It seems like yesterday when I flew east to serve as the Institute’s Interim EVP/CEO.  Now, almost eight months later, my stay in Washington draws to a close as I prepare to return to the AIA California Council, my home for over thirty years.

My time in Washington has been a wonderful adventure. From the beginning, the support of the National component staff was incredible. Clearly anxious about another leadership transition, and with memories of recent furloughs and staff reductions, they nevertheless tolerated the rough edges of my learning curve and thoughtfully listened to my ramblings about saddle horses, ranch life, and an assortment of cowboy wisdom. I like to think my time with them has rekindled their optimism and trust in each other, as well for all members of the AIA’s extended family.

After all, we are an organization committed to realize dreams of wonderful possibilities, possibilities inspired by the relationships we forge in our work-a-day world. Yes, we never have enough time or opportunities to get to know all those we serve. It’s a struggle. Yet I know AIA members would be very proud of the staff and the caliber of people who work on their behalf.

Words can’t express the depth of gratitude I owe the members of the AIA’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors. Supporting my realignment of staff and programs during the interim was courageous. Their trust and leadership has positioned the organization for success. We’ve surely turned a corner and have begun transforming our culture towards one of cooperation and respect.

I started this blog shortly after I came to Washington to open a dialogue on issues of concern. I also wanted it to serve as a constant reminder that we need to nurture collaboration throughout the Institute until it becomes ingrained as part of our character and the fabric of this organization. We’ve made important strides in that direction, but we have a distance to go.  I know Robert Ivy will be looking for and will depend on our advice and support.

Concerning my CACE colleagues, I know I may not have pleased all of you all the time, but I did my best to work for your success. Balancing the interests, opinions, and needs of so many can be challenging. Dealing with the realities of diminishing resources, a growing appetite for member services, and, at the same time, making everyone happy is tough.  Who would even make the attempt? Members of CACE do it every day. 

Despite working many more hours than expected or compensated for, the AIA’s component leadership is a constant source of inspiration. Both professional and volunteer, they represent the brand, the vision, and the aspirations of the AIA, the flagship for the profession. Expected to know everything in an ever-changing world of subjects, issues, and initiatives, they maintain the faith and confidence that what they are doing helps architects weave the value of design into the fabric of society. I am proud to be an AIA component executive, and my thanks to all of you for your support.

I could not sign off this final Forum post without expressing my sincere appreciation to 2010 AIA President George Miller, FAIA.  Facing a period of transition, he was undoubtedly given a lot of advice regarding candidates for the interim position.  I am grateful that he gave me the opportunity to be of service to an organization and profession that have given so much to me and that I so deeply love.

These past eight months have strengthened my belief that I am blessed. All my life I’ve been surrounded by friends and colleagues who are so much better in what they do than I. Thanks to all who have been so supportive, and so very patient with my shortcomings.  Whatever I have been able to contribute has been returned tenfold by your support, wisdom, and friendship.


In an earlier blog, I wrote about the importance of finding some space to get in touch with those things that refresh us.  Yes, it’s hard to step off the merry-go-round given the demands of a profession that needs and deserves our time. Yet take your eyes off the e-mails that flood your computer, even for a moment, and look around at what our colleagues are accomplishing. It’s a constant source of inspiration.

Consider the recent Grassroots. Component executives Amy Blagriff and Sara Kay were honored by their National Component staff colleagues. Why? As partners they were always available to go the extra mile. Along with Amy and Sara, seven components were singled out for outstanding achievement in fields as varied as public outreach and government advocacy. If you haven’t seen the videos documenting their achievement, take a look. As you watch, keep in mind how difficult it was to select these few from the many components who submitted projects and nominated their exceptional individuals.

The AIA is rich with many such opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of others, celebrations that inspire and elevate our own inner health and emotional optimism. While these special moments draw attention to exceptional achievement, there are so many examples of others who are seldom recognized.

Take a look at the CACE listserv. True, sometimes the conversation is cranky. More often, however, you see individuals who have stopped what they’re doing to reach out to colleagues who have asked for help. Such camaraderie is the norm for component executives and for many members of the national staff.  In this instinctive commitment to reach out and help, the AIA’s professional staff mirrors some of the most fundamental core values of the members.

Several times during my tenure in the 1970s with Governor Jerry Brown’s administration, I was approached by executive officers of the other regulatory boards:  Why, they asked, were architects so giving of thousands of hours of volunteer time to support the board’s enforcement program, grading of the graphic design exam, and serving as item writers for the ARE. My answer was always the same: It’s part of an architect’s genetic composition to be benevolent, caring, and kind. It does not occur to them to do anything other than the right thing.

As I write this, I think of Former AIA President Robert M. Lawrence, FAIA, who recently passed away.  An “extraordinarily calm and rational man,” the AIA’s 58th President was passionate about design, and was thoughtful and caring of his friends and colleagues.

In 1982, during Robert’s year as President, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, met to decide the placement of a statue of three soldiers in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Ying Lin. After many months of defending the Design Competition and Ms. Lin’s winning design, AIA members and staff found themselves almost alone in their support of the original design and in opposition to the proposed placement a sculpture not part of the original design. 

After hours of spirited testimony, Robert Lawrence was given an opportunity to close the debate. Speaking from the heart, in a polite, gentlemanly manner, Robert spoke of the AIA’s support of the original design, how this design could heal a nation divided, and how the national debate had galvanized AIA members and staff support of a young woman who sought only to bring peace to those families who gave the ultimate gift to the nation.

However, in the spirit of bringing closure to a painful debate, President Lawrence agreed to a compromise regarding the placement of the three soldiers. Despite the anger, despite the sharp words of opposition, President Lawrence chose not to take the easy road. For months he courageously advanced a minority opinion that eventually prevailed and resulted in one of the nation’s most beloved monuments.

Yes, there is more work to do than we have the resources to accomplish. Yet for our own sakes, if not for the sake of others, we must save some time to celebrate the accomplishments of our friends and colleagues. In the words of President Kennedy …”  I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contributions to the human spirit.…” By taking the time to celebrate best practices and behavior that inspires, we refresh our own spirits and do indeed elevate the human experience.


Looking back on my experiences in Washington and now looking forward to my return to California, I’m struck by how easy it is to be inundated if not overwhelmed by the demands placed on all of us. From the moment of birth, we are pinched, poked, questioned, and challenged on how well we are meeting another’s expectations. Our parents have plans for us, our siblings are annoying, and soon we find ourselves seeking brand name apparel, cookie cutter fashions, and trying desperately to be different, while looking the same as everyone else.

As professionals, life is more of the same, but now the pace ratchets up several if not many notches.  Like cells in a Petri dish, the expectations of others can quickly grow into larger, more demanding challenges that require more attention, more thought, and more resources. Unobserved, like the slow creep of moss on a rock, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the needs of family, business, and our own insecurities.  We have tried so long and so hard to meet a never ending cycle of demands and expectations that blinded by fatigue, optimism fades and vision becomes blurred. 

The static kicked up by the daily grind can become so loud that it becomes difficult if not impossible to hear life’s music, let alone sing along with the lyrics. If we’re to restore our physical and emotional reservoirs, we need to find ways to refresh our souls.

We all have things…experiences… that are sources of peace and strength. For me it’s the incredible smoothness of a horse’s nose; the cry of a loon in the stillness of a mountain morning; being moved beyond words in Yosemite Valley; or contemplating the reflections of a roaring campfire on the faces of friends and family.

Moments like these vary from person to person, but they all have this in common: They become touchstones in times of stress that lead us to those values that have less to do with making a living than making a life.

For many of my architect friends back in California, one of these touchstones is the Monterey Design Conference. Being an architect is hard work, making a living in architecture, especially in this economy, is harder still. For a brief couple of days, the Conference allows an opportunity for those who attend to be refreshed by the power of design and to rekindle the fires that influenced the decision to pursue architecture as a career. 

All of us have gathered these touchstones. Precious as they are, they can easily be neglected as we try to negotiate the demands of career, community, family, and friends.

I’m not suggesting time spent getting work is not important. However, when we can, we need to step off the Ferris wheel, collect ourselves, and revisit the moments and those special experiences that help us reconnect, refresh, and rejuvenate our mental and physical health.

Undoubtedly this economy will influence the future of design services and project delivery. There will be discouraging setbacks. Yet my time here in Washington and my many connections with AIA members back home convince me there is a better future worth working hard for. At no time has the value of design been so needed to find new solutions to old problems while elevating the human experience.

But as we labor to bring that better future to light, success will not be ensured by the number of hours spent responding to the demands of an ever-changing world. That better future we all long for will, I believe, be enabled by those moments when we tune down the static and embrace the touchstones that speak to our core values and ultimately give meaning to life.


Speaking of Grassroots…

This year marks my 31st. Perhaps my favorite event, Grassroots is always invigorating, a little surprising from time to time, but always empowering. Maybe it’s because the fresh perspectives of new leaders become part of a greater whole, an extended family of associates who share similar values, who make architecture happen, and who translate money and ideas into the fragile interface between nature and the built environment.

Yet, there was something different, something special about this Grassroots. Were the attendees weary of fighting the good fight in an anxious economy and welcomed a break? Perhaps the assembled leaders found strength in focusing on the future, refusing to let current circumstances dampen their enthusiasm for leadership. Whatever the reason, the confidence I felt all around me was contagious.

At its best, Grassroots can and should be the articulation of optimism and aspiration.  It was clear from the beginning of this year’s Legislative and Leadership Conference that there was a collective resolve to redouble efforts to help the profession and their chapters weather the ill effects of an economy that has displaced a generation of emerging professionals and tested even the most experienced and hardened practitioner.

What made the difference? Here’s my take.

Since last summer, AIA leaders and component executives have been executing a plan of partnership that fosters an environment of envisioning, innovation, and a culture of aspiration. This is not to minimize the many distractions that continue to clutter a collaborative path. Yet, while  this year’s Grassroots was, as always, candid and questioning, the prevailing atmosphere was supportive, respectful, and, in the end, inspirational.

Something else may have been at work, something that was captured by an anecdote shared at Grassroots by 2011 CACE President Mike Waldinger. Mike recalled an incident last winter during Washington’s “Snowmageddon.”  As he looked from his hotel window at the snow-packed street below, he saw a car stalled by the drifts. He also saw people coming over from both sides of the street to help the driver become unstuck.

Imagine, Mike said, if it had been a clear day and that same car had stalled. Frustrated drivers would have been leaning on their horns. Who would have stepped out of their cars or off the sidewalk to give the stalled car a push?

When times are good, leadership is simpler and much less confusing.  Yet it’s precisely during the good times that we can become self absorbed. When times are not so good, leadership is hard. But the energy of stressful times has the power to unlock what’s best in us. Even though many in the audience were themselves hurting, kindness and compassion toward one another was the order of the day. How refreshing it was to be surrounded by hopefulness, not despair, empowerment, not despondency, complete with moments that galvanized and advanced the vision of a unified AIA!

No doubt I’m an optimist teetering on the edge of reality, but I like my view of the world and how the decent, altruistic nature of the architect and the profession has shaped my life and my perception of times passed, the present, and of times to come. At the same time, I know that what I and others saw and felt at Grassroots 2011 was in fact exceptional and perhaps one of the best ever.


During a recent blog, I discussed the challenge of public outreach and how we would define success. Last week, during the Grassroots Institute Update Session and the Member Congress, there were several references by member leaders to the need to enhance the public’s appreciation for the value of design. Clearly this is a member priority.

In a down economy, it’s no surprise that conversation about the state of the profession quickly focuses on the public’s understanding of architects and architecture.  As the economy drags on, there is at the same time a growing feeling that if clients better understood the value of design, things would be much better. Yet while several component surveys indicate that design does in fact matter to clients, these same surveys also reflect a perception that clients believe design fees are too high.

These conflicting data—that design is important yet design fees are too high–lead to an intriguing question or paradox:  Could it be that most of the public and many clients know far too little about the design process, how design brings value to the project, or how the design process actually translates into design fees? Many AIA members would say that’s the heart of the problem and upping an appreciation and understanding of the value of design has to be a high priority.

Here’s the rub: Across this nation architects are doing good design, often with complex programs and difficult clients. From a layperson’s perspective by suggesting that better design would result from a better educated client, might we be inadvertently sending a message that what currently is being done is not good design? Might the issue be less a matter of good vs. poor design and rather an issue of appreciating the work that’s being done?

When times are hard, some necessary design services are either reduced or eliminated. However, professional services can only be adjusted to the point at which the integrity of the project is at risk. Perhaps this is when a deeper understanding of the design process is most critical. Maybe this should be the focal point of our education campaign.

This lack of understanding and appreciation concerning the value of design is being aggravated by developments in the design and construction industry over the past decade. The AIA spends a lot of time engaged in public policy debates resisting the efforts of many to encroach on the licensed practice of architecture. Such encroachment is encouraged and nourished by a broad and fuzzy definition of architecture.

Let me dwell on this point for a moment. As the practice of architecture responds to emerging markets and new opportunities, understanding just what it is that architects provide is increasingly difficult for clients and the public to grasp. There are numerous portions of the practice that can be legally performed by non-licensed individuals. This creates ambiguity in the minds of regulators and clients alike: certain “design” services can be provided without a license, but a license is required to engage in the practice of architecture.

What needs to be done is to advocate a much broader definition of what architects are capable of doing. Absent vigorous advocacy and client/public outreach under the leadership of the AIA, under-appreciation of the value architects provide is likely to grow. What would such an outreach program look like?


Grassroots Postscripts:  During the workshops and presentations, a number of references were made to resources that could be beneficial to members and firms in the current economic downturn. It also became clear that some of these resources are largely untapped.  To see what your members might have been missing, check out the links in the sidebar.

Also, I’m pleased to report that over 400 attendees contributed to ArchiPAC and we raised over $43,500.

By most accounts, Grassroots 2011 was very successful. That said, we’re always looking for improvement. Your feedback is welcome.

What makes a leader?

Grassroots has finally arrived. If we’re fortunate, snow will not deter AIA’s leaders from convening this week to engage the new Congress with a legislative agenda designed to stimulate a lethargic economy and begin the long awaited rebound. When architects work, the nation builds.

As always leadership is front and center, if anything even more so at this Grassroots. Workshops sharpen leadership skills, regional meetings refresh working relationships, and together we build up a head of steam to advocate bold but do-able legislative initiatives.

Volunteering personal time and resources to advance the value of design is a collective passion woven into the very being of architects. Many who will be coming to Grassroots haven’t seen a paycheck in months. They struggle with mortgages and carry growing debt from past years in hopes that recovery is just right around the corner.

Yet they are here, many at their own expense, contributing to the profession they love and the institution in which they invest their aspirations. It‘s this benevolent spirit for public and professional service that defines the core values and attributes of an American architect.

The example of this spirit speaks to an important lesson about leadership. Occupying a leadership position does not make one a leader. Leadership is more than authority, prestige, or power, yelling the loudest, being openly critical, or using the bully pulpit to advance one’s agenda. True leaders always strive to do the right thing. They create an atmosphere of respect and empowerment. They are courageous and encouraging when all seems lost.

I believe these qualities also characterize the work of CACE and National AIA staff.

We are surrounded by colleagues who have never formally served in leadership positions, yet continually do extraordinary things and are inspirational for so many. Although they are seldom adequately recognized for their efforts, placed in the spotlight, or singled out for praise and recognition, they’re always there to do the heavy lifting.

They put in long hours. They struggle to help a profession in economic stress survive an increasing competitive marketplace while providing the material and human resources to help them serve a society with a growing hunger for the unique skills and talents of the profession.

Leadership is sought by many, yet acquired by few. Leadership envisions the impossible, pursues the improbable, and inspires those who share the passion for design and the journey to improve the human experience. Leadership is the focal point of responsibility, which cannot be delegated. It is through leadership that the organization’s compassion for the needs of every component and every member in increasing service to humanity is brought to light. 

I encourage Grassroots veterans to take a few moments to seek out and welcome new members of CACE and National staff. Acknowledge the difficult challenges that have devastated many of our components. But let’s do more. Let’s also search for opportunities as leaders to restore our emotional strength and optimism. That healing process can begin with the simple act of reaching out to make a new friend.

Welcome to Washington


Much has been said during this long and devastating recession about firms needing to retool, re-educate, and reposition themselves for the post recession economy. This is wise counsel considering that after a recession, life never seems to return to the way it was before. I think the post recession economy will also influence how AIA components operate.

In the last few years, components have found themselves engaged in an increasingly desperate economic environment. The recession was simply another chapter in the day-to-day struggle for survival. When once the dues structure was the principal source of revenue, today’s component is faced with a myriad of revenue streams that collectively balance the budget, but individually are precariously in danger of upsetting the balance.

It is the unpredictability of non-dues revenue that fosters an environment of worry and desperation. Once developed, a revenue source is highly guarded and tucked secretly away from the prying eyes of others–a very difficult thing to do in today’s website and electronic environment. Competition among components for non-dues revenue can be devastating to a collaborative environment. It has a chilling effect on innovation and a component’s willingness to consider or embrace new revenue possibilities.

This economy has clearly influenced how vendors and manufacturers view sponsoring component programs. Coupled with advances in technology and search capabilities, the future will challenge the financial predictability of regional and local trade shows, with a trend towards mega events that promise greater audience and attendance.

Another trend sees components forming new relationships in order to provide needed member services. Creating C-3 charitable foundations to enhance the public’s appreciation of architects and architecture is one way to help the chapter focus while leveraging public participation and charitable contributions to resource public outreach.

An attractive option, but it comes with several challenges. Birthing a new organization that occupies or overlaps chapter programming and sources of non-dues revenue can be a source of frustration and tension if the relationship does not begin with the development of clearly defined missions and clearly defined operational relationships. While there may be some chapter programming that could be better administered by the new foundation, any changes to the status quo could have unintended downstream consequences to the chapter especially if it disrupts long-standing sources of component revenue. In order to mitigate these problems, it is clearly best to have these conversations before launch.

The AIA at all levels is replete with duplication of administrative services and member programs. Recognizing the need to leverage scarce resources, The AIA Component Partnerships Committee recommended a few years back that within the AIA regions, or at minimum within a state, conferences and meetings should be distinguished by an agreed-upon coordination of efforts and a roadmap indicating who is responsible for doing what. I am not sure if this recommendation was ever enacted by the regions, but now would be a good time to revisit the concept.

AIA members are interested in so many things. This is our strength, but it is also one of our weaknesses. In our well-intended efforts to be responsive to member needs, we sometimes find ourselves spreading money around to do a lot of things, yet lack the depth of resources to do them properly.

Fueling our thirst for additional cash, we’ve created an organization increasingly dependent on non-dues revenue, oftentimes without adequate consideration if the effort has meaningful value to the members or the communities we serve. Yes, more often than not we do get it right.

However, we need to begin thinking of the future in strategic terms. How can we work better together to streamline services and reduce redundancies, while identifying and maximizing non-dues revenue for the benefit of all components? Increasing dues is not going to get us where we want to be. We need to be smarter about enhancing revenues, deciding in a truly collaborative and strategic manner what we wish to resource and where we want to go.



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