building, across its expanse, in a balanced and sustainable way, ensuring the experiment has a place to endure. And for our profession, I believe that our great challenge is to shape a sustainable future for the next generation of architects.

I believe that architecture, and the propositions for which our profession stands, have always been held in high, if somewhat mysterious, regard by those we serve. I believe our culture is awakening to the meaning of design and the breadth and depth of what we do. It is time to share the dreams and successes of the people in this room, of the profession. How decision makers, policy makers, community, and place are influenced by AIA Architects. How fortunate could I, could we, be to have the pre-eminent communicator of our profession, Robert Ivy, FAIA, as our chief executive? If our stories are meaningful, then our identity will need no explanation.

The last few years have been challenging for our profession. Challenging doesn't begin to describe what our emerging professionals have and continue to face. In the coming months, the AIA will take action to not only become more meaningful to our emerging professionals, but to envision a practice future of increasing promise. The demographics of our aging profession leave little room for distraction. A smaller profession is not a supply-and-demand proposition, it is a harbinger of a diminished voice.

In the last few years, AIA leadership has been consistent in its advancement of the value of design. 2012 will be no exception--our convention, also here in Washington, DC, carries the thematic thrust "Design Connects," and will transform tonight's spoken word into experience--and you're invited.

As I look around this room and drink in with you the beauty of this extraordinary space--how it speaks to our values as a profession and as a nation no less eloquently today than it spoke more than a century ago--I would like to [read a quote] from "The Seven Lamps of Architecture," written by the great Victorian, John Ruskin:

"Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, 'See, This our fathers did for us.'"

At that intersection of science and art, we enjoy the opportunity and shoulder the burden of the aspirations afforded by this city, this Institute, and those who came before us. Let future generations look back at our work and say, "see, they did this for us."

Thank you for all you do to make our communities, our nation, and the world we share better for the time we are privileged to walk this Earth. Thank you for allowing me to be the instrument of your hopes and dreams to work for the success for the community that is the American Institute of Architects, the men and women who each day, set our course not by every passing light, but by the stars.


Potter addresses an audience of AIA members and architecture enthusiasts at his inauguration.

The 2012 inauguration ceremony was held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Potter with recent past presidents of the AIA.


Recent Related:

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

George H. Miller, FAIA, Sworn in as 86th AIA President

Malecha Sworn in as 85th AIA President


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