When I first joined the AIA Virginia Board of Directors, all of the Directors had to go around the big conference table in The Branch House, introduce themselves to the group, and state why they joined the AIA. I probably had a different reason than the other Directors—I joined primarily because of isolation.

So, let me back up just a bit. When I started working in architecture firms after college graduation, none of the architects I worked for were AIA members, and their opinions about the organization were pretty negative. When my husband Chuck and I started our firm three years later, one of the first things we did was join the AIA. One of the primary reasons was because, living in a small town, we felt totally isolated from other architects.

Soon after joining, Chuck and I began attending AIA Northern Virginia design award celebrations, and soon met many friendly architects. Since neither of us had ever had a mentor, it was so helpful to be able to ask fellow architects how they dealt with common problems in practice, like clients not paying their invoices, or dealing with confusing building code language. We started attending AIA Virginia events in Richmond, too, including the annual “Building Virginia” conference (now it’s known as Architecture Exchange East) and the biennial Design Forum, held in different locations across the Commonwealth. We met many wonderful architects from all across Virginia at these statewide events. I definitely think that one of the best things about being an AIA member has been the friendships that I’ve formed with architects from all across Virginia.

During the pandemic, people all over the world are dealing with feelings of isolation. Don’t let yourself feel this way about your fellow architects, though. Become more active in the AIA, and use the network of its roughly 2400 members within the Commonwealth of Virginia, to feel a sense of comradery within the profession. Reach out.

During 2020, AIA Virginia reached out to its members to give them avenues of inclusion and community in many ways. We began a mentorship program for new graduates, in conjunction with AIAS (American Institute of Architecture Students). We began a new NOMA chapter in Virginia (National Organization of Minority Architects). We held Town Halls with the five component chapters to get feedback on members’ needs. We did an outreach program to firm leaders to determine how their businesses were faring during the pandemic. We still (virtually) held signature events like Arch Ex, Visions, Design Forum, and yafCON (Young Architect Forum Conference). We had a resource page on our website for helpful links for dealing with COVID-19 and the Paycheck Protection Program. We held quarterly small, medium, and large Firm Roundtables.  

As I mentioned earlier, my AIA membership has allowed me to form great friendships with fellow architects. This year, I always looked forward to my weekly meetings with our Executive Vice President, Corey Clayborne, and our 2021 President, Sean Reilly, both of whom have become good friends. It’s hard to believe this is my last President’s letter. From now on you’ll be hearing from Sean. He has been working hard for the last several years, particularly in the area of government advocacy. He is a very caring and thoughtful architect who will do a stellar job leading us in 2021.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your AIA Virginia (COVID-19) President this year. It has been an honor and a privilege.

My best regards,