2020 Honorary Membership Recipient
The AIA recognizes the notable contributions and service of people outside of the architecture profession with Honorary Membership in the Institute.
A steadfast resource for architects practicing in the counties bordering New York City, Valerie Brown, Hon. AIA has steered AIA Westchester + Hudson Valley as the chapter’s executive director since 1996. By committing herself to non-members, too, Brown has presented AIA’s values to a broad audience and more than tripled her chapter’s active membership.
When she first stepped into the role of executive director 24 years ago, Brown was greeted with empty filing cabinets and a blank computer. With no boundaries or limitations, Brown immediately used her business administration and finance background to right the struggling chapter. She consulted with members to determine their needs and whether or not the chapter was meeting them. Her attention paid off in consistently increasing membership and attendance at chapter programs. Her efforts resulted in an honorary membership from AIANYS in 2003, an active role on the Council of Architectural Component Executives (CACE) National Board, and positions on a number of AIA committees and task forces.
In an effort to bring more attention to the work of chapter members, Brown invited publishers and editors from a number of publications to take part in a panel discussion with the chapter’s design awards committee focused on best practices for paid advertising and garnering coverage. Today, ArchPLUS magazine devotes a special issue to the chapter’s design award winners.
In 2008, when the Westchester County Department of Health announced amendments to septic system regulations, Brown worked with the county executive and Department of Health commissioner to educate them on why the regulations fell short and negatively affected homeowners in the county. The proposed regulations required an upgrade of septic systems in the event of an expansion to an existing residential building that resulted in a floor area increase of 100 percent or more or 1,000 square feet or more. Brown pointed out that homeowners seeking to expand their kitchens or living rooms would have to upgrade their systems even if they did not add new bedrooms. At the chapter’s request, the 1,000-square-foot requirement was eventually removed.
Eager to engage the next generation of architects, Brown approached the Yonkers School District to explore the addition of one or two classes focused on design to its after-school enrichment program. Brown and a team of chapter members instead left an initial meeting with school officials with a plan to run 15 to 20 classes throughout the year. Those programs have blossomed into the MLK Design Club, which engaged more than 150 third- through fifth-grade students from underserved communities. In addition, the school district introduced a Shadow an Architect Day for high school students with an interest in architecture and design in 2009. More than 50 students from Saunders Trades and Technical High School spent a morning visiting the offices of chapter members.
A valuable asset to her chapter, AIA as a whole, and the communities she serves, Brown’s leadership delivers positive change. While not an architect, her passion for the profession has led to significant growth for AIA Westchester + Hudson Valley, as well as a wealth of programs and benefits for its members.