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A'19 Conference on Architecture: Blueprint for a Better Future

Fiona Mckay

Normally, what happens in Vegas...stays in Vegas.  But the A’19 Conference on Architecture was too full of promising directions for the AIA and our profession to let its events stay locked in this year’s host city! The theme, ‘Blueprint for a Better Future’, captured the challenges and opportunities facing the industry with moments of both introspection and hope.

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So, what did we learn in Las Vegas in 2019, almost 50 years after Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi published their seminal text?

We learned that no one, architects least of all, can justify burying their heads in the proverbial sand when it comes to climate change today. On the first day of the conference, AIA members voted to pass a resolution calling for “urgent and sustained climate action”. The resolution will now be presented to the board of directors to be considered as a formal change to AIA policy.

We learned that while the industry continues to struggle with under-representation, the AIA is formulating clear strategies for improving equity, diversity and inclusion. The panels and keynote speakers this year represented a broad spectrum of the industry, and workshops included focus groups on negotiation and work/life balance for the soon to be released Guides for Equitable Practice Volumes 7-9. I had the opportunity to attend the latter, where I was humbled by the experience and wisdom of minorities practicing across the US - from a group of African American men who shared how they have had to make their own way through the profession over the last 30 years and the pivotal role sponsors played in their success, to young women discussing shared struggles in determining when to speak to their practices about raises, flexible time, and increasing responsibility. I was equally incredibly envious of the Hawaiian architect who told us about his office’s ‘surf break / lunch break’ policy - now that’s a work/life balance we could all stand by.

Architect and accessible design expert Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, received the 2019 Whitney M. Young, Jr. award. “Accessibility is a topic that should be brought to the very beginning of any project.”

Architect and accessible design expert Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, received the 2019 Whitney M. Young, Jr. award. “Accessibility is a topic that should be brought to the very beginning of any project.”

We learned that transcending national boundaries and developing international relationships to support the industry will have to play a role in the architecture’s future. Delegates to the convention voted in UK-born and Chicago-based Peter Exley, as the 2020 First Vice President / 2021 President Elect. The International Region Board met to elect leadership and discuss the now-launched AIA International Design Awards. IR and UK board members also attended a reception to forge UK/US relationships, meeting RIBA representatives including current President Ben Derbyshire and CEO Alan Vallance. We also celebrated the induction of two female British architects to the Honorary Fellows, Jane Duncan and Amanda Levete.

We learned that architecture as a discipline must look to its perimeter for change. This year’s keynotes took a very 21st century format - renowned podcast host Ronan Mars, of 99% Invisible, interviewed guest speakers live for his show. The speakers themselves were a mix of designers and innovators in other industries, with insights into how architecture as a profession can look outside of itself to drive improvements within. From Keller Rinuado speaking about how Zipline uses drones to deliver blood to remote regions and its implications for spatial practice, to Reshma Saujani’s strategies for eliminating the STEAM gender gap and getting more girls to code, blueprints for architecture’s future were aplenty.

In a short but meaningful interview with Denise Scott Brown, attendees to this year’s convention learned that it was Denise, not Robert, that conceived and championed their Las Vegas research project. We have had to look back to realise that the keys to our future have been with us all along, from the many voices we must now elevate and celebrate, to the lessons other modes of spatial practice offer. As it turns out, there is more to Las Vegas than sheds and ducks.

Written by: Amrita Raja, AIA

Photos: A’19 Conference on Architecture Facebook

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