Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Member Milestones: 50-Year AIA Membership Anniversaries and the Next Generation of Architects
A half-century of architects, architecture, and a new class of colleagues to keep telling the story
By William Richards
Imagine an architect’s surprise to see the Museum of Modern Art exhibition Architecture Without Architects in 1964. Its curator—the architect, writer, and gadfly Bernard Rudofsky—presented “non-pedigreed” buildings as evidence that the world included more than just name-brand architecture. The show (and eponymous book) pitted the architectural canon against the architecture of “the everyday.” As corporate America built ever-higher towers, and magazines published expensive, iconic homes by the middle of the 20th century, Rudofsky reckoned these reference points had become too myopic and shallow to acknowledge what was important: craftsmanship and lasting contributions to the built environment.
Beyond showcasing Moravian dwellings that have anchored the daily bread run, the merchant’s rounds, and generations of families, or Zambian herdsmen villages built into the land, as functional as they are beautiful, Rudofsky’s deeper point was about architecture’s agency. The architect’s hand, in other words, is purely a tool meant to generate spaces that have a positive impact on everyday lives.
Fast-forward to 2014, and 298 architects who first joined the Institute the same year as Architecture Without Architects in 1964 are celebrating 50 years of AIA membership. AIA members like 1986 AIA President John Busby, FAIA, Colorado’s Randall Vosbeck, FAIA, and California’s Theresa Yuen, AIA, have all seen design canons discovered, forgotten, and rediscovered, like the anonymous vernacular architecture of Rudofsky’s exhibition. They, along with their colleagues who joined a half-century ago, have seen a profession remade, both in formal, practical applications and in the theoretical underpinnings that drive design. Buildings both iconic and of-the-everyday-variety have come and gone. Digital design has altered the course of project delivery. Energy efficiency, effective hydrology, and sustainability grew from add-ons to foundational elements of practice. And the historic preservation movement, catalyzed by the demolition of Pennsylvania Station (also completed in 1964), transformed the way architects approach stewardship and heritage. Those Moravian dwellings that Rudofsky chronicles? They’re in Telč, Czech Republic, and in 1992 UNESCO granted them World Heritage Site status—due, in some small way, to Rudofsky’s argument.
To celebrate 50 years of membership is to also celebrate 1,153 recently licensed architects who became architect members of the AIA this year—people like Alabama’s Corey Stricklen, AIA, California’s Christine Hanson, AIA, or Florida’s Daniel Gomez, AIA. Stricklen, Hanson, and Gomez also hold the distinction of having joined the AIA in 2014, joining the Institute at a critical fulcrum in the profession’s history, rife with questions about the next 50 years of practice. As 3D printing emerges as a disruptive technology, as new project financing models evolve, as the field of architecture grows more diverse, and as resilience augments sustainability as a more refined approach to working with nature, it’s doubtful that architects in 2064 will practice the way they do today.
What’s not in doubt, however, is architecture’s continuum. There may be quibbles with the title Architecture Without Architects, but quality design, helmed by these new AIA members, will make as positive impact in 2014 as it did in 1964—and as it will 50 years hence.