Moving Forward United with Hope

As 2021 comes to a close, I first want to express my gratitude to our members for the many unique contributions and excellent work you all have accomplished this year.  Each of you makes a difference in improving the lives of people and communities we serve through your work. Thank you for being members of the American Institute of Architects, which now has over 95,000 members. 

Shared Heritage

Thank you for believing in the AIA, the collective voice of our profession in our state, our country, and around the world.  The AIA has come a long way from its humble, 1857 founding when 13 architects gathered in New York. The AIA in Virginia has come a long way too since 1914 when five men rode their horses to meet in Richmond and form an AIA chapter. Hard to imagine the challenges faced during their first two decades; impacted by World War I, the Spanish Flu, and the Great Depression. The Founders’ steadfastness may have had something to do with the conviction of their shared vision for what the profession could become; that the profession could have more impact united as a collective group.  That, as a united group they could better promote the profession, advance the standards of architectural education, practice and in turn, be of ever-increasing value to society.  Our shared heritage still unites our profession today.

2021 in Review:  AIA Virginia Activities

We’ve all had our thirst quenched by a well we did not dig.  AIA Virginia today is part of a continuum with core values and a vision that empowers its members to improve the quality of people’s lives and the built environment through their work.  AIA Virginia’s Mission guides our organization’s work toward our vision.  The heavy lifting of the mission is carried out by the Board of Directors and our four councils, which are populated with board members from around the Commonwealth and staff liaisons.  The organization’s finances are healthy and recent governance changes will enable us to move forward with efficiency and inclusivity; presided over by the treasurer and secretary respectively. Here are a few highlights of 2021 AIA Virginia activities:

Advocacy Advisory Council

  • The level of membership support in the AIA Virginia PAC has increased six-fold since 2016 allowing us to significantly extend our influence and relationship building with state lawmakers.
  • One notable General Assembly success:  we defeated a bill that would have given the Governor unilateral authority to issue architectural licenses regardless of education, experience, or examination requirements. 
  • Launched the inaugural ARCHITECTS Speak Up! Initiative.  Over 50 AIA members participated and built relationships with members of the House and Senate.  

Education Council

  • As envisioned by the AIA Virginia Strategic Plan, we collaborated with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and Associated General Contractors (AGC) on the Architecture Engineering Construction Symposium in March. 
  • We planned and organized our Biennial business symposium, Art of Practice, held virtually in August with 70 attendees, with program content on emerging technologies, trends in risk management and decarbonization and the latest developments in employment law. 
  • Our annual conference, Architecture Exchange East, was held virtually last month with thought provoking speakers and outstanding program content curated under the umbrella of “Making Space:  Designing for Inclusion.”  

Member Services Council

  • Mentoring continues as a key element of Member Services, evolving from the pandemic. Operation:  Reach, Retain and Develop, initiated in 2020, continues with a second year into 2021-2022. 
  • For the second consecutive year, The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design has graciously sponsored our Amber Book Scholarship program for ARE prep.
  • We welcomed 125 new members in 2021, bringing total membership to 2,365 as of October 1, 2021.  

Outreach Council

  • Conducted the 2021 Design Awards, which incorporated the “Framework for Design Excellence” into submission criteria; added Small Project and Extended Use Categories. 
  • Continued to produce the digital version of Inform regularly to bring forth exceptional curated content to members and our external audiences.
  • Resumed AIA Virginia’s “Blueprint for Better Communities Dinner” series in September at VIA Design in Norfolk after being temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
  • Continued our commitment to strengthen the pipeline to our profession through our special and important relationship with the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects.


It is good governance practice to evaluate Board structure and efficiency periodically in order to remain vital and relevant as a membership association.  The Secretary’s Advisory Committee (SAC) engaged a series of charges in 2020 to make recommendations on moving forward. In June 2021, the membership voted to implement the first phase of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee’s recommendations, which decoupled service on the four advisory Councils from Board service.  As a result, the Advisory Councils for Advocacy, Education, Outreach, and Members Services are open to all members as a service opportunity, of up to nine members in each.  In November 2021, after extensive outreach and discussion with local chapters, the membership voted to implement the second and final phase of the SAC recommendations which streamlines the size of the Board to better align with non-profit best practices.

In summary, between the Board and Councils, there will now be 50 opportunities to serve and advance the mission of AIA Virginia.

AIA Virginia Staff

I am deeply grateful for AIA Virginia’s amazingly dedicated, hard-working staff who were collaborative partners in the work of the 2021 Board. They are incredible people and a joy to work with.  AIA Virginia is very fortunate to have this group:

  • Rhea George, Hon. AIA Virginia, Managing Director
  • Cathy Guske, Hon. AIA Virginia, Member Services Director
  • Keesha Ezell, Hon. AIA Virginia, Director of Finance
  • Jody Cranford, Sales Representative

I can’t say enough about our EVP, Corey Clayborne, FAIA.  He is a visionary, regularly looking toward the future and at the same time, able to focus on detailed tasks and their successful execution. He is passionate and driven about improving the AIA to better serve our members and is also a humble person and amazing team player.  A true servant leader, we are very fortunate to have Corey as our EVP.

Moving Forward

Thank you to all AIA Virginia members for the incredible opportunity to serve as your 2021 president. It has been an honor and a privilege.

I will soon hand over the reins of leadership to my friend and colleague Robert Easter, FAIA.  Robert is an accomplished architect and educator, running his Richmond-based practice and serving as Chair of the Architecture program at Hampton University. Robert has been serving on the board as Hampton University’s Director for many years and is a past president of NOMA National.   Robert is also currently serving as chair of our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee.  AIA Virginia leadership will be in thoughtful and experienced hands in 2022.

AIA Virginia members come from varied backgrounds and have many different perspectives.  Yet, we are united by a shared heritage and shared values.  We are united by a shared vision to make a difference in the quality of the built environment and the lives of all people who experience our collective work, not just the 2% that are our clients.  In this challenging era that we live and work in, one often marked by differences, we are called to work together with justice and understanding, to encourage and build each other up.  It is our call within the call…. let us move forward with expectancy and hope to create the future of the profession we want to see. 

Sean E. Reilly, AIA
AIA Virginia President

AIA Virginia 2021 Board

  • Ryan Alkire
  • Krystal Anderson
  • JW Blanchard
  • Karen Conkey
  • Corey Clayborne
  • Phoebe Crisman
  • Bob Dunay
  • Robert Easter
  • Rebecca Edmunds
  • Eliza Beth Engle
  • Forrest Frazier
  • Kathy Galvin
  • Bill Hopkins
  • Christopher Kehde
  • Spencer Lepler
  • Anca Lipan
  • Jeremy Maloney
  • Beth Reader
  • Sean Reilly
  • Mitch Rowland
  • Maury Saunders
  • Nick Serfass
  • Michael Spory
  • Stephen Wakeman
  • Chris Warren
  • Rob Winstead

Hope and History Rhyme

Growing up in Jamaica, Joan Hunt experienced a scarcity of resources: regular power outages, frequent water shortages, showering from a bucket.  She became sensitive to waste.  Joan grew up in a conservative society where girls were encouraged to play with dolls and her boy cousins were given chemistry sets. Joan wanted the chemistry set. When Joan immigrated to the United States at an early age, she decided to become an architect.  

Joan’s life experiences shaped her values and priorities as an architect.   Her Oakland California firm Blinklab specializes in high-performance buildings and community design.

One of only 500, or so living African American women architects in the United States, Joan characterizes her demographic as the “minority of minorities”.  She advocates to increase the numbers and believes it has to start very young. Parents and young girls need to be exposed to architects and see them in action, to develop a strong inner sense that leads them to say with confidence: “I can be an architect too”.  Joan Hunt is an architect-advocate and former President of the NOMA-Oakland Chapter.  

Sean Reilly, AIA

Unfortunately, it’s not just African American women licensed architects whose numbers are significantly too low. African American women and men licensed architects together comprise only about 2% of all licensed U.S. architects, even though African Americans comprise about 13% of the United States population.  In 2017, the AIA Large Firm Roundtable established a goal to double that percentage to 4% by 2030.   Four years into it, we’re still stuck at 2%.  We have nine years left.

How can we double the number of licensed African American Architects in less than a decade when it has taken over 150 years to reach 2%?   Does AIA Virginia have a role to play?  The consensus of the AIA Virginia Board is: Absolutely!  AIA Virginia is taking a holistic approach to diversifying our profession in Virginia, which is a critical piece of AIA Virginia’s Strategic Plan. We resonate with Joan’s instincts: parents and young African Americans need to be exposed to architects at an early age for some of them to make the connection and form an inner belief that says: “I want to be an architect”. The key is to create excitement and interest in pursuing architecture at an early age through outreach. 

AIA Virginia will be undertaking the Alternative Pathways to the Profession Inclusivity Study, to focus on this issue and make recommendations for increasing the number of licensed minority architects, including African American architects in particular.  Recently, the Board reached a consensus on the primary charges for the study.  The Board will establish a stakeholder group this fall and commence this important work in January 2022.

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding next month.  NOMA builds community and provides space to shine the light on the voices of its members.  Our profession needs NOMA and its members now more than ever.  In 2020 AIA Virginia supported NOMA in its founding of the Virginia Chapter.  One of NOMA’s incredibly valuable activities is elevating the voices of its members.  Storytelling is a powerful medium.  It is not possible to over-tell the stories of our minority architects to the world.  Their stories need to be told in non-accredited architectural design programs, community colleges, and K-12 schools to show parents and their children that there is a way, a path to becoming an architect.  Hopefully inspire some to believe: “I want to be an architect.”

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave…
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

from The Cure at Troy
Seamus Heaney

Diversifying our profession to reflect society is a big, complicated issue that is incredibly daunting.   AIA Virginia is dedicated to doing our part and the Inclusivity Study is a vital piece of our overall strategy.  Collaborating, planning, and implementing the Inclusivity Study’s eventual recommendations will be hard, but then anything of lasting value usually is. It will require resilience and perseverance from all who take part.  We need to do this and be successful if our profession is to remain relevant and of value to the society we serve.  We move forward together with hope, courage, and commitment to create a more diverse, just, and equitable profession for all.

Sean E. Reilly, AIA
AIA Virginia 2021 President

Moving Forward Together

Although the pandemic is not over, folks are returning to restaurants, movie theaters, churches, and ballgames as Covid restrictions have loosened.  We are transitioning to something different, still to be defined.  Are we returning to a sense of normalcy that we are used to, the “way things were”, or moving toward something new?  I think too much has changed to return to the way things were.  

Sean Reilly, AIA

If we are moving forward, what are we moving forward towards?   Moving towards something new is unique and personal. Consider the return to the office.  Some of us are ready to return to the office and in-person meetings without any restrictions, others want to return only with certain restrictions, some aren’t ready to return and prefer to continue to work at home, while still others prefer a hybrid model that combines working at home with working at the office.

From the crisis, we have changed, for better, or worse.  We can slide backward, or we can create something new.  AIA Virginia is creating something new with Board Governance changes that will propel our organization forward to a more impactful future. 

  • Through numerous outreach efforts with our local components, it was evident that there was clear support for Phase 1 of the Secretary Advisory Committee’s recommendations for creating a new, more efficient and inclusive Board Governance structure. A special meeting of the membership was held on June 3, 2021 and those recommendations were overwhelmingly approved with a 69-5 vote. 
  • The key component of Phase 1 is the separation of the four Advisory Councils (Advocacy, Education, Outreach and Members Services) from the Board of Directors.
  • Advisory Councils will be populated by members who are passionate about that area of work through a self-nomination process, thus providing new opportunities for leadership.
  • Each Council will consist of up to nine members and select its own Chair.
  • Refer to the Call for Council Nominations article included in this Newsletter for more information. 

It is very exciting to consider the potential impact the four Councils will have in shaping the future of our profession in Virginia.  There are no limits to what we can accomplish through working together in the Councils that will begin work in January.

This period of transition out of the crisis to a better future is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new beginning.  Individually, each of us can choose to move forward and create something new in our lives and careers. It is a journey that requires our imagination and persistence, one day at a time.

What we need is the opportunity to learn what takes us forward to create a positive impact on our families, friends, firms, and the communities we live in.   Let’s move forward together with the courage to create a better-built environment and a healthier, more just world for all people.

Sean E. Reilly, AIA
AIA Virginia 2021 President

Why Invest?

Why did so many people believe in Martin Luther King and support the Civil Rights Movement? Why did so many people resonate with Pope John Paul II’s words about the dignity of each person to forge solidarity and spark the fall of Communism? King’s speech that day in 1963 at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial was not a 10 point plan on how the Civil Rights Movement would work. John Paul II’s 32 sermons in nine days on his 1979 trip to Communist Poland did not focus on what needed to change. MLK and JP II inspired people to believe in their hearts why they should take action to pursue human rights by talking about what they believed in. MLK and JP II helped people see the incredible strength in numbers. Millions came to believe in why they did what they did and joined their causes.

The AIA Virginia Political Action Committee (PAC) is the primary tool Virginia Architects have to ensure our profession remains relevant and impactful for years to come. Why invest in the PAC? We all need an answer to that fundamental question before we open up our wallets. We believe:

  • Architects speak with a unified voice to support candidates who understand our profession, regardless of party affiliation, through the AIA Virginia PAC. When these candidates win, they bring that understanding to the General Assembly and into debates on new legislation.
  • Our PAC investments provide face-to-face opportunities to educate lawmakers about what we do. The General Assembly is comprised of members of varying backgrounds, professions, experiences, and cultures. Yet, they are called upon every day to make decisions that impact our profession and the built environment including procurement, liability, funding, zoning, transportation, preservation, taxation, licensing.
  • State lawmakers are caretakers of the built environment. They come from diverse backgrounds and careers. One might be a farmer, another an attorney, another a dentist.
  • Lawmakers need and want our advice. Architects are perfectly positioned to be the authoritative voice on all matters related to the quality of the built environment. If our voice is not at the table, lawmakers will get advice from others, who may, or may not support what is important to us.
  • The PAC supports all Virginia firms because it has established a solid legal framework for practicing architecture and is essential to preserving this framework so that it continues to benefit our profession in Virginia as a whole.
  • The PAC enables us to build relationships with other key influencers to elevate our profession. One such example, our relationship with the Governor’s Director of Appointments continues to facilitate the selection of Virginia Architects for Gubernatorial Appointments.

To ensure our voice remains strong, particularly in this election year, we need members like you to believe in the value of the PAC and support the cause. For only 10 cents a day, you can make a positive influence on the future of our profession. Please consider making an investment of $36.50 today. Visit to learn more and make your investment. Participation at any level is the key, not the actual amount because there is considerable strength in numbers. Investing in the PAC is a relatively small individual step that collectively has a significant impact on our profession and the quality of the built environment.

Sean E. Reilly, AIA
AIA Virginia 2021 President
AIA Virginia PAC Board of Trustees Member

Speaking Up with a Unified Voice

In yet another adaptation to the pandemic, AIA’s signature leadership and advocacy event, Grassroots 2021 was held last month in a virtual format.  The conference included a wide range of leadership programs and biennial Hill Visits with federal lawmakers.  In one memorable session, Robert Nichols, Assoc. AIA gave an inspiring presentation on the work of the World Deaf Architecture Association, which he co-founded.  Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Nichols spoke of the importance of courage when engaging people that have different backgrounds than your own, sharing this quote:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.  Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Winston Churchill

Mr. Nichols is a leader with tremendous courage, perseverance and passion who speaks on behalf of  architects and designers that are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing.   His leadership and advocacy has provided opportunities for networking, professional development and education worldwide.

Sean Reilly, AIA

AIA Virginia has never been more resolved to strengthening the culture of advocacy within our organization.  During this unusual time, when society and communities are facing multiple complex challenges related to the built environment, the problem-solving expertise and passion of architects are needed more than ever. AIA Virginia believes it is particularly important that we demonstrate how to advocate for architecture’s value to emerging professionals.  Inspiring architects to think of themselves as advocates for our profession and the built environment is of critical importance to the future of our profession.

One of the six goals of the 2020 – 2022 Strategic Plan is “Invest in the future generations and develop visionary leaders for service.”  In response, AIA Virginia is launching the first annual Architects Speak Up!, a structured and coordinated outreach event, which will be held during May. This event will provide an excellent opportunity for AIA Virginia members to connect with their in-district state lawmakers virtually and advocate for the value architects bring to improving people’s lives, communities and the built environment.  Key goals of this event include:

  • Inspiring and empowering members to speak up for our profession
  • Cultivating relationships with state lawmakers
  • Building advocacy capacity throughout the local components
  • Training members to become an integral part of advocacy
  • Growing the culture of the AIA Virginia PAC

Participants will be equipped with knowledge, insights, tools, and resources to communicate effectively with confidence in the legislative meetings. See the post in this Newsletter to register for Architects Speak Up!

While AIA members broadly view advocacy as a core member value and need, the percentage of members who engage in advocacy is quite low. Traditionally, many architects think advocacy is something done by a few people.  One of the key goals of Architects Speak Up! is to inspire a greater number of architects to become advocates.


Because there is strength in numbers and the decisions of lawmakers and other key influencers impact all architects, their businesses and the communities they serve. By increasing our advocacy capacity Virginia architects will expand their influence at all levels of state and local government and use it for the purpose of having a seat at the table when bills are crafted on the big issues of our time: access to affordable housing; resilience and climate change; justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, amongst other issues. We can begin by empowering the next generation to speak up on behalf of our profession to improve people’s lives and transform the built environment.

Sean E. Reilly, AIA
AIA Virginia President
AIA Virginia PAC Board of Trustees member

Further Together

It’s been said that the darkest part of the night comes just before dawn.  The new year holds a promise with vaccines starting to roll out, renewed focus on social justice and movement on climate action. We move forward with hope.

Looking Back

Sean Reilly, AIA

We’ve all been warmed by fires we did not build.  I am so grateful for the hard work of all our past AIA Virginia executive vice-presidents, staff members, presidents and boards.  On behalf of our profession, I want to thank my predecessor, 2020 President Beth Reader, FAIA for her effective and grace-filled leadership through an unprecedented, yet highly productive year.  We move forward with a solid foundation and momentum.   

Looking Ahead

In a few days, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day and in February, Black History Month when we as a nation celebrate the achievements of and pay tribute to generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in America.  I am inspired by the life story of Congressman John Lewis whose mission was creating a future without racism.

“We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it” 

Rep. John Lewis

John struggled to overcome obstacles his entire life starting right at the beginning, growing up the son of sharecroppers near Troy, Alabama.  As a child, he enjoyed feeding and caring for the family chickens.  One day, there was a terrible storm with high gusty winds.  John joined hands with his aunt, siblings and cousins, over a dozen of them as they moved their small bodies around trying to keep the swaying, creeking little wooden house on its foundations.  Young John Lewis learned about working with others toward a common goal that day.  As a human rights protector and congressman, Lewis was able to go far toward achieving his life’s mission by working with others.

The 2021 AIA Virginia team is dedicated to going far to achieve its mission of serving our members, advancing their value, and improving the quality of the built environment. The AIA Virginia Board consists of 27 individuals from around the state with members from each Chapter, the accredited schools of architecture, an Associate Director and Executive Vice-President (EVP).  The Board is supported by an outstanding staff of four led by our EVP, Corey Clayborne.    

AIA Virginia’s Board is grouped into four Councils that develop and implement the 2020 – 2022 Strategic Plan including Advocacy, Education, Member Services and Outreach. Six goals that guide the Councils’ efforts include:

  • Develop our future leaders
  • Celebrate design excellence that reflects who want to be as a profession
  • Advance initiatives that support Justice, Equity, Inclusion and Diversity
  • Broaden our tent through strategic partnerships
  • Help you get the most out of your membership
  • Be a financially strong and growing organization

Implementation of these goals is creating a vibrant and engaged membership, inspired to make a positive impact on people’s lives and their communities.   

There is an African proverb:  “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”  The AIA provides each of us the opportunity to go further together toward achieving our professional mission and goals. You are an important part of this work and we are here to support you.  We believe you will find the connections, resources and services AIA Virginia provides to be valuable to your careers and firms.  

If you have already renewed your membership – Thank You!  If not, you can renew here If you are not sure about renewing, I would welcome a personal call or email from you.  We need your input to continue to provide the level of service members expect and be the voice of the architecture profession in the Commonwealth.

I am grateful for the privilege and opportunity to serve as your AIA Virginia 2021 President.  I hope 2021 is a more just, peace-filled and healthy year for all of us.

Sean Reilly, AIA
AIA Virginia President
Direct: 703-592-9135