A’17: The View from California

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The 2017 Conference on Architecture, formerly known as AIA Convention, did not disappoint the attendees. From inspiring keynotes (enter Michelle Obama), to mind-bending perspectives in some of the classes, nearly everyone returns with some takeaways that stick to their bones for the rest of their lives. Both the keynote speakers and the attendees were diverse. Some returned noting how refreshing it was to attend a non-traditional architecture conference—differing minds, differing solutions, differing opinions and all with the betterment of society in mind—nothing beats that as a goal.

On to the insights from California Attendees.

From Benjamin Kasdan, AIA, (Vice President of the AIACC Academy of Emerging Professionals):

While not the typical architectural destination, #A17con in Orlando last week made up for its lack of architectural pilgrimage sites with a powerful and inspiring lineup of keynote speakers headlined by Michelle Obama (in her first public appearance since leaving office) and TED Talk superstar Amy Cuddy.

After lining up an hour early, a palpable electricity filled the room as the attendees anxiously awaited the former First Lady’s highly anticipated speech.  Unbeknownst to the attendees, her flight was apparently held up by air traffic control at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC., so her fashionably late arrival merely served to ramp up the excitement of the audience as powerful rock anthems blared through the PA system.  Michelle Obama’s eventual arrival was met with a raucous cheer and myriad smartphone photos from the eagerly waiting architects and her words were poignant, inspirational, and emotionally-charged.


MrsObama_Todd Winters Photography

Todd Winters Photography

“So many kids don’t even know what an architect is,” Obama said. “They don’t think about how buildings are built; they don’t know anything about developing or planning. I know I didn’t, and I was an educated kid. You have kids growing up in communities where people don’t even work, period, let alone as doctors or lawyers or architects… But that’s where all of you come in.”

The final keynote kicked-off with a provocative panel of “hip hop architect,” Michael Ford, AIA, Cheryl McAfee, FAIA, and Nóra Demeter, Intl. Assoc. AIA on “Anticipating Change: What’s Next in Architecture,” moderated by KCRW radio host Frances Anderton.  The panel discussed diversity, community, the need for social engagement, and the role of hip hop in architecture.  Social psychologist from the Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy, wrapped up the event with an moving call to harness our own potential through power postures in order to support one another.  “True confidence does not require arrogance,” Cuddy said, adding that “people who feel powerful/empowered are more likely to stand up for the things they believe in.”

Myriad receptions, events, and parties filled the hours between keynote speeches, educational sessions, and time spent on the expo floor.  A personal highlight of mine was of course receiving the 2017 Young Architects Award.  Joined by my wife, Marissa Kasdan, Assoc. AIA, AIA California Council (AIACC) President, Jana Itzen, AIA, AIACC 1st Vice President/President-Elect Britt Lindberg, AIA, and my fellow award recipients – including my good friend from San Francisco, Je’Nen Chastain, Assoc. AIA who won the 2017 Associates Award, I was humbled to be bestowed such a great honor.  Obviously. I could not miss the opportunity to take a selfie with 2017 AIA National President Tom Vonier, FAIA, and AIA National EVP Robert Ivy, FAIA, from the stage.


Ben Kasdan, AIA, Marissa Kasdan, Jana Itzen, AIA, Hillary Krek, Britt Lindberg, AIA

My time in Orlando seemed so short, really, as the action-packed days raced by.  It was fun to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, as well as meet new ones.  I cannot wait to do it again next year for #A18con in New York City!


Britt Lindberg, AIA, (AIACC First Vice President), had this to add:

California was very well represented as award recipients, resolution-passers, session leaders, and throughout the audience. Interested in others’ key photos and insights too.

And now, some words from former AIACC President, Michael Malinowski, FAIA, 2016 AIACC President about being elevated to the College of Fellows:

The somewhat mystical AIA ‘F’ became very real when I joined my class of 2017 Fellows, in a ceremony that had all the gravitas and circumstance one might imagine.  To be among those in the black robes was very moving, and the luncheon that proceeded the rehearsal was a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new connections from around the country.  There were New Fellow celebrations from Alma Maters (mine being the University of Michigan); and an AIACC celebration for California new fellows – even more icing on the cake. The wrap up was a black tie Convocation Event – where all new fellows had a white rose pinned to tux or dress – eliciting kudos all evening – followed by dancing where I surprised even myself by jumping right in, pulling along my wife, Kris, to join the very many on the packed floor!   

All in all – an incredible and satisfying conclusion to the challenging fellowship process.  In a word: WOW!

Of course, this article would be remiss without mentioning the Presidential Citation awarded to AIACC Executive Vice President, Paul W. Welch, Jr., for his passion and dedication to the architectural profession. The award was an unexpected teary surprised for the 37-year AIA veteran. A highly deserved standing ovation ensued.

Paul Receiving Presidential Citation

Queue slide show.




The AIACC represents the interests of more than 11,000 architects and allied professionals in California. Founded in 1944, The AIACC's mission supports architects in their endeavors to improve the quality of life for all Californians by creating more livable communities, sustainable designs and quality work environments. Today, The AIACC is the largest component of the National AIA organization.

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