Changing the world

I recently did something audacious: I ran for election to serve on the AIA Board of Directors. This wasn’t the plan. Although if I have learned anything in the last three years, there never really is a plan.

A couple of things brought me to declare my candidacy in January. On the heels of the Equity in Architecture Commission I was excited about the AIA taking a stronger stance working towards a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive profession. Although I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done, momentum is there. Second, part of advancing that movement supporting others and is being in a position myself to continue to develop and influence the conversation both as an architect with a unique experience and an advocate for an expanded future for architecture. Lastly, I was encouraged by mentors to consider the timing and possibilities of running for a term that will last from 2018 to 2020. I have long believed that good mentors serve a critical role in providing perspective to see our capabilities long before we recognize them in ourselves. They give us safe space, encouragement, and grounding to make the big leaps less scary. Well, leap I did and now some good, hard work is ahead. Of course, the article “Take Charge. Please.” by AIA President Thomas Vonier in Architect Magazine also helped.

As part of the election process, I delivered a speech at the Conference on Architecture Business Meeting to the voting delegates. Below is a portion of my message:

A couple of years ago at an AIA Grassroots Conference I met Sir Ken Robinson, an educator and expert in creativity. After hearing him speak, I bought a copy of his book and was in line to have him sign it. When I approached him, I introduced myself and he asked me what I did. I thought to myself, well, that’s pretty obvious (since we were a room full of architects.

I answered, “I’m an architect.”

His response to me was simply, “That’s it?”

Well, of course not. I am more than just an architect. I am an advocate, a mother, a citizen, an educator. In that moment, he reminded that I was more than a title, job description, or label, just architects do more than design buildings.

[Architects] have the power to change the world with your ideas, your advocacy, your knowledge, your connections and your communities.We are at a pivotal point in our economy, the health of our cities and the environment, and as a profession, and [we are] more than just a group who get together. You are all more than just architects; you make change through your work.

Architects have the power to change the world one building at a time, one project at a time, one client at a time. It’s important to recognize that architects cannot do it alone and therefore it’s important to realize that although we may see things as small or singular efforts, if done responsibly, they can have a great collective influence.

I ended my speech by asking the audience the next time someone asks them, “What do you do?” How many ways can you answer that question?

To quote Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of my alma mater, “why not change the world?

This post is part of Bob Borson’s #ArchiTalks series—a monthly challenge encouraging architects to write about a single topic. This month’s topic is “Advice for Clients” Please see links below to check out the views of others:


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Emily is an Architect, Mother of 2, and Somerville, MA resident.

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