But Then There was One

With the 199th pick in the 6th Round, the New England Patriots select…

Tom Brady. Quarterback. University of Michigan.

In the National Football League (NFL), being drafted at the end of the sixth round is not impressive. It is not something that you brag about. To put it in perspective, the NFL draft has seven rounds and the last pick in the draft (in 2020 it was the 255th pick) is dubbed the nickname, “Mr. Irrelevant”.

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA

Scouts from all over saw Tom Brady and thought that the 6’-4” quarterback was slow on his feet and awkward at best, when running with the ball. So much so, that teams thought there were 198 other athletes that were better. Think about it.

But then there was one.

The scouts and front office executives of the New England Patriots saw something special. They saw a set of innate tools he possessed that could be honed to create an incredibly successful quarterback at the game’s highest level. He became an instrumental piece to the team’s success eventually going to nine Super Bowls and winning six of them. And he is a future member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

I feel like my story as an African American man in architecture is like Tom Brady’s story. It is full of moments that shout: But then there was one.

I have never overly enjoyed recreational reading. It makes me drowsy. Even today, I do not like long emails and prefer briefings and summaries to be one page with bullet points. So, it was no surprise that the first time I took the SAT, I received a 980 score. I took it again and improved by only 100 points. The University of Virginia put me on their waitlist.

But then there was one. Virginia Tech welcomed me with open arms into the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

God did not bless me with the ability to sketch like Charles Piper, AIA [Quinn Evans] or build models like Nick Cooper, AIA [HKS]. My portfolio was mediocre, which may be a stretch. Many marquee architecture firms in Virginia never gave me a look when applying for summer internships.

But then there was one. A+E Collective in Great Falls, Virginia led by Anil Bhatia, AIA and Madhur Khanna, AIA. At the time, a firm of three people gave me a chance at a summer internship and I was determined to not let them down. They will always have a special spot in my heart.

After graduation, I worked at an Architecture/Engineering firm of about 150 people at the time. At an early age, I knew I enjoyed the project management and business development aspect of the business. In this firm, the Project Management department is a vital lifeline of the business – so to be a part of it is a big deal. Nearly all were at least 50 years of age or at least knocking on the door of it. None were black.

But then there was one. The President and CEO called me in their offices and said they were going to promote me into the Project Management department. This happened at the age of 28. And to my knowledge, the first African American to be elevated into that department within a firm that was founded in 1901.

And here we are today. As the Executive Vice President of AIA Virginia – the organization’s chief executive. At one time, this position was held by a gentleman with a PhD for over two decades. His successor was a national figure in architecture and remains one today. Who would be next?

But then there was one. Out of nearly 70 applicants, the Search Committee took a chance on me. At the time, a 35-year-old black male who had never run an association before. And this has been one of the best opportunities of my life.

My career is full of these moments. I could write a novel about it. I am proud to be in the 2020 Class of the College of Fellows: our Hall of Fame.

But don’t forget this:

If you, as firm leaders, are committed to being bold about diversity, equity, and inclusion – then you must provide “But then there was one” moments to those who may otherwise never be exposed to these great opportunities.

With service,

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA
Executive Vice President

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA, NOMA, MBA

Corey Clayborne currently serves as the Executive Vice President of AIA Virginia. In this position, he has the responsibility of ensuring the success of the Advocacy, Education, Communications, and Member Services portfolios. Corey has been recognized by the AIA at the local, state and national levels. In 2017, he was an AIA Young Architects Award recipient and named to Building Design + Construction’s 40 Under 40 class. His volunteer service has spanned across a multitude of roles for all levels of AIA, several NCARB Committees, and an appointment to Virginia’s regulatory Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Certified Interior Designers, Landscape Architects by Governor Terry McAuliffe. Corey is an architect licensed to practice in Virginia who worked in private practice for 13 years serving as a project manager for local, state, and federal clients before taking the chief executive position at AIA Virginia.

Where did you go to college?

Virginia Tech for a B.Arch
Liberty University for a Master in Business Administration with a Public Administration cognate

Would you recommend studying architecture to a young person?

Absolutely! Architecture teaches you how to think systematically and how to problem solve. These two skills are extremely valuable across a variety of career spectrums. Whether one pursues the traditional architecture path with his or her degree or moving to a non-traditional path – like I did – you can be a valuable asset to our world.

What does it take to be an architect?

Discipline, perseverance, and the drive to make positive change. The path to licensure is not easy: Education, Experience, and Examination. And it is not intended to be as the responsibility of an architect to the public is great. However, when you reach that milestone, your creations – whether design or policy – touches many lives.

Was there an architect that particularly inspired you?

Not while I was growing up or in college. However, when I entered the professional field, I was adopted by several architects within the firm. They took me under their wing and much of my career success is attributed to these individuals. This is the power of mentorship.

What are you currently reading?

I honestly don’t find reading fun which does not diminish its importance. I’m not a fast reader and I often get drowsy while doing it.

My goal is to read more, about 10 minutes each day. I’m currently making my way through the latest Virginia Business magazine to keep up with what is happening in our Commonwealth. One of my friends is being featured in this particular publication. He put Danville on the map in terms of economic development and just took the Economic Development Director position in Arlington. It’s great to see your friends being blessed for their hard work.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

Tough question. There is not a clear-cut favorite so I’ll tell you the best cocktail I have had. Get the “Old Fashion” at the newly renovated Cavalier in Virginia Beach. They put it in a smoke box which takes the cocktail to whole new level. I experienced it on a CEO retreat with other association colleagues. We all had more than one. Or two.

Why do you work for the AIA?

Once in a lifetime opportunity. Over 2,500 members have put their faith in my vision, my team, and our organization to make our profession increasingly more relevant each day.

Don’t stop believing in yourself and your decision-making.

Uncertainty. Fear. Anxiety. Stir-crazy.

There is a strong possibility that any of those words might describe how you are feeling as you navigate through this global pandemic. Six weeks ago, we were taking meetings in the local coffee shop and perhaps looking forward to dining outdoors at an eclectic restaurant with the people you love. The world has come to nearly a halt in what seems to have been overnight.

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA

In our personal lives, a large portion of our freedom has been exchanged for protecting the health of our neighbor. Food and supplies are being rationed in the neighborhood grocery store. 401k’s have been admitted to the financial Intensive Care Unit and I might advise that you not visit them.

Professionally, many projects are being put on hold or experiencing adverse impacts. What was once a six-month backlog could be reduced to two-months with a snap of a finger. Some of our peers are making very difficult staffing decisions. The ones, that as a leader, turn your normal 10-minute shower into a 35-minute deluge because you dread the upcoming conversation with your employee.

Here is what I have to say about it all: Don’t stop believing in yourself and your decision-making.

You may say, “Corey, you don’t know what I am going through.” And you are right. I don’t.

But let me tell you one thing.

If you knew me or anything about me, you would know that I am no stranger to adversity. I’ve been blessed and overcome a lot. But I have also lost a few times when facing it. But I always got up. Always.

I remember getting free and reduced lunch in grade school. I was the first in my household to go to college. Barely got over a 1,000 SAT score yet got admitted into one of the top architecture schools in the country – Virginia Tech. Never got an “A” in design studio in my five years there. Not once. And now hold a chief executive role in an organization and profession that I love.

How was this done?

Great people around me. Amazing family. Strong mentors. Unselfish peers. Picking me up along the way.

And that’s what I want AIA Virginia to be for you.

We have been putting forth an abundance of resources and opportunities to help you through these unprecedented times. And we will not stop. For example, we just held an interactive webinar on concisely navigating the CARES Act to give you the foundational knowledge about applying for federal funding. Those who attended gave it very high marks. The week prior, we brought together the Associated General Contractors and American Council of Engineering Companies for an interactive panel discussion on uniting our industries in construction administration during COVID-19. In this newsletter, you will see additional resources and opportunities the organization is putting forth.

One of the major keys to success in getting through this is having each other.

Be encouraged,

R. Corey Clayborne, FAIA
Executive Vice President

Where’s Corey

Executive Vice President, Corey Clayborne, has pledged to travel around the state and visit firms, components, partner organizations, and universities.

Here’s his recent travel schedule:

AIA Local, Regional, and National Engagement

Community Dinner in Partnership with AIA Hampton Roads
March 19

AIA Virginia Executive Committee Meeting
March 27

Design Forum
March 27 – 28

Ambassador Engagement

Introductory Meeting with AIAS National Executive Director
Washington, DC
March 5

Virginia Society of Association Executives Panel Discussion Panelist
March 6

Commonwealth of Virginia APELSCIDLA Regulatory Board Meeting
March 17

ACE Joint Owner Forum
March 18

Virginia Association of Governmental Purchasing Conference
Virginia Beach
March 25

Top 10 Reasons to Attend ArchEx

From November 7th – 9th, we will convene for our annual conference, Architecture Exchange East, in Richmond. This may very well be the best one we have ever hosted. The theme of the conference is TENSION. From the physical tension that empowers buildings to stand to the tension between creative vision and practical restrictions. We will even have a dialogue on how tension is present between architecture and social equity.

R. Corey Clayborne, AIA. photo by Jay Paul

Headlined by award-winning architect and TED-presenter, Francis Kéré, Hon. FAIA as the keynote and an appearance by The Hip Hop Architect, Michael Ford, I guarantee you will be moved in a special way. For the first time, we will engage the public within our conference for our Housing Equity Panel that folds under the Institute’s “Blueprint for Better Communities” initiative. This year, our education track is themed to cater to Practice Management, Design, Historic Preservation, Educational Environments, Healthcare Environments, Residential, Technology and Practice, and Building Performance. This means that there is content shaped to accommodate all of our members who have various practices with wide-ranging needs.

On Wednesday, we will offer our full-day program workshops that include our Safety Assessment Program training that will allow you to be instrumental contributors in getting communities back on its feet after a natural disaster. Thursday and Friday promise to offer exceptional content culminating with Visions for Architecture. For this special event at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, we will celebrate those whose work make especially strong contributions to society and celebrates the recipients of AIA Virginia Honors Awards and the Awards for Excellence in Architecture.

Would you rather be in your cubicle or do any of the following:

  1. Francis Kéré’s keynote address
  2. Michael Ford – The Hip Hop Architect. Enough said.
  3. Housing Equity Panel consisting of a prominent architect, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, and the Better Housing Coalition
  4. Safety Assessment Program disaster assistance training
  5. Join members of small, mid-size, and large firms to discuss relevant issues in roundtable format
  6. See the 2018 Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) present its class project and how it will benefit the City of Charlottesville
  7. Engage in dialogue with Higher Education decision-makers on improving collaborate with architects
  8. Tour of Historic Petersburg in collaboration with Preservation Virginia
  9. CONNECTIONS party and networking dinners that include ELA alumni and Virginia Women in Design
  10. Engage with over 70 Vendors that are showcasing cutting-edge materials

If your answer was “yes” to any of the above, then come join us at the conference.

Look forward to welcoming you to Richmond next month!

Corey Clayborne, AIA, MBA
Executive Vice President

Where’s Corey

Executive Vice President, Corey Clayborne, has pledged to get around the state and visit firms, components, partner organizations, and universities.

Here’s what’s on his travel schedule:

AIA Local and Regional Engagement
Firm Visits AIA Hampton Roads
July 16

Ambassador Engagement
AIA State Government Network Conference
Madison, WI
July 9-13

Presidential Citation for Clayborne

On Friday, June 15, 2018, AIA Virginia President Eric Keplinger, AIA presented Corey Clayborne, AIA with a Presidential Citation.

The citation reads:

Through his ever-increasing service to the profession and his unwavering commitment to excellence, his colleagues in Virginia acknowledge his remarkable dedication in earning his Master of Business Administration while serving and upholding the highest ideals of the American Institute of Architects.

Congratulations, Corey!

Where’s Corey

Executive Vice President, Corey Clayborne, has pledged to get around the state and visit firms, components, partner organizations, and universities.

Here’s what’s on his travel schedule:

AIA Local and Regional Engagement
Hampton University
Leadership Presentation
March 16
Hampton, VA

Firm Visits
AIA Blue Ridge
April 5

AIA Virginia Board of Directors Meeting
Virginia Tech
April 6

AIA Awards Gala
April 7
Charleston, WV

Ambassador Engagement
AIA Grassroots 2018 Leadership Conference (Presenter)
March 12-14
San Diego, CA

APELSCIDLA Regulatory Board Meeting
March 20
Richmond, VA

AIA Wisconsin Convention (Presenter)
May 9-10
Madison, WI

Look What We’ve Accomplished

As we bring 2017 to a close, I wanted to take a moment to say how great you have made my first six months as Executive Vice President. Thank you for embracing me and welcoming me to your local AIA chapter events. The outpouring of support from all categories of our membership has been heartfelt and deeply appreciated.

We accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time.

Corey Clayborne, AIA

You supported our annual conference, Architecture Exchange East, in a tremendous way. With 715 registrants, it was one of the highest attendance records we have had since the Great Recession and a 24% increase over last year’s number. Nearly 85% of you indicated that your overall conference experience was “Good” or “Excellent” and over 80% rated the quality of the provided education content the same way. Our partnership with AIAS and ASLA brought new colleagues to our conference which further enhanced the experience. In addition, the importance of architects was reinforced by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney during our General Session.

Over the last few months, AIA Virginia has constantly evaluated ways to better position you as vital contributors to our built environment. We recently saw a number of hurricanes pummel our brothers and sisters in other parts of the country. There is nothing that makes Virginia invincible from similar occurrences. As such, we have reinvigorated our relationship with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and are currently in the process of developing a Disaster Assistance Program in a joint partnership. Through this program, our members would have the opportunity to use their expertise and volunteer with post-disaster building assessments in the event that one should occur in our state. The Commonwealth of Virginia has Good Samaritan laws that protect these noble efforts.  If you are interested in being a participant and receiving the complimentary training, please contact AIA Virginia.

On the advocacy front, we have continued to work with members of the General Assembly advocating for legislation that protects our value and challenging proposals that undermine our importance. With 15 seats in the House flipping Democratic in our recent election, we anticipate extensive time investments in educating the new legislators on the importance of Qualifications-Based Selection and the positive impact quality design can have on long-term cost and public health, safety, and welfare. We will need your help next year.

In closing, thank you to all of our Allied Members and partners who have sponsored our events at any level. We truly couldn’t do it without you!  A special acknowledgment is deserved by our 2017 President, Bill Brown, AIA and the entire Board of Directors. Your selfless service and dedication of time and talent have made our entire state component better. Your local components are quite fortunate to have you on its respective leadership teams.

I look forward to 2018 being a successful and prosperous year on all fronts and am glad you will be a part of it by being a member of the AIA. In fact, I am inviting you to email me at cclayborne@aiava.org to tell me one thing you would like to see the AIA do for you in 2018. The 18th person to email me will get a reward.

Until then, enjoy the Holiday season and I look forward to working with you next year!


Why I Attend ArchEx

This will be my first Architecture Exchange East as your Executive Vice President and Servant-In-Chief.  As a practitioner and firm leader, I attended this conference roughly a dozen times.

As I write this article, I ask myself, “Why did I attend?”

Was it the continuing education? The keynote speaker? The networking and fellowship?

Corey Clayborne, AIA

For me, the conference served as an architectural family reunion. I was provided the opportunity to see my closest friends and colleagues from around the Commonwealth and our universities at this designated time of year. I’ve sat at Penny Lane howling in laughter until my eyes welled up with tears.  We joked about local AIA events that we had planned before where attendance woefully missed our expectations. It wasn’t funny when it happened but it sure is comical now. Anyone who has served in the AIA has likely experienced this phenomenon. Or we imitated, in good fun, those unique personalities that may have crossed our paths in the profession. Including clients. Heck, we even used ourselves as ammunition for jokes. And then someone would inquire, “You all want one more round?!” Knowing you signed up for a 7:00 seminar early the next morning, you should probably take your hind-parts to bed, but you would stay out a little longer and succumb to the peer pressure.

I get it. Your answer may be different than mine. But we all have our reasons for attending. The goal of the AIA Virginia Board of Directors and staff is to continue to strive for greater excellence each year with this production.

So, let me take a moment to share what we are doing special this year.

First, we have invested significantly into our future generation and emerging professionals this year. For the first time ever, AIA Virginia has partnered with AIAS National to produce a one-day continuing education track specifically crafted for students. A number of AIA Virginia highly-regarded firm principals and leaders will volunteer their expertise to share today’s best practices on portfolio preparation, getting hired, successfully integrating into a firm upon graduation, and so forth in an effort to better prepare the candidates you will be hiring. Also for the first time, AIA Virginia has offered registration promotions to members that include complimentary registrations for Associate members. And let’s not forget the prosecco toast planned for our newly licensed architects.

Secondly, we have diversified the continuing education experience to capture unique opportunities not available online or at lunch and learns. Historically, AIA Virginia only had a Large-Firm Roundtable (LFRT) that facilitated dialogue amongst firm leaders on issues faced in practice such as equity and diversity, leadership development, and firm culture. These roundtable discussions have now been extended to include Small-Firms (SFRT) and Mid-Size Firms (MFRT) and will be held at The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design. Our tours this year will include Stone Brewing and VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art designed by Steven Holl Architects. We have nearly 70 vendors that are ready to show you the latest products in the market. The keynote speaker and CEO of Architizer, Marc Kushner, AIA is one of the highest rated TED speakers in the world and his talk is going to blow you away.

Lastly, we will continue to provide opportunities to let your hair down and enjoy your time in fellowship with your peers. This year at CONNECTIONS, we will be joined by our conference partners, American Society of Landscape Architects. Representatives from Preservation Virginia and Associated General Contractors (AGC) are also expected to be in attendance. This will afford you the chance to build relationships with non-architect partners that have a role in shaping the built environment. Virginia Tech will host its annual alumni party which is always a joyous time and groups like the Emerging Leaders in Architecture and Women in Design continue to host their annual dinners.

The conference is capped with our Visions for Architecture gala that celebrates our Honors and Awards winners at the Hotel John Marshall. We will get cleaned up, maybe shave, eat great food, and dance like no one is watching as the DJ spins classic jams that take us to “back-in-the-day” memories. We will be joined at the gala by our 2017 AIA National President, Thomas Vonier, FAIA.  A tremendous honor indeed.

So, in closing, the question is “Why do you attend Architecture Exchange East?” Email me at cclayborne@aiava.org and let me know. If you were not planning to attend, I am hopeful you will consider giving it a try. At least for one day. You’ve worked hard all year. Invest in yourself for the sake of personal and career growth while escaping the four walls of your office for just a moment. Believe me, your clients want that too.

I look forward to seeing you in November.

Register for ArchEx 2017>>