When Ian Merker, AIA, attended National Convention in May, he deliberately left his pens and notepad behind and diligently used twitter as his primary note-taking mechanism. The result—he was engaged in a way he might not have been otherwise. Read about his few days in Atlanta here.
During my term as Young Architects Forum (YAF) Regional Director, I made it a point to join Twitter as a means to communicate with other emerging professionals. I continued that use of social networking with a visit to #AIACon15, or as some people like to call it, the AIA National Convention.
When I attend workshops, I typically fill a pad with cryptic notes, the information sits in a drawer for years, then makes its way to the recycle bin. This year’s AIA Convention utilized a mobile app that bridges content from social networks, so I decided to tweet my notes. I let the social network tell me what information was most valuable from the number of “favorites.” Some of the most “favorited” tweets came from Emerging Professional-led workshops. The “Collaboration Generation” workshop placed an attorney, architect and contractor on a panel, presenting non-traditional methods of project delivery and different communication strategies in construction administration, to improve projects’ effective design and bottom line. In “Emotional Intelligence and Leadership,” I was called on to tell the audience what I wanted to learn from the session. I said into the microphone, “I want to be more charismatic and outgoing!” One of the other attendees shouted, “You already are!” It turned out to be someone I worked with on a project team years ago. I guess I left an impression?
As a contributing Journalist for YAF Connection, a volunteer position, the Convention is a rare opportunity to do a face-to-face interview, seeing as any architect with which you want to have face time is there. I connected with Rob Walker, the chair of the Small Firm Roundtable. He’s responsible for putting together the AIAKinetic app. It may be the best little architectural practice tool you’ll ever need.
The blue sky speakers are not always who you expect. Bill Clinton’s comments on climate change and the impact of events abroad as it pertains to the US were poignant, but I felt greater impact from the words of Welby Altidor, Creative Director for Cirque du Soleil. His creative process is unique but felt so obvious. “Try to add an element of punk rock in your projects,” he said. Moshe Safdie’s acceptance speech for the Gold Medal echoed his humble beginnings as a child in a new country with high aspirations. His work is unapologetic, yet feels at home in many parts of the world. He shows a deep understanding for client and culture, which is something I hope to achieve in my work.
The most valuable experience for my professional development was the Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) pre-convention workshop. We toured three locations- a charter junior/senior high school with a clear programmatic focus on collaboration and excellent site planning, an IBM technology campus converted to a high school, and a state-of-the art biotechnology laboratory building at Georgia Tech. Each project had unique design challenges and programmatic solutions, which is the epitome of an interesting learning experience.
The hardest part of attending a conference is finding time to rest. I repeatedly found myself attending evening receptions (like the Emerging Professionals Reception) and waking up early for the Young Architects Forum Walks to connect with locals and reconnect with the die-hard young architect conventioneers that feign sleep.
The business side of the AIA Convention isn’t always exciting, but this year was an exception. The “Repositioning” efforts to restructure governance in the Institute have opened an opportunity to change the face of leadership. This year’s elections saw two Young Architects gaining office: Jennifer Workman earned the greatest number of votes among three available positions to the AIA Board, earning her a three year term, and California-based Young Architect Deepika Padam was elected to the Strategic Council. This changing face was also echoed in the Equity in Architecture Resolution, sponsored by AIACC, which advances the commitment of the Institute in making our profession an equitable practice. And what better place to change the face of our profession than the city that saw the beginnings of the American Civil Rights Movement?
No convention visit is complete without experiencing the host city. The trouble with having an architecture convention in a sprawling city like Atlanta is that the city can’t be judged by its downtown. However, unless you make the time to venture out, your impression will be limited. The Martin Luther King Heritage sites are a mile out and are a necessary experience. Many attendees visited the Meier/Piano designed High Museum in Midtown, but even more fascinating are the spaces along the BeltLine trail east of Downtown in the Inman Park neighborhood and beyond, with eclectic cafes and shops in converted warehouses and quirky street art, or the indulgent excess of the corporate towers, luxury hotels and shopping districts of Buckhead. I also took some time walking the museum and grounds of the Atlanta History Center, where I learned about Antebellum Period life—something very foreign to this California kid.
Ian Merker AIA, LEED AP BD+C is an architect at Rainforth Grau Architects in Sacramento, specializing in the education sector. He is Film Curator for AIA Central Valley and a former YAF Regional Director.