Architect as Leader

Lead by ExampleHow many times have you told someone who is not in the A/E/C industry that you are an architect and they remark how exciting that must be and how they too wanted to be an architect, all the while imagining George Costanza on Seinfeld. Although the profession of architect is somewhat romanticized in popular media with characters juggling building models and rolls of drawings while handling one crisis after another, it is no surprise that architects are held in high regard by the general public. People see an architect as someone they can trust, an advocate for the client without ulterior motives. We, as a profession, tend not to take full advantage of this high regard that the public has for us.

Who says architects make good leaders anyway? Are architects any better at leading than everyone else…? I do not have all the answers but I do know that we have spent a large part of our careers solving complex problems while leading teams of stakeholders with different agendas. Think of any project, no matter the size, and there is typically an architect managing the engineers and consultants on the design side and contractors and subs on the building side while dealing with the client and making sure the project is moving forward. We are trained to think of every possible issue, whether it be code, budget, constructability, long term maintenance just to name a few.

I have had the privilege recently of participating in two programs sponsored by AIA Illinois, Advocacy Boot Camp (ABC) and The Leadership Institute. Both programs helped me better understand what we as architects can and should do to be leaders in the profession and society as a whole. These programs led me to participate in the annual AIA Illinois Prairie Grassroots trip to Springfield. On this trip over 100 architect members of AIA converge on the Illinois capital and lobby our elected officials regarding specific issues important to the industry. This led me to volunteer to be a District Champion, a fancy title that means when there are important issues that need attention, I can follow up with the elected officials in my personal voting district. Despite my current involvement, I regret that I am unable to commit to doing more. Thankfully there are people more committed than myself that are keeping the organization moving and working on behalf of all architects regardless of their involvement in AIA.State Capitol Interior Dome, photo John Hartnup

We cannot be everywhere all the time, but we can be somewhere. Architects can advocate for a local community garden, volunteer for a local zoning review committee, join a Design Review Commission. Chances are there is an outlet or an organization that aligns with your particular interests right in your neighborhood and if there isn’t, create one.  It’s what we do.

Profile photo of Joe Villanti About Joe Villanti


Joe Villanti, AIA, Founder of baselab., a full service architecture design studio, has been been practicing architecture in Chicago for over 15 years.   Mr. Villanti specializes in mixed-use urban infill projects with a focus on sustainable high performance buildings. In addition to new construction, baselab., is adept at adaptive re-use including historic renovation and commercial and retail construction.

A big proponent of BIM, building information modeling, baselab. utilizes Archicad software by Graphisoft, a leader in the BIM software arena. There has been a lot of dialogue in the industry with regards to new methods of project delivery, specifically Integrated Project Delivery. IPD as it is referred to, coupled with BIM to achieve sustainable high-performance buildings, is said to be the path to the future of our profession. As an architect and a firm leader it is issues like this that are so important to the future success of baselab.. To stay in front of the wave, or better, to know which wave to catch is of vital importance.

More about Joe at Architizer


  1. This qualifies as a “Duh” comment, but here goes:
    Leadership qualities aren’t concentrated in any one – or more than one – profession. One could make the same points about lawyers as this article makes for architects, and we all know how badly they’re doing at leading our cities, states and the nation.
    Here in San Diego, I was originally excited when architect Ron Roberts was elected to the county board of supervisors. But he hasn’t done any better – or worse – than any of the other supes. And, of course, there are mediocre archtects just as there are mediocre … anythings.