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June 22, 2010
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

A number of sessions that I attended at the 2010 AIA Convention centered on how architectural education and emerging architects can sustain the profession. After listening to both academics and “young” architects and associates, it became clear to me that “Design for the Next Decade” means engaging with different communities. As the co-chair of the AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA), this was inspiring, since one of our goals is to engage with local neighborhoods in NYC.

At “Leveraging Academic and Professional Partnerships: Inspiring Future Architects,” Nadia Anderson, assistant professor of architecture at Iowa State University, discussed her objective to prevent “naval-gazing design” that is prevalent in many architecture schools. Her Bridge Studio, which won one of two NCARB Grand Prizes this year, is an interdisciplinary studio where students collaborate with local design firms to develop affordable housing projects.

Darris James, Assoc. AIA, a senior associate at Gensler and recipient of the 2010 AIA Associate Award, said he frequently considers what he can do — or what he has not done — “to make today better than yesterday.” At “Creating Sustainable Communities Now and In the Future: Lessons Learned from the AIA Honors and Awards Recipients,” James discussed his active role with the ACE Mentoring program and how he is rewarded by opening students’ eyes to what it is that architects and designers do for communities. By teaching the value of design, he argues, he is helping create an appreciation for the field and our built environment.

Almost every one of the nine recipients of the Young Architect Forum awards at the “During Their First Decade of Success –Young Architects: Making a Difference in Our Firms, Our Communities, and Our Profession” session discussed how civic involvement and volunteering as something that keeps them engaged with the profession outside of work. David Grissino, AIA, LEED AP, a senior urban designer at Goody Clancy in Boston, said that by volunteering he is able to “hear from communities what buildings mean to them.” Even at the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee’s program “Design Your Network of Mentors: Connect with Diverse Women in Design,” I overheard one mentor saying that it is “important to look outside of architecture to find what you like inside.”

At the YAF session it was stated that 25% of architects today fall under the category of “emerging.” While that statistic was not qualified, nor was a definition given for the nebulous term, it was inspiring to me to see so many designers engaging with their communities with the purpose of bettering themselves, their local neighborhoods, and the profession. As James put it, “the term ‘citizen architect’ is redundant,” and young designers are in the field proving it.

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