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March 31, 2020
by Kavitha Mathew, AIA
Town Hall: Coping with COVID-19 Together. Image: Center for Architecture.

On Friday, March 27, panelists from AIA New York (AIANY) and the Center for Architecture convened online to host a webinar about the local impacts of COVID-19. With over 200 viewers, the program highlighted what the global pandemic means for the organizations and their members.

Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director of AIANY and the Center for Architecture, and Barry Bergdoll, Center for Architecture Board President, introduced the 90-minute town hall with an overview of the agenda and an update on the status of AIANY and Center for Architecture operations, including how staff are working productively and remotely. Much like with this event, some of the programs that have traditionally taken place in person have shifted to online or webinar formats, and K-12 educational programming and exhibition schedules are in the process of being assessed and updated.

One main focus over the past two weeks has been to determine how members are coping with the situation, and how to best support them. To this end, staff at AIANY have been conducting a phone campaign to reach out to at least one principal at every member firm to have a conversation about remote work, resources, and how to provide assistance through this unprecedented crisis. The outreach continues, with 770 principals contacted and direct conversations completed with almost 300 members at the time of the webinar. Voicemail and email messages were sent to those who could not be reached by phone.

Kim Yao, AIA, 2020 President of AIANY, reviewed the most prevalent themes gleaned from the outreach efforts. Yao reported that while many we spoke to found working remotely, disconnected physically from their offices and coworkers, to be challenging, some still found successful ways to stay productive. Remote access to office servers or shared cloud files helped to keep teams connected. Technology platforms such as Zoom, Trello, Bluebeam, Google, Revit 360, Microsoft teams, and Newforma were mentioned by panelists and attendees as effective ways to manage projects, assign tasks, redline drawings, and communicate. Another common element to successful remote working strategy was having regular check-ins with staff, whether on a daily or weekly basis. Kathy Chia, FAIA, AIANY Board Treasurer, also noted that firms that do not currently use or have access to all of these technologies could still work productively using more basic methods such as emails, digital photos, Adobe Acrobat for markups, and Skype or FaceTime video calls in lieu of in-person site visits.

Maintaining cashflow and business continuity has also been at the forefront of challenges faced by members, made even more difficult by the governor’s recent decision to halt all non-essential construction work in New York State, as well as some city agencies putting a stop to active projects. AIANY has been in contact with these entities to get clarity on the definition of essential services and to push for payment on work completed. Firms can contact help@mocs.nyc.gov with concerns if they are unable to resolve issues with their agency contract manager. Updates from the NYC Department of Buildings on permit filing, inspection requirements and general operations can be found on their website.

Component leadership at other chapters and AIA New York State are also sharing ideas and collaborating to provide business support through webinars. AIA National board member Jessica Sheridan, AIA, continued the conversation by summarizing efforts at the National level, including component coordination, task force development, and efforts to help with business continuity and software support. An architecture school student asked about what to expect with regards to availability of summer internships. While Sheridan said that much is unknown regarding work situations, layoffs, and hiring as we approach the summer months, AIA is investigating ways to connect students and recent graduates with members of the College of Fellows for mentorship opportunities. Webinar attendees asked about leniency for continuing education requirements, which are under discussion and must also be determined by each state board of education (currently New York State is allowing licensees to complete up to 100% of their continuing education as self-study). AIAU is offering free CES courses for members.

Stimulus package advocacy efforts by AIA National are also ongoing; a summary of information is available for members. Attendees requested that AIANY help compile sources for CES credits and provide future webinars focused on legal issues and employee benefits, as well as how to apply for federal and local loans. They were also interested in ways that architects can help in this time of need. Mention was made of firms helping to design 3D printed shields as personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. AIA New York has gathered relevant information for our members on its COVID-19 resource page.

We at AIANY and the Center for Architecture will continue to determine how we can be a virtual gathering place and a repository of critical and timely resources for members. Questions and feedback from this webinar will help inform where we focus our efforts in the coming weeks and months, as we navigate the impacts of this pandemic together. A video recording of the event is available here, and any additional questions can be emailed to membervoices@aiany.org.

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