Time is the test of a strong idea. We like to pretend that we own an idea, but the best ideas are elusive. They thrive on those who nourish them, and they are like healthy cells that grow and spread with speed and ease. Architects often find themselves as the holders of ideas, and we take on the responsibility of fertilizing the idea – often clothing the idea in shape and form. When it matures enough, the idea wiggles out of the architect’s hands and goes to other hosts. An architect’s responsibility is to keep a great idea pure and alive as long as possible.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was invited to Congressman Jim Moran’s press conference about a national Museum of the American People. I was in the middle of a crowd under the scorching, hot sun of summer that was reflecting the white glare of the Capitol building in Washington DC. I was wilting, but the idea was alive and kicking! The idea of creating a place where all our ethnic groups could display and celebrate the great American melting pot caught my attention when I read a small article earlier this year. I had called the director of the organization to get more information about his idea, and, one thing led to another, my firm was asked to do a preliminary design of the museum in order to promote the idea.
Talent in my office generated inspiring forms to house the idea. The images were sent out to the press, and, instantly, the museum was nominated as “Best Unbuilt Museum Gets Best Aspirational Plan” by the Washington City Paper. We were heroes for a short time, but the idea had to move on. At the press conference, I was no longer the star of the show. The idea had taken another host. If successful in Congress, the idea will continue its journey to the President for the creation of a Presidential Commission to study the feasibility of the idea. The test of time will tell whether this idea grows, but I was proud that architectural talents had been used to give strength to the idea.
At about the same time as Jim Moran’s press conference, the National Ideas Competition for the Grounds of the Washington Monument had its second stage jury. This competition’s intention is that notable ideas will promote awareness, education and thoughtful development of the Monument grounds. Lead juror Gregory Hunt explained that “We worked hard to get a diversity of approaches. We could not limit ourselves to five because the six winners were more demonstrative of the range of ideas.”
See www.wamocompetition.com for more details about the winners. The ideas will be kept alive with the final stage of the competition when the public will be invited to select the “People’s Choice.” Next spring the Virginia Center for Architecture will host a comprehensive exhibit about the competition that will be designed by George Washington University’s school of museum design.
At this time, the Virginia Society AIA continues the work of keeping ideas alive. The VSAIA has been prolific in generating ideas that serve the profession of architecture and our members. The VSAIA worked hard at the beginning of the year to put the Virginia Center for Architecture on fertile ground, and I am pleased to report that under the new leadership of Executive Director Helene Dreiling, FAIA, the Center is already bubbling with creativity and greater financial stability. The VSAIA Board is successfully implementing the ideas in the Long Range Plan while balancing the financial challenges that affect all our businesses. We look forward to celebrating 100 years of great ideas in 2014. Join us to support strong ideas!
James P. Clark, AIA