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Take Five: Repositioning, Ambassadors, Innovation Fund Among High Points at Denver Convention

By Robert Ivy, FAIA
AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer

Does high altitude produce more positive energy? It may not be scientifically rigorous, but last month’s 2013 AIA Convention in mile-high Denver abounded in positively charged events and interactions from the 16,000-plus registrants. Why? Here are a few of my own observations.

Our community of architects is starting to emerge from the economic doldrums and their increasing stability translated into a more gregarious, anticipatory national gathering. While there are pockets of resistance in the economy, America’s firms are starting to find work and are feeling more confident about the future, with RFPs (and actual contracts) allowing them to hire the occasional new employee. It showed.

The program this year, orchestrated by AIA President Mickey Jacob, FAIA, and staff, highlighted the theme of building leadership, which primed and inspired the audiences for active roles back home. TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, an authentically engaging entrepreneur, combined a kind of brave naiveté with commerce and social consciousness into a successful business venture. Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity’s (AFH) co-founder and “Chief Eternal Optimist,” almost leapt from the stage with energy, describing how AFH is changing communities around the globe. And General Colin Powell, USA (Ret.), an authentic American hero, held our rapt attention with his call to leadership, laced with refreshing Bronx-tinged irony and true-blue character. See all the highlights in AIArchitect’s Convention Daily.

It was gratifying to see the tradeshow floor humming. Architects and guests bombarded exhibitors with requests for information, because, I suspect, there is work to be done again. Even the side aisles, often less visited, seemed busy. Front and center on the show floor, emerging professionals gathered and noshed and rubbed shoulders and Tweeted, spreading their infectious karma on all comers. It was refreshing to see them repeatedly in the spotlight, taking center stage throughout the conference.

Their obvious presence was indicative of the AIA’s Repositioning initiative, which dominated much of the business sessions, and is taking hold at all levels of the AIA. One harbinger, and a strong one, of this change was announced from the big stage—the repositioning of the AIA’s Gold Medal. While the medal has long a subject of discussion, from 2014 onward, two people can now qualify for consideration for our most prestigious award, signaling a shift from the profession’s long-held insistence on recognition of a single individual. This collaborative medal should be more consistent with contemporary architectural practice. But it took Repositioning the AIA to get it passed.

Repositioning is taking hold. As this was being written, we had 39 people who volunteered to serve as Repositioning Ambassadors, self-designated change agents assisting chapters and components in priority-setting sessions and helping to apportion Repositioning Innovation Fund grants based on programs submitted by 65 components. The recipients of the Innovation Fund will be announced in August at the component executives’ annual meeting in Atlanta.

Kotter International, perhaps the premiere international consultants in change management, is on board, helping to grasp the momentum and make AIA Repositioning initiative come to pass. Already we are seeing the fruits of these efforts, as components like AIA Colorado make commitments to change their own governance and readjust priorities for a new century.

So was it in the air? In the pure Colorado water? Or just an illusory Rocky Mountain high? I don’t think so. This association of visionary professionals came together in Denver to recharge, found energy in each other’s company, and left ready to tackle a packed agenda of work at home, and build a better world. Our practices are changing, and our association is too.

Meanwhile, we are hard at work planning for the AIA 2014 Convention in Chicago (the Windy City), June 26-28. Wind energy, anyone?


Robert Ivy, FAIA

Photo: ©Vincent Ricardel


Back to AIArchitect July 26, 2013

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