Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Emerging Professionals Questions for AIA National Election Candidates
Gabriel Durand-Hollis, FAIA (AIA San Antonio) Candidate for AIA 2015 First Vice President/2016 President
1. What are specific examples of things you have done in your own professional activities and in your local component to build future leaders and promote active participation in the AIA by emerging professionals?
Whether it’s participating in “Fun with the Fellows,” or something more serious like nominating one of our firm’s associates, Camilo Parra, AIA, for the Young Architect award (which he ended up winning at the state and national levels), I’ve liked leading a firm that has created an atmosphere of opening doors for emerging professionals over the years. It is so great to see these young architects we’ve launched winning awards, or establishing their firms, or attaining a major position after getting their license.
Our firm is also quite diverse, with an equal male-female ratio, in addition to being 50 percent Hispanic. We are known as being a women-friendly firm, and we consequently benefit from that array of talent. More recently, it has been my honor to encourage and nominate architects for the College of Fellows. So in addition to those specific examples, I would expect that they pass it on in doing their own mentoring and encouragement as they continue to grow in their careers.
2. Where do you see voids in representation of emerging professionals within the Institute and the profession, and how could filling those voids improve career development for emerging professionals in general?
In the AIA, we have improved in having emerging professionals on the board and participating in many activities. I would like to see emerging professionals participate more dynamically, and in greater numbers, at Grassroots and at chapter activities. I also see fewer emerging professionals at the firm management levels, or advancing in academic settings. I really think that we can do more in offering continuing education for firm management issues so that emerging professionals can use these resources either to open more doors for themselves and the firms where they work, or to go out on their own and set up their own shops. Learning how to attach more value to what we do and getting paid commensurately for that will help make all of us more prosperous, and increasing the resources available at the local level is a vital way to make that happen.
3. While the National Design Services Act (NDSA) is one step, how else can the AIA take leadership in reducing the problem of skyrocketing tuition and student loan debt, and the non-linear relationship these have to low early-career salaries that are saddling our profession’s emerging professionals with significant financial hardship?
Those of us who entered architecture as a profession in the past few decades might count ourselves lucky when we see the size of the student loans future architects are taking out, just to complete their schooling. It’s sobering and overwhelming, and no doubt keeps people actively out of our profession who would have added talent and energy, but they just can’t afford it.
Beyond the proposed NDSA legislation, there are proposals to provide work incentives and credits towards fulfilling the NCARB requirements at an accredited school. This may lead to improvements such as lower debt, more relevant work experience, and a better or quicker way to pay off student loans. If the profession is seen as more prosperous, we will have a greater ability to attract new architects. Employers might offer tuition reimbursements, thereby reducing student loan debt. Our firms and our membership needs the fresh talent young architects offer, and as firm owners, we need the full attention of our emerging professionals as employees, undistracted by having to take second jobs to pay back their student debt. As a member of the NAAB accrediting team, I anticipate evaluating other ways to reduce or control the costs involved in architecture education.
4. In what ways do you see the AIA more effectively educating the public on the importance of good design?
Even during the American Revolution, Ben Franklin made it clear to the original colonies that their strength was enhanced by a unified approach, not going forward separately.
Once we get past this decision stage on what our internal Repositioning looks like – we should very proactively focus and array all of our apparatus, our communications, magazines, convention, everything, in an integrated effort to tell the good stories where architecture created value, where we made life better, where we did something that no other profession can do. (Sort of a “Got Milk?!” campaign for the practice of architecture itself.) This positive message will filter into the public’s awareness, and in so doing, ultimately create greater demand for our services. When that happens, our members will become more prosperous.
We need to take charge of the current conversation. Instead of defense, we should be on offense. This goes for all our public-facing communications. Then in the place of focusing on losing members, we will find ourselves attracting members – based on what we have to offer, and our value, not what we’re afraid to lose. I cannot stress how important this overall change of focus might be.
5. Much discussion continues to take place regarding the title of “intern.” With regard to titling and beyond, how would you propose the AIA take action to better describe and empower this essential demographic of our profession?
The new holder of a professional degree in architecture deserves a better title than “intern.” I think this term arose through playing defense again (see previous answer), where we are protecting the name “architect” at the expense of diminishing the perceived value of the professional degree. An individual with the professional degree can do a lot, and will see their value rise quickly. As AIA president, I will collaborate with NCARB to find a way to improve conditions for those who chose to succeed an architecture degree.
The recent move by NCARB to grant credit towards the licensing exam for work done during time spent at an accredited institution is a step in the right direction. I think employers are looking for the new generation’s imaging and rendering skills that are taught in school, and those have tremendous value in the profession. These are just a few examples of the value added that bring professional degreed architecture graduates into the revenue pipeline, rather than solely in an assistant role. Once again, the goal is changing our focus to concentrate intently on where (and who) brings value to the process, to enhance the standing of architecture generally, and architects specifically.