Citizen Architect - Corey Clayborne, FAIA

As a former practitioner, Corey Clayborne made the transition to full-time advocacy nearly four years ago when he became Executive Vice President and CEO of AIA Virginia, where he is helping to shape the next generation of Citizen Architects. In addition to his government affairs work with the Commonwealth’s AIA chapter, Clayborne lends his voice and expertise as an appointee to his local county planning commission, which advises elected officials on matters related to planning, zoning, housing, transit, and land use policy.

Clayborne, a LEED Accredited Professional licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, has served as Executive Vice President and CEO of AIA Virginia since June 2017. Prior to assuming that position, he was an architect and project manager with Wiley|Wilson in Richmond, Va. While a practicing architect, Clayborne served in various roles at all levels of the AIA, including president of AIA Richmond, as a regional director for AIA’s Young Architects Forum, and as vice president of government advocacy for AIA Virginia. He was appointed by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to the state’s licensing board where he chaired the Architect section in his second year of service. Throughout his career, Clayborne has served as a mentor for emerging professionals and has been actively involved in the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards on various committees and as a licensing advisor. He holds a B.Arch. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and an MBA from Liberty University—a degree he finished while leading AIA Virginia.

Corey Clayborne has been using his voice to rally teams for nearly two decades. In college, he was a member of the men’s varsity cheerleading squad. Just a few years later, he was learning how to lend his energy and spirit to positively impact community, regional, and national public policy.

Clayborne’s first experience in advocacy came around 2005, when he signed up to be a volunteer leader with AIA Blue Ridge. As part of his service, the chapter sent him to Washington, D.C., to be part of AIA’s annual fly-in on Capitol Hill.

“It was amazing to walk the halls of Congress,” Clayborne recalled. “What was more incredible, though, was that lawmakers immediately saw our value and they cared. I fell in love then, and wanted to use my skills and experience as an architect to shed light on important issues to our profession.”

Clayborne was in his mid-20s, only a few years out of Virginia Tech at that point. He continued to volunteer with AIA Blue Ridge, AIA Richmond and AIA Virginia for the next decade while emerging as a leader within community. In June 2017, Clayborne made the jump to advocacy full-time. He is now Executive Vice President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s AIA chapter, where he spends a significant amount of his time lobbying state lawmakers when the House of Delegates and Senate are in session.

In just three years, Clayborne has made significant strides in transforming the advocacy culture within the membership. AIA Virginia’s political action committee has gone from raising about $5,000 a year to over $30,000 annually. In 2019 alone, Clayborne and his industry partners successfully saw through two major pieces of legislation. On March 27, the governor signed House Bill 1300, which instituted a statute of limitation of 15 years after project completion for state construction contracts and architectural and engineering contracts. (Previously, there had been no limit.) Less than two weeks later, the governor signed Senate Bill 658, which eliminated “duty to defend” language in indemnification clauses. (These costly clauses had exposed many architects to a level of liability that could bankrupt firms.)

“I am even more energized about advocacy than I was early in my career,” said Clayborne. “It’s now had to become part of my craft. I get to help shape the advocacy vision, and the team was able to get two huge home runs in one year. It’s a good feeling.”

Leading AIA Virginia is not Clayborne’s only role as a Citizen Architect. Since January 2020, he has served on the Albemarle County Planning Commission, which acts as chief policy adviser to elected county leaders on land use and planning. (Clayborne held a similar position in Charlottesville.)

Because Albemarle County has grown steadily over the last decade, the commission is busy. Meetings tend to go well into the evening, which means Clayborne sometimes misses putting his two young daughters to bed at night. His children are what keeps him going, however.

“The commission literally is shaping the future of the county, so the decisions I am making could influence whether my children decide to live here,” Clayborne said. “Will they have good transit? Will there be access to affordable housing?”

All of those matters come before the Planning Commission, Clayborne explained.

The importance of these panels is one reason why Clayborne relentlessly recruits architects to serve on state boards and commissions. Clayborne works with the governor’s office and the secretary of the Commonwealth annually “so the industry can be a resource on any matter impacting the built environment.”

Clayborne noted these panels allow architects to impact issues about which they are passionate, whether the issue is school safety, resiliency, the environment, or fair housing.

What equips architects to contribute meaningfully to these commissions?

“It goes back to design school, I think,” said Clayborne. “We’re taught to look at things holistically—to gather data, then develop concepts, and then to test those concepts. We know there are a lot of gray areas, that things are not always black or white. In public policy, that’s a really helpful way of looking at problems to solve them.”

Clayborne certainly has encountered an architect or two who is skeptical about advocacy and lobbying, but he said he believes “advocacy is not an option.” To convince more colleagues to become Citizen Architects, he tries to find what animates them. “For some architects, that means liability issues. Others, particularly architects just entering the field, get excited about broader issues like climate change and affordable housing.”

Clayborne also has come full circle. He is planning to participate in AIA’s annual fly-in this year, which will be held virtually. He also has integrated advocacy training into AIA Virginia’s Emerging Leaders in Architecture program.

“I want to continue to build a strong culture,” Clayborne said. If architects want to impact the world around them, “we have to be visible. We have to be in front of people.”

- As told to Kerrie Rushton

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Corey Clayborne, FAIA