There is no secret that the last 18 months have been a challenge for many of our brothers and sisters in the profession. For AIA Virginia, I feel like we have been playing defense in the pandemic. It started as an urgent scramble to get our members the essential tools and resources to navigate the choppy waters caused by an intentional economic shutdown and public health crisis. Over time, we transitioned to a virtual environment which undoubtedly has its advantages and disadvantages. It allowed us to continue providing the needed human interaction that is necessary for positive mental health. Our Design Forum keynote presentation by Steven Holl, FAIA, felt like a fireside chat on Zoom.
On the other hand, I have yet to hear of a virtual meeting or event going viral where people continue to talk about it for months after it concludes. Those who you meet for the first time through a virtual environment are not very memorable after you hit the large red “Leave Meeting” icon. As an association that is THE VOICE of the architecture profession, we cannot fully live out our mission behind a computer screen.
So, in this letter, I want to yell from the rooftops:
We have wasted no time getting back to making memorable moments and demonstrating the value that each one of you offers to our world as an architect. Within the last 30 days, AIA Virginia has twice been a requested resource by our state and local elected officials.
On September 29th, we delivered a presentation to the Commission on School Construction and Modernization which will help our state’s leaders develop funding recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor. That same night, AIA Virginia hosted our “Blueprint for Better Communities” dinner in Norfolk. This event brought together our local architects and prominent community leaders, including the Mayor, to discuss the pursuit of the city’s vision together.
Just a few days later, we presented “School as a Community Catalyst:Happy, Healthy, and High-Performing” to our local elected officials at the Virginia Municipal League’s annual conference in Leesburg. And lastly, we held our first in-person Board meeting since the pandemic at the University of Virginia where we had an inspirational time engaging with students, faculty, School of Architecture Dean Malo Hutson, and Alice Raucher, FAIA (Architect for the University).
This is the time of year where we set our eyes on Architecture Exchange East and Visions for Architecture. Our conference will be mostly virtual and span the week of Nov. 1-5. However, the last day will have an in-person option at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. On this day, we will host Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, as our keynote speaker followed by the safe celebration of our 2020 and 2021 Visions honorees over cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres. Remember, if you purchase an in-person ticket, it includes the keynote and Visions!
It is hard to believe that we are halfway through 2021. Each day feels increasingly more normal as we gather with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. We would be remiss if we did not take the time to congratulate our Class of 2021 graduates from our Virginia schools of architecture!
I joined the profession in 2004 after graduating from Virginia Tech. It was not much longer thereafter that I became actively involved in the AIA. Even back then, when members were asked what they wanted from the organization, the response was “we want the public to know what we do”.
Well, I must ask you two questions.
Do you still have a voice?
If so, are you using it?
AIA Virginia serves as a facilitator in the process of educating the public on the value of architects and architecture. However, we will fall woefully short of this goal if you do not use your own voice in this endeavor. When you consider our education, experience, and the rigorous testing required to be an architect, you are too valuable to not use your voice.
You cannot sit on the sidelines.
It is simply not an option (at least if you want to remain relevant).
You may be wondering what AIA Virginia has been doing recently to elevate the voices of those who decide to use them.
Well, I am so glad you asked.
Since you opened last month’s newsletter, AIA Virginia has elevated the voice of the profession through the following:
Through ARCHITECTS Speak Up!, connected 50+ architects and designers in Virginia with their state-elected officials as a resource on design, sustainability, preservation, affordable housing, and school modernization.
Introduced our amazing Emerging Leaders in Architecture class to Senator Ghazala Hashmi to engage in an interactive dialogue on the importance of the role of architects in community engagement and policy development.
Presented a stellar slate of architect member candidates to Governor Ralph Northam for his consideration for appointment to the Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Certified Interior Designers, and Landscape Architects (APELSCIDLA).
Through the faithful support of many of you to our Political Action Committee, we are attending a number of legislative fundraisers so elected officials realize that architects exist and are of value in their communities
Our voice can only be heard in a harmonious way if we use it. AIA Virginia will work hard to do its part and I know you will join us in doing your part. It is always a joy to do this important work when walking beside you.
R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA Executive Vice President
There is no question that we are starting to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Those who are choosing to get vaccinated can now find access to several vaccine options. The Architectural Billings Index (ABI) in February showed that architecture firms are reporting an uptick in billings for the first time since the start of the pandemic over a year ago. Most believe that the worse of the pandemic crisis is over if we continue to exercise caution and follow the instructions of our public health experts.
As such, I am hopeful that each one of you has taken a moment to simply pause.
Pause for a second.
Reflect on the Year 2020 and what it meant to your personal life and your firm. Count your blessings.
We walked through the fire – but don’t smell like smoke!
Yes, we were inconvenienced. Greatly.
But most of us never had to wait in a four-mile-long line to get a free bag of groceries. You may have experienced a temporary pay cut or frozen salary, but the lights in your home stayed on. Somebody out here needs to hear this.
It is with a similar lens that I look back on the work of AIA Virginia in 2020 and cannot help but to smile from ear to ear. Our President at the time, Beth Reader, FAIA led with a steady tempo making sure our organization could fill the necessary gaps our members faced. For example, she played an instrumental role in our Operation: Reach, Retain, and Develop program with the national component of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). This offering was cobbled together and deployed faster than you could turn your head (Similar to how fast – in legislative terms – Congress passed the PPP bill).
This meant it was not perfect, but it was effective. It would not have been possible if it were not for the approximate 50 members who stepped up in a mentor capacity. I am forever grateful for you. You impacted lives and kept these recent graduates in the profession. Do not take my word for it – read the testimonials and talk to these young men and women yourself.
Lately, I have been reading “Race for Relevance” by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers. It is truly a great read and discusses what membership organizations, such as the AIA, need to do to remain relevant. I thought it was so valuable that I purchased a book for each staff member. Soon, we are going to commence group discussions on each chapter together. Our President, Sean Reilly and I are doing the same thing.
A question you should ask yourself is how will you – as an architect – remain relevant to our society?
Our community leaders are still grappling with how to reopen schools. Our U.S. Capitol was stormed by thugs and now this symbol of our democracy is behind barricades. We continue to see our black and brown brothers and sisters claw through systems that were not necessarily designed for their success.
Again, how will you remain relevant as an architect? How about during a pandemic?
This answer becomes increasingly difficult during a public health crisis. However, it can be done. Let me tell you three things AIA Virginia is doing to remain relevant which I invite you to be a part of.
Elevating the Voice of the Architecture Profession Through Strategic Industry Partnerships There is strength in numbers. This is why we are partnering with the American Council of Engineering Companies and the Associated General Contractors for our first ever AEC Virtual Symposium on March 17-19. Together, this coalition has enough prominence to attract the Governor of Virginia in accepting an invitation to be one of our keynote speakers. If the Governor thinks we are relevant, then I would say we are moving in the right direction. Please register at www.aecvirginia.com and join us for this event!
Relentlessly Advocating for Architects to Receive Gubernatorial Appointments Architects play such a vital role in our communities through the design of spaces and places. As such, we should have a seat at the table on Boards and Commissions whose work focuses on these spaces and places – thus impacting the quality of life in our communities. Our nominees from AIA Virginia were chosen by the Governor to serve on the Fair Housing Board and the Secure and Resilient Commonwealth Panel. Reach out to me directly if serving in a capacity such as this is of interest to you. Your skills are needed and desired.
Being a Part of the Solution in Making our Profession Better Reflect the Society we Serve The data says it all. For some demographics, there are leaks in our profession’s pipeline and sometimes even the entry to the pipeline seems obscure. I’m proud to say that we were an instrumental partner in the formation of Virginia NOMA and have a Memorandum of Understanding with the organization to memorialize our partnership well beyond its “start-up” phase. In addition, AIA Virginia was intentional about its fundraising efforts in supporting Hampton University – the state’s only HBCU architecture program. We are hopeful that you are standing with us in these efforts. Moving the needle on an issue like this takes time and perseverance.
Being relevant does not mean you have to be super-human. Just pick one thing to do. And let AIA Virginia help you.
R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA Executive Vice President
In less than 2 weeks, the American people will decide who should be the Commander-in-Chief of the United States for the next four years. During every presidential election, someone almost always says that this is the “most important election of a lifetime”. For many years, there was a segment of our population who were not legally permitted to vote – and when the law was changed – they cast a vote at the risk of losing their life.
There was a moment where this was made very real to me about five years ago. Every since this interaction, my heart has never been the same on this topic.
My wife and I were traveling to Florida and the route we were taking put us in Birmingham, Alabama for an overnight stay. Less than 60 years ago, the racial tension in this city was so great, it was dubbed the name “Bombingham”. While there, as an interracial couple, we wanted to take a few hours to soak in the history that elders in our lifetime recall vividly. One landmark that we visited was the 16th Street Baptist Church.
This church was sadly enshrined in the pages of history on September 15, 1963. It was a Sunday morning where families and children were gathered inside for worship service. Five young African American girls, ages 14 and under dressed in their Sunday best, were in the restroom located in the church’s basement. Giggling and chatting about school, they were preparing to go upstairs for service. It was just before 11:00 in the morning.
A bomb that had been placed under the church’s steps by local Ku Klux Klan members detonated killing a mass number of people including four out of the five little girls. As my wife and I walked in this church, there was a small shoe encased in masonry rubble on display. It was real and not a recreation. It was the real show of one of the little girls who were killed in the bombing on September 15, 1963. The bomb lifted her out of her shoes and the shoe she left behind has become a reminder of some of our painful past.
This is one of many examples, where people were told their voice did not matter. Even if you were an innocent little girl, your voice nor life mattered. It was on this day that my eyes were truly awakened, and I realized it would be blasphemous to remain silent.
Our vote is our voice.
Make sure you use it. Do your research on the issues and support the candidate that you feel will provide the greatest America. Voting is the one way that all AIA Virginia members can participate in advocacy. Because of the many lives that were lost in the quest for equality, we all can partake in the inheritance provided by our democratic process.
See you at the polls.
R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA Executive Vice President
Full transparency. Pandemic-life is hard for me. Arguably the hardest professional season that I have had to endure in my career (the ARE was very tough but I was blessed to make it through without failing any section).
We recently held our August Board meeting via Zoom. Prior to the pandemic, I thoroughly enjoyed welcoming our 26 Board members from all corners of Virginia to our sleekly designed space in Richmond. Many of these members I have known for a number of years dating back to when I was one of them – a practitioner and fellow volunteer Board member.
Our office’s open floor plan places the kitchen island with three elegant pendant light fixtures as the entry’s focal point. But it is more than just a kitchen island. It is where we gather as professional family. During our Board meeting breaks, this is the space where members congregate to refill coffee, confiscate seconds from the breakfast offerings, and build relationships with one another. The air is typically filled with chatter and laughter. And five-minute breaks would turn into 12-minute breaks requiring the President to slam their gavel on the table to restore a sense of focus. No one seemed to mind. It was a sign that we authentically enjoy each other’s company.
This kitchen island has been vacant for five months now. Our Zoom Board meeting breaks entail clicking the “mute” button, turning off the camera, and heading to the restroom.
Outreach, bringing people together, and presenting with my colleagues at conferences are some of my favorite aspects of this position (some of the best conversations happen at 10:30 p.m. at the hotel bar). My calendar has been wiped clean from meetings in Los Angeles, Omaha, Memphis, and Washington to name a few. I foresee it being this way well beyond the boundaries of 2020.
Now I realize this outlook is a personal one. My introverts out there are thriving right now – living their best life. And as I ponder what the future looks like, there are some bright spots.
I never knew I had so many neighbors. There are hundreds of homes in my neighborhood and prior to the pandemic, I might would see one person while on a morning run. Their duties outside had nothing to do with exercise, but more so allowing their dog to take a bio-break. Today, I habitually see nearly a dozen neighbors walking or biking on my running loop. My family time has increased dramatically which is allowing me to form a relationship with my three-year-old daughter that I never knew was possible. And in a sense, setting up virtual coffee meetings with colleagues around the country is becoming the norm on my schedule opposed to seeing each other at an annual event.
Take this opportunity, to strengthen your relationships with family, friends, and professional colleagues. Recently, a friend shared on Facebook that we should make sure we take a picture with all our siblings. Once you lose one, it is never the same. Let us not look back on these challenging days and have regrets about how we invested our time with and into others.
This is hard. But we are going to be OK in the end.
R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA Executive Vice President
Thank you, Madame Speaker, I rise for an introduction. Today joining us in the gallery are representatives from the American Council for Engineering Companies of Virginia and the American Institute of Architects Virginia Chapter. If they would please stand…
These organizations are present today to represent the important work that architects and engineers do for the Commonwealth, whether it is the design of buildings, parks, roadways, public utilities, electrical grids or renewable energy sources, or the next generation of the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. Architects and engineers have a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all Virginians through designing equitable, resilient, and healthy communities. They take an oath and must be dedicated to protecting the public health, safety, and welfare in performing their professional services.
Today, as Virginia responds to a changing climate, both architects and engineers are working together to respond to these effects by designing sustainable and resilient structures that reduce their impact upon the natural and built environment, and protect the life and property of all Virginians.
Madam President I ask that members of the body please stand and give them a warm House welcome.
Pictured in photo Bottom row, left: Lynden Garland, AIA; Kathy Galvin, AIA; Corey Clayborne, FAIA; Rob Comet, AIA; Chris Stone, PE Top row, left: John Stuart, PE; Eric Burke, PE; Nancy Israel; Paul Anderson, PE