RICHMOND, VA —For the past 19 years, the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects has counted on Director of Government and Industry Affairs, T. Duncan Abernathy, AIA, to spearhead its government advocacy efforts. Duncan lobbied on behalf of the Virginia Society for a better, more sustainable, more resilient built environment throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
“Respected by his colleagues, Duncan was awarded the American Institute of Architects Distinguished Service Award in 2002 and the Virginia Society’s Award for Distinguished Achievement in 2010,” says Virginia Society AIA Executive Vice President/CEO Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA. “He was known for his collaborative efforts to effect change not just for architects, but for engineers, contractors, interior designers, landscape architects, planners and code officials as well.”
In 2005 after Williamsburg architect Scott Spence conceived of the concept of a “Citizen Architect,” Abernathy took the lead, forming a committee and developing a chart of appointed and elected positions in Virginia for which architects would be appropriate candidates. The concept has now been adopted nationally.
Abernathy’s peers have called his work “inestimable.” One person on the panel that determined Abernathy’s Award for Distinguished Achievement said, “The whole profession benefits from his work.”
Abernathy’s last day in the office was March 16, 2015. Recently promoted VSAIA Deputy Director Rhea George is assuming Abernathy’s duties.
The Virginia Society’s 2014 program year has all but ended. New officers have been installed; some staff re-tooling has been accomplished; and 2015 dues payments have started to arrive.
It is also time for me to say my last official farewells to our membership. Over my 28+ years as the Society’s executive officer our membership has almost doubled. And nearly three decades provides a pretty ample scope for shaping an organization to respond to aspirations that always will, as they should, exceed our grasp.
In the broadest sense, the past decades have been about building an organization that could use its membership strength to create increasing impact for the profession. The Society’s raison d’être has always been about creating a sense of unity to reinforce professional action on many fronts.
Like recently reiterated purposes of the national AIA, the Society has focused during my tenure on three areas of action: Government Advocacy; Professional Excellence; and Public Engagement. From a full-time government affairs program that ranges from legislative engagement to the Citizen Architect program—designed to carry the architect’s influence onto as many public boards across the Commonwealth as feasible—the Society has provided the vehicle for you to engage in Virginia’s governing processes. ArchEx, and BUILDING VIRGINIA before it, has responded for 27 years to the profession’s growing awareness that things change fast and the profession must embrace lifelong learning as a survival technique like never before.
Third, in the mid-1980s, Virginia Foundation for Architecture officers (themselves Society past presidents) realized that the Foundation had a potential to help the profession talk to the public far beyond its original scholarship mission. As soon as the renovation of the Foundation/Society’s Barret House headquarters was complete and the series of public architectural exhibitions was launched, the need for a full-blown non-collecting museum of architecture became evident, with exhibitions, school programs, summer camps, lectures, travel programs, and a bookshop. The 1993 seeds of the new Virginia Center for Architecture finally sprouted with the April 1, 2005, opening of the VCA at the Branch House on Monument Avenue.
Providing the executive leadership of the Virginia Society AIA and the Virginia Center for Architecture for many years has been a fine way to bear witness professionally to the deep satisfaction that architecture has provided me from a very early age. My retirement parties are over now, and I can hand over the keys to my successor, Helene Dreiling, FAIA, secure that the work of so many people over so many years is in safe hands.
The future for the architecture profession will be no easier than the past has been. But with any luck, I am confident that architects, a small profession in number, will find new ways to strengthen their unity of purpose as embodied in the Virginia Society AIA.
John Braymer, Hon. AIA
Executive Vice President/CEO
Watch the video tribute to retiring EVP/CEO John W. Braymer, Ph. D., Hon. AIA.
The Virginia Society AIA announces the retirement of its longtime Chief Financial Officer Kenna R. Payne on July 11, 2014.
“During her decade of service, Kenna has been a remarkably competent and versatile executive. Aside from being a trusted colleague, her wide experience gave her a knowledge base of exceptional reach and breadth,” says Executive Vice President/CEO John Braymer.
In addition to the directing the finance department, Payne managed the human resources, IT, and building security functions for the VSAIA and the Virginia Center for Architecture (VCA). For most of this ten-year period, Payne also served as CFO of the Virginia Center for Architecture. In this role she was responsible for setting up the financial protocols for managing the VCA’s retail shop; financial recording of the VCA’s fund-raising campaign, and most importantly, managing the sale of nearly $1 million in historic rehabilitation tax credits that underwrote nearly half the cost of the renovation of the Branch House in its transition to the Virginia Center for Architecture. “In short,” says Braymer, “Kenna’s contributions have been fundamental and lasting.”
In 2012, Payne’s substantial contributions to the architecture profession were recognized by the Society when they made her an Honorary Member. Honorary Membership may be bestowed upon individuals not eligible for membership in the Society, but who have rendered distinguished and exemplary service, over a sustained period of time, to architecture and the built environment in Virginia.
The search for a new financial officer will begin in the coming weeks.
When John Braymer was interviewed for the position of Executive Vice President of the VSAIA, the Executive Committee asked how long he would expect to stay in this position were it offered. (The previous executive had served only 15 months before moving on.) Braymer responded that he expected to serve at least four years, that his real strengths would be as an organization builder not as a maintenance man.
That was 28 years ago. A quick survey of the Society’s evolution over nearly three decades with Braymer at the helm bear out his pledge to build the organization, even as he now plans his departure at the end of his current contract in December.
Braymer recalls his interview fondly. “The six members of the Executive Committee and I just clicked from the outset.” With Richard Ford, FAIA, as chair of the search committee and Immediate Past President, the committee was eager to see Virginia emerge as a leader in the AIA. “But we had a lot of work to do. The headquarters building at the 1844 Barret House had slipped below the ‘shabby gentility’ stage,” Braymer says. “The group was also eager to see a staff built, they were frustrated by an unfulfilled need to be better reflected in publications, and they wanted strong representation in the General Assembly.” On top of that, they hoped to see their next executive become a force within the AIA structure, especially in the Council of Architectural Component Executives (CACE).
Braymer mustered the troops in short order. Within six months, the Virginia Foundation for Architectural Education, owners of the Barret House, had asked Braymer to become its CEO as well, and in the next six months, the Foundation had changed its name, restated its purposes, hired an architect to design the restoration of the historic landmark, and launched its first capital campaign to pay for the nearly $1 million that funded a decade of improvements–to the house, the retaining walls surrounding the property, and the 19th c. ornamental iron fencing.
Both Braymer and the Executive Committee saw the Society’s annual convention as a key in developing a stronger, more cohesive organization. With then treasurer James E. Gehman, AIA, Braymer set off in the fall of 1987 (after a disappointing event in Crystal City) to attend BUILD BOSTON and to study every notable state AIA convention in the country. From that effort emerged the launch of Building Virginia ’88, the first of the long line of annual events that morphed into Architecture Exchange East in this century. “Building Virginia ’88 was approached like any product development,” Braymer recounts. “We established a brand with a concept, a name that did not change annually, a consistent date, and a set location in Richmond. Our members came to know what to expect, and they have repaid that consistency with strong support.”
The development of Inform magazine followed closely on the heels of Building Virginia with its launch in January 1990, in time to capture the Society’s and the Foundation’s notable achievements with renovations of landmark historic properties. In 1993, Braymer announced that the Foundation would launch a center for architecture, the first such center to be developed in the country. Influenced by European architectural centers to which he was exposed by extensive travel abroad, Braymer worked for a decade to secure John Russell Pope’s 1919 Monument Avenue Branch House, finally signing the purchase documents in 2003. With support from the Virginia Society, a $5m campaign to support acquisition and refurbishment costs, as well as a staff re-tooled and expanded for a new public mission, he created and served as the Founding President of the Virginia Center for Architecture until mid-2009.
Along the way, Braymer fulfilled his pledge to be active in the national AIA, serving as host to CACE in 1993, then as its president in 1995, and as a director on the AIA national board in the same year. In that role he served on the Secretary’s Advisory Committee, the Treasurer’s Advisory Committee, and as national co-chair of the Task Force on Collaborative Planning. Braymer was named an Honorary Member of the AIA in 1996, the only member of an AIA component staff so honored that year. He became a Richard Upjohn Fellow of the AIA upon completion of his national service, and on his 2006 20th anniversary with VSAIA he was awarded the Architecture Medal for Virginia Service.
Braymer’s energy and wide interests have not stopped at the AIA’s doorstep. For nearly 10 years he has served the Richmond Symphony as director, most recently as Immediate Past Chairman, a post he still holds. He has also been chairman and director of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, Vice Chairman and director of Comfort Zone Camp, a director of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, appointed by Governor Mark Warner, a director on the City of Richmond’s Monument Avenue Commission, and Treasurer and director of the Center for Palladian Studies in America.
While Braymer’s role with the Virginia Society AIA is coming to an end, “retirement” is not a term that comes easily to mind. Braymer expects to pick up some scholarly threads left dangling over the years when he left his Ph. D. in English and a university teaching career for work in government and–ultimately–the VSAIA. And he will use his Certified Association Executive credential with the American Society of Association Executives to help other non-profits in transition. Braymer is now abroad leading a group of 29 in his tour series called “Palladio at Large: The English Story,” and he expects to continue offering in collaboration with VSAIA and the Virginia Center for Architecture the architecture tours begun in 2000, with tours of London, The Netherlands, and Poland now in the planning stages.