AIA Convention 2016: Lessons Learned

AIA Convention_RemKoolhaas_2016

“Architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate.” Rem Koolhaas

By: Korey D. White, AIA, NCARB, Licensed Architect at RNL Design 
AIA National Associates Committee Vice Chair 2016/Chair 2017

Annually, 20,000 architects gather at the AIA Convention. AIA Philadelphia hosted the 2016 AIA Convention this year, and while the Convention theme varies from year to year, the ability to be inspired remains constant.

Convention keynote speakers included Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actress from the hit shows VEEP and Seinfeld, Neri Oxman, designer and architect leading research in digital fabrication interaction with the biological world and Rem Koolhaas, Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect and theorist. Various other speakers and leaders were sprinkled between the main keynotes. Most notably, Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA and Robert Venturi, FAIA received the first AIA Gold Medal to be awarded to a pair of architects.

Architects in attendance experienced no shortage of provocative thinking this Convention. The theme “Imagine +” inspired attendees to think bigger, broader and challenge the profession and our practice. It was evident from the speakers that it is time to challenge the profession’s shortcomings. Rem Koolhaas noted that “Architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate.” It is interesting to note that while this might be an issue within the architectural profession, architecture is not alone. By starting to address this communication issue, we become more relevant to our communities, who are also experiencing communication issues between dissimilar people.

While we must be aware that major shifts need to occur in our profession, we also need to be aware major shifts have been occurring. Awarding the AIA Gold Medal to a duo enforces the idea that collaboration is key to our profession and is imperative to the success of projects. In addition, social impact remains a prevalent topic in many of the Convention sessions and highlights how architects have a role to serve in the resiliency of our communities. Notwithstanding, many sessions featuring the role of women in our practice is imperative to achieving aforementioned shifts and addressing the shortcomings.

As Rem Koolhaas mentioned, architecture’s greatest value may not be architecture of buildings in the future. If we look at Silicon Valley, they have stolen our titles (i.e. Software Architect). If we look to Washington D.C., politicians for better or worse speak to the “architect of a bill” or the “architect of legislation”. While we all acknowledge that there is merit and need in having architects design our built environment, we may also need to embrace the need for our professionals to think beyond the design of a physical courthouse or multi-family structure.

It would be difficult not to see we are at an interesting point within the architectural profession. With exponential technological power of digital fabrication and the continuous push for a more equitable profession, it could be argued we hold more potential power in our communities as a profession than ever before. However, if we don’t take a tip from Rem and learn to communicate outside of our 20,000 friends, we will have difficulty being of any value to the future.

Photo credit: Rem Koolhaas: Courtesy AIA

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