My 2012 AIA Convention

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AIA Convention

Doug Aitken’s Song 1, a 360-degree multimedia projection on the exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum.


Everyone’s AIA Convention is unique, of course. Even the most diligent conventioneer, skipping lunch and eschewing the half-day or daylong tours, can attend (by my swaggering estimate) at most 4% of the events. Knuckling down, she can wrap up her CE requirements for the year, learn a few things (and rehash a few more), quaff a couple of bottles of wine (over the course of the four days, I mean), and enjoy friends, old and new. She will hear the distinguished keynote speakers—historian David McCullough, architect/public servant Hon. Shaun Donovan—and the keynote appreciation for the architects involved in the several 9/11 projects. In stolen moments between sessions, she’ll visit dozens of the roughly gazillion-and-a-quarter vendors on the Exposition floor—and she’ll win an iPad.

Then there’s me. Certain that the Fellows Investiture is on Friday (it’s always on Friday, right?), I’ll miss that stunning occasion at the National Cathedral (which was only available for the AIA’s use on Thursday) The only good thing about missing it was that I actually got to the AIA California Council New Fellows Reception on time, unlike the new Fellows themselves, who were stuck in traffic.

From there to the Tulane School of Architecture alumni reception, at a restaurant called Acadiana, which is located catty-cornered across from the convention hotel. The proximity is suspicious: Who picks the hotel, anyway?

And from there to the Newseum for the Host Chapter Party. A bit too big and rambling for a party—the crowd was not nearly dense enough to ignite fiery, accidental conversations—but I did have my first revelatory encounter. I had met Erica Rioux Gees, AIA, the director of the AIA’s Legacy Foundation, once before, but had not had the chance to get to know her. We met again, here, over the buffet, and I learned that she has been coordinating an AIA project in Haiti, as part of the recovery effort there. That’s the sort of thing that we want to know that our national headquarters is doing.

Architecture’s role in disaster recovery and in the service of beleaguered communities generally was one of two “threads” I followed at the convention. On Friday, I joined in the toast celebrating the new partnership between the AIA and Public Architecture. The partnership encourages “AIA members to pledge to The 1%, a nationwide program of Public Architecture that challenges architecture and design firms to commit a minimum of 1% of their time to pro bono service and facilitates a matching service to connect firms with nonprofits seeking pro bono design services.”

AIA Convention, Tim Culvahouse

The author with curators of the U.S. Pavilion for the 2012 Venice Biennale, Cathy Lang Ho (left) and Anne Guiney of the Institute for Urban Design

Around and about the toast, I learned about the campaign to fund the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. This year’s curators, working under the auspices of the Institute for Urban Design, are Cathy Lang Ho, contributing editor to Architect magazine and founding editor-in-chief of The Architect’s Newspaper; Ned Cramer, editor-in-chief of Architect; and David van der Leer, assistant curator of architecture and urban studies at the Guggenheim. The theme of the pavilion is “Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good”; it will “frame an archive of compelling, actionable strategies, ranging from urban farms to guerilla bike lanes, temporary architecture to poster campaigns, urban navigation apps to crowd-sourced city planning.” Curating the pavilion is a huge challenge, as the curators must raise all of the funds to execute it, and they only learned of their selection this past fall. I’m sending them a contribution; you can, too, through the IUD’s Pay-Pal portal, here.

Along similar lines, the Institute celebrated the 45th anniversary of its R/UDAT (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Teams) program. You can see an inspiring mini-documentary of the program, with interviews of R/UDAT participants, including Maybeck Award-winner Chuck Davis, FAIA, here.

John Peterson, AIA, founder and president of Public Architecture, spoke later in the day as part of a panel on leadership, but I opted instead for the other thread I was following: a session on social media. Shortly after, all jazzed up by the possibilities, I attended a Tweet-Up, which turns out to be an occasion for People Who Tweet to meet—in person!—other People Who Tweet, and for People Who Don’t to become People Who Do. I have lately been making the transition from a Who-Don’t to a Who-Do, so I enjoyed the camaraderie. Also, I won an AIA key fob as a door prize (although, strictly speaking, there was no door, just a nook on the Expo floor). I met some young AIA staffers who are working on K-12 education initiatives, and they advised me on the best way to express “Cool!” in a tweet; we settled on “Tight.” See my tweet about the key fob here.

AIA Convention

The setting sun honors the 2012 class of Fellows at the National Building Museum


Saturday was for relaxing, catching up on sleep, and enjoying the gorgeous weather. Saturday evening was the Fellowship Convocation Dinner, where all of the non-Californians were shaking their heads over how many of the new fellows—twenty per cent—were from California. The experience of the new Fellows was bracketed by two remarkable spaces—the National Cathedral and, for the dinner, the National Building Museum. A fabulous place for the sun to set on the 2012 AIA Convention.

AIA Convention

Doug Aitken’s Song 1, a 360-degree multimedia projection on the exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum

The only thing remaining was to cab over to the Mall to see Doug Aitken’s enthralling Song 1, in the company of the Three Es: EHDD, Eskew Dumez Ripple, and El Dorado Architects (and a little Basil Hayden in tiny plastic cups).

You’ll not want to miss Denver in 2013.

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Tim Culvahouse, FAIA

Tim Culvahouse, FAIA, is Editor-in-Chief of the AIA California Council and an architect specializing in the public communication of design ideas through his firm, Culvahouse Consulting.

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