This past Friday and Saturday I was in Lisle, IL at the AIA Illinois annual conference. This year’s gathering was titled Collaboration/Innovation, but very well could have been titled, “Wake Up Architects!” Friday’s keynote speaker was Bruce Mau, author of several books including Massive Change. Saturday’s Keynote speaker was futurist David Zach. Both men are great speakers and put forth a similar message regarding the need for architects to stop feeling sorry for ourselves about the slow economy, the pace of change, the direction of the industry… and embrace the fact that as architects we need to step up to the table and join in the conversation and start using design to solve problems. The world is looking for creative people to get involved, and who better than architects to chart this new path.
Saturday morning the leadership of AIA Illinois gave its state of the union as it were, discussing the previous year and looking ahead to the next. And once again the future looks bright. AIA Illinois membership journeyed to Joplin, MO to help with the efforts there after the devastating tornadoes that ripped through last summer. Members also worked with volunteers in the lower ninth ward in New Orleans where efforts are still ongoing to repair the damage from Hurricane Katrina. In addition AIA Illinois is starting an interesting new initiative aimed at getting more members in front of their state legislators. They have created the District Champion program aimed at getting one AIA member from each legislative district to meet with their district’s law makers. This will hopefully create a synergy at a very local level between the AIA and our elected officials. Then, when important topics are being discussed at the State Capital the membership can be mobilized quickly and much more effectively since lines of communication will have been established. It’s unfortunate that the AIA is not better at getting the message out to Architects about just how much they do for the profession. I can’t tell you how many times personally I have heard architects that are not members say, “why would I join the AIA, what do they do for me…?” The answer is quite a lot.
A seminar regarding diversity in the profession was paneled by Dr. Curtis Sartor, Dean at Judson College in the School of Architecture, Walter D. Street, AIA, past AIA Chicago President and architect at Johnson & Lee, Ltd. and Edward Torrez, AIA, principal at BauerLatoza Studio. Not surprising to most in the industry that while significant strides are being made to make the profession more diversified, it is still a white male dominated field. The biggest gains over the last twenty years have been made in the numbers of women and Hispanics in the field, while the number of African-Americans has remained flat with little increase. It will be interesting to see how this recession affects these trends as we continue to hear about the lost generation of architects due to layoffs and a lack of opportunity pushing many out of the profession for good. Add to that the rising cost of college and the amount of student loan debt a graduate is burdened with, it’s not surprising that people are opting out of architecture. The numbers speak for themselves, the average graduate is carrying over $20,000 in student loan debt after graduation. Factor in grad school and the numbers climb even higher, and the average starting salary of an intern architect is $35,000. It’s not hard to see why many recent graduates are opting out of traditional architecture firms and instead looking for alternatives. While on the expo floor I had the opportunity to speak with Jeremy Olivotti, Vice-President of Mid-States Concrete Industries. His partner manning the booth was a recent architecture grad. Unable to find employment in a traditional architecture firm he is now with Mid-States. He will most likely not return to architecture after spending years away only to start back at the bottom.
Photo by Marcin Wichary, Flickr Creative Commons some rights reserved