What’s Your Mission Moment?

At the beginning of every AIA Virginia Board of Directors meeting, two Directors share their “Mission Moment” with their fellow Board members. It’s always interesting to hear how your colleagues are acting as citizen architects, or as mentors, or as advocates for our profession. Their stories are always different, and they inspire me.

(This is our AIA Virginia Mission: “AIA Virginia is the voice of the architecture profession in the Commonwealth, dedicated to serving its members, advancing their value, and improving the quality of the built environment.”)

Beth Reader, FAIA
2020 AIA Virginia President

I was thinking a couple of weeks ago about what my current Mission Moment would be. After working in the profession for over thirty years now, I’m having a “coming full circle” experience. In the late 80’s / early 90’s, my husband and business partner, Chuck Swartz, and I started volunteering for a local non- profit group called City Light Development Corporation. We had both done our architectural internships in an architecture firm that served extremely wealthy clients. For example, I worked on an exercise pavilion / guest house, with a hangar below it for our client’s private helicopter. We worked on walk-in closets that were almost the size of our entire apartment. I remember one project meeting, when the client’s construction estimate was more than he wanted to spend, he indignantly yelled at our boss, “What am I supposed to do, send my kids to PUBLIC schools?” After a couple of years of this, Chuck and I decided that we wanted to spend time serving economically disadvantaged, hardworking people who needed affordable houses that had dignity.

One of the first projects we did for City Light was a project called North Kent Court. It was in a neighborhood that many people in Winchester were afraid to walk or drive in. We designed nine small, single family houses for North Kent Court. They were one-and-a-half story, 24′ by 24′ square, single family houses (the size of a two-car garage). They were 935 square feet, and cost $40,000 each when built in 1992. We could have designed one house and had it repeat nine times. Instead, we designed a 24′ square module, and rotated the gable 90 degrees on each house. We gave each house a front porch, so there were “eyes on the street” and so neighbors were encouraged to interact with one another. We wanted each house to have its own identity. Each house had different elevations, depending on the orientation of the gable, the design of the porch, and the configuration of the siding. The exterior paint was donated, so the houses’ colors turned out to be slightly funky and unusual, which we loved. Many other building materials were donated, like ugly rectangular fluorescent ceiling lights (not so great), and white carpeting (not at all practical). That was okay, though. The project was published in Inform and Progressive Architecture magazines. It won design awards, including one from Fannie Mae. Ever since that project, our office has made a point of doing pro- bono work for the local non-profit groups that serve our community.

Fast forward… A local Habitat for Humanity chapter was formed, and it bought “our” old City Light houses. Habitat loves the houses, and shows them off to people. About three weeks ago, we met with leaders from the local Habitat chapter, and they told us they bought the land that completes the rest of the original North Kent Court block. This purchase provides them with five small new building lots. They told us they want the new houses to be in the spirit of the old ones, and to honor them. This is such an exciting pro- bono project for us. We can’t wait to design something that riffs off of, respects, and improves the original. And so, we’ve come full circle, after thirty years.

So, what’s your Mission Moment? Do you serve on a Planning Commission, City Council, or Board of Architectural Review? Do you mentor a young professional? Do you volunteer for Habitat or another civic organization? Do you teach or mentor architecture students? Do you work with K-12 students, introducing them to possible careers in architecture or construction? I encourage you to be engaged in your community. Be engaged in your profession. Be an advocate. Live your Mission Moment. And thank you for all that you do.

With best regards,

Beth

From the President’s (at home) Desk

We are living during in a very bizarre time. Coping with a world- wide pandemic is not something any of us has experience with. It is very unsettling, from both a physical health perspective, and also from a financial health perspective. Additionally, human beings are social creatures by nature, and it feels uncomfortable to lose the common, everyday interactions that we took for granted, like just walking downtown for lunch, greeting friends and acquaintances along the way. Gathering around a table and sketching with “bumwad” and Sharpies. Having a beer with your co-workers at the end of a tough work week or a big deadline.

2020 AIA Virginia President, Beth Reader, FAIA

Now that most of us are working remotely, we’re bound to feel a little isolated. There is a way, however, to connect with other architects across the Commonwealth, and it’s through the AIA Virginia Roundtables. There are four of them in existence—the Small Firm, the Mid- Size Firm, the Large Firm, and the Emerging Professionals Roundtables. The Roundtables have existed for several years now, and have met during Architecture Exchange East and the Art of Practice conferences. Now they are becoming more active. Each of the four Roundtables last met via Zoom during the week of April 21 -24. There was a great turnout (although we were a little short on Mid-Size firm participants). There are now plans for the Roundtables to meet more frequently– some once a month, others quarterly.

During their virtual meetings, Roundtable participants discussed lots of relevant topics, like trying to collaborate creatively while working in isolation, virtually interviewing for projects, maintaining firm culture and morale, obtaining community input on public projects, making site visits while socially distancing, and even employees’ increased interest in working remotely after the pandemic subsides. On a positive note, there were also discussions among Roundtable participants that residential work inquiries may increase during this time, because potential clients, quarantined at home, are taking stock of their houses’ inadequacies. Another positive that could come out of the pandemic is that firms may allow staff members more leeway to selectively telework, thereby helping those who need more flexible schedules to accommodate their caretaking roles.

I encourage you to participate in these Roundtable discussions, which are accessible to you no matter where you’re located in Virginia. Ask your colleagues how they are dealing with issues that you or your firm is confronting. If you would like to participate please contact these Roundtable Chairs:

Dan Zimmerman, AIA, Small Firm Roundtable
dan@alloyworkshop.com      

Andrew McKinley, AIA, Mid- Size Firm Roundtable
amckinley@viadesignarchitects.com

Paul Battaglia, AIA, Large Firm Roundtable
PBattaglia@clarknexen.com

Krystal Anderson, AIA, Emerging Professional Roundtable
krystal.anderson@greshamsmith.com

Please realize that you’re not in this alone. Your fellow AIA Virginia colleagues and staff are here as a resource for you.

With best regards,

Beth

From the President

Do you know what the late Sam Mockbee, James Cutler, Tod Williams, David Salmela, Glenn Murcutt, and Brian MacKay- Lyons all have in common, other than being incredibly talented and influential architects? They have all been speakers at our biennial Virginia Design Forum, held every other spring. The Design Forum is my favorite AIA Virginia event.

Beth Reader, FAIA

The first Design Forum was held in the spring of 1994. Jim Ritter, AIA was one of the founders. Jim thought our AIA Virginia members should have an event that clearly and specifically focused on design. Jim knew that employee issues, business, and office technology were all important, but he felt like design was the core of being a great architect. He wanted AIA Virginia to have an event that acknowledged that premise.

In addition to Jim, some of the other original Design Forum committee members included Greg Hunt (the Chair), Mark Orling, Bob Steele, Joanne Goldfarb, Carlton Abbott, David King, Judith Kinnard, Ed Pease, and Vernon Mays (the former editor of Inform).  

The theme for the initial 1994 symposium, “Architecture + Innovation” was selected to “provide a loose structure around which speakers and practitioners can explore ways in which the architecture profession has advanced in days past and hopes to advance in the future.” The first venue was The Homestead, in Hot Springs, Virginia. The first Design Forum committee thought that “in a retreat setting, architects can escape the distractions of daily practice and immerse themselves in discussions that will push the boundaries of professional discourse.” In the program, attendees were “strongly encouraged to react to what they heard, and to offer personal views and pose difficult questions.”

When we come together on March 27th and 28th in Richmond for the 14th biennial Virginia Design Forum: In Praise of Shadows, I urge you to retreat into the world of design, as the first Design Forum committee intended. Temporarily forget your day-to-day office operations and imagine yourself back in your college design studio. Let the impressive roster of speakers inspire and challenge you.

Special thanks to our current Design Forum committee members: Jack Davis (Chair), Ed Ford, Allison Ewing, Anca Lipan, Mark Orling, Matthew Pearson, Ed Pease, Andrea Quilici, Rob Reis, Michael Spory, and Roberto Ventura.

To all of the Design Forum committee members past and present, and to all of the architects who have attended the Design Forums over the past two and a half decades—thanks for creating and sustaining this signature event. And for any of you who have not yet signed up—please register online today!

Beth Reader, FAIA
2020 President

This is 2020

Happy 2020! I hope that your year is off to a great start!

I’m very excited about serving as your AIA Virginia president this year. I look forward to working closely with our EVP, Corey Clayborne, his stellar staff of Rhea, Cathy, Keesha, and Judy, and my fellow Board members to accomplish many things in 2020.

Beth Reader, FAIA

I’ve been active in the AIA since I joined in 1991 and am co-founder and principal at Reader & Swartz Architects in Winchester.

Some of the items I’m looking forward to us accomplishing, as a team, in the key areas of governance, education, outreach, advocacy, and member services are:

  • Adopting our Strategic Plan in early 2020. Our new Strategic Plan will act as our roadmap and will guide our Board of Director’s and staff’s work over the next three years.
  • Hosting our always thought-provoking, biennial Design Forum, which is one of my favorite AIA Virginia events. This year’s forum will be held in March in Richmond and will feature Steven Holl as our keynote speaker. Registration is now open!
  • Exploring ways to invigorate and improve our members’ annual Architecture Exchange East experiences. We are always working to enhance the value of this signature event, so if you have any suggestions please send them my way.
  • Launching a digital Inform magazine. It’s been several years since we published a hard copy of Inform, and I’ve missed keeping up with all of the beautiful projects being built around the Commonwealth.
  • Investing in the future of our young professionals by helping our Associate members gain access to ARE prep materials.
  • Advocating for the establishment of a statute of limitations for state projects.
  • Strengthening our connections to AIAS in our universities.
  • Exploring the creation of a new Virginia chapter of NOMA.

Again, I am looking forward to working with the team and our members on these and many more items. If you’d like to share your input, feel free to reach out to me at beth@readerswartz.com

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and professionally fulfilling 2020!

Beth