“We must take charge of our own destinies, design a life of substance, and truly begin to live our dreams.” ~ Les Brown

Friday, March 31 brought the first Art of Practice Conference to AIA Virginia firm principals.  It was a pleasure to welcome so many of the profession’s leaders to the inaugural experience.  I especially want to again thank Maggie Schubert, AIA.  Maggie graciously accepted her appointment as the chair of this first-ever event and has been dedicated to its success since that moment.  We all have her to thank for envisioning and executing such a special member-focused conference.

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA

The day centered, as the title suggested, on matters of import to architectural practice, particularly firm culture.  It was (and will be) intended to complement the focus on design that is afforded by the ever-popular Virginia Design Forum.  Art of Practice will take place on alternating years (odd years) with the Forum (even years).  This program promises to be transformational for our profession within the Commonwealth, particularly as it grows and develops in the coming years.

In anticipation of the session, I recalled the inspiring words of noted African-American speaker Les Brown, quoted above.  If we apply Mr. Brown’s admonition to ourselves, it reminds us that WE ALONE have the capacity to be the architects, the designers, of an enriched firm culture … of a transformed culture for the profession … and of an enhanced, “big-C” Culture for the public we serve.  The Art of Practice Conference is our chance to design that future as it relates specifically to our practices.  It offers the perfect opportunity for us to work collectively and collaboratively to chart a course toward a preferred future for this profession.  As our firms grow stronger, the profession at-large in our state will be elevated as well.

Some 14 years ago, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) rightly shown a spotlight on “studio culture” through their Studio Culture Task Force Report.  We have all become sensitized to “studio culture” as a result of their great research and reporting.  Schools now have stated expectations for the way students will be treated in the studio and in the classroom.  The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) has included the requirement for a policy on studio culture in their Conditions and Procedures, and schools are ‘dinged’ if they don’t have a policy in place.

But what have WE, as a profession, done to transfigure firm culture?  That is OUR part to determine and be dedicated to.  Aspects of firm culture certainly impact our emerging professionals, yes.  But, firm culture that is constructive, positive, and supportive inures to the benefit of all office team members, not only those just entering practice.

For this year, our conference focused on the aspects of firm culture that get at the heart of how individuals in this profession are engaged within their respective practice settings.  I hope that beginning with Art of Practice, we’ll have a new and different conversation that leads to a new and different place.  Better firm culture for ALL firms.  Better experiences for all employees.  Better outcomes for all clients.  We can especially anticipate a more amazing future as a result of our efforts on behalf of our practices … and the profession.

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA | EVP, AIA Virginia

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