AIA Virginia’s Design Forum, held this past June 3rd and 4th in Arlington, was the first in-person gathering for design-centric dialogue since its virtual transition in 2020. This year, the theme “South is Up!” featured Latin American designers and architects and the work they’ve done to improve not only their local communities but their countries as a whole through innovative and relationship-centric design.

Their projects, ranging from multi-family dwellings and single-family retreats to modern art museums and kindergarten school systems, emphasized the role that architecture has on society and the human condition. Thank you to Smiljan Radić – Chile, Viviana Peńa – Colombia, Alberto Kalach – Mexico, and Cazú Zegers – Chile for speaking about your experiences with AIA Virginia and our virtual attendees!

Kristen, Enid, Caitlin, and Cheyenne

Sitting among colleagues and friends as we listened to the effect architecture has made in South America was already a powerful experience, but as an emerging professional in architecture, each message behind the presentations was more impactful than the last. Viviana Peńa’s presentation, titled “Architecture as an Instrument of Transformation,” featured three case studies from her hometown in Medellin, Colombia – community kindergartens, the Medellin Modern Art Museum, and a single-family residence near a forest reserve. She walked us through each of her projects using concise bullet points that explained how Colombia’s turbulent history has changed the country’s political landscape, and how architecture has an opportunity to remedy many of their challenges. Her mission through working on community kindergartens was to elevate the children of low-income families through improved education programs, thereby eliminating the perpetual cycle of generational poverty.

Cazú Zeger had a similar message of increasing educational opportunities for her country’s children, but her passion lies in changing the architecture education curriculum so that students can become the change she wishes to see in Chile’s future. Her architecture workshop for students in Chile achieves that, because as she explained in her “Mondo Nostro – The 21st Century Agency” presentation, man is a part of the natural ecosystem, and designed to integrate into the system rather than on top of the system is a mindset our culture must learn and adapt to.

Meeting in person for Design Forum was especially valuable because it provided an opportunity for architecture students to be a part of our industry’s conversations. I was joined by three Architectural Design students from James Madison University, and the conversations we had over coffee following the conference highlighted how we envisioned our future in the built environment. Cheyenne, Enid, Kristen, and I discussed how design impacts the communities we inhabit, and how architectural academia can adapt to the rapidly-changing society and climate we live in. Students play a vital part in the future of architecture, and their participation and discussion at Design Forum were inspiring. All of this to say – Invite architecture students to AIA events and make them a part of the conversations we are having today.

Feel free to connect with me, too. What are some ways your firm is working with students and emerging professionals? Send me an email or a message on LinkedIn!

As always, I’m here for you.

Caitlin Morgan, Assoc. AIA, CSI-EP, CDT
Associate Director, AIA Virginia Board of Directors