How 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.
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.