by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
Grassroots, the AIA’s annual legislative and leadership conference, took place this month in Washington, D.C., and was marked by rhetorical flourishes left and right. Speeches at plenary sessions and candidate forums were complemented by acceptance remarks at award ceremonies and impromptu words from the podium when the teleprompter could not keep up with the speakers.
Remarkable speeches included those of architect John Barnes, son of Edward Larrabee Barnes, who accepted the AIA’s Gold Medal on behalf of his father at the Accent on Architecture Gala at the National Building Museum. Following remarks by Henry Cobb, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, who eloquently put the award-winner’s career in perspective, Barnes fils spoke for the 500 people who over the years had worked at the Barnes firm. Unsaid was the feeling that the award would better have been conferred before Barnes died. Perhaps most eloquent was the dignified elation visible on the face of firm partner Mary Barnes, who, from her wheelchair, did not speak, but whose elegant presence captivated the room.
Also at the Accent gala, Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, and Andrea Leers, FAIA, spoke of how their AIA Architecture Firm Award was a product not only of their efforts, but of all those who had worked in their office since its creation in 1982. Recognizing former employees — and the founders’ mothers — as part of a thank you speech seemed especially gracious. Similarly, Maya Lin, following golden-tongued architectural historian VIncent J. Scully, Jr., was more than generous with her praise not only of her former teacher, Scully, but also of her collaborating architects, Kent Cooper, FAIA, and William P. Lecky, AIA, of the Cooper-Lecky Partnership, who share credit for the 25 Year Award winning project, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
By far the speech with the most impact, in my opinion, was that of Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, of New York’s 12th Congressional District, representing parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. At the opening plenary session on Wednesday, 02.07.07, Rep. Velázquez, now Chair of the House Small Business Committee, spoke of the AIA as an organization of small businesses, and addressed the need for national health plans that allow for employees of start-ups and small businesses to have the same benefits as those working at larger established corporations. She also noted how much better it was to be chair, than merely the ranking minority-party member of a House committee, if one wants to be able to bring legislation to the floor of Congress. After her keynote speech, Rep. Velázquez conferred with local AIA members.
One of the other plenary speakers, Sir Ken Robinson, doing a riff on the subject of creativity, remarked that by late afternoon, “most men have used all their words up.” The most interesting speeches at this year’s Grassroots were, notably, by women.