AIA Convention 2013: Keynotes

Keynotes_Exhausted Bear

Exhausted Bear just needs a minute. He’s not used to the thinner air.

This is the first of a few posts summarizing the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Up there is the giant bear that stands outside the convention center where it was held. In the next few days I’ll talk about the classes, the Expo floor, the city and culture and, of course, the food. Today’s post will focus on the keynote speakers and the state of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as it tries to reposition itself to better serve the profession it represents.

Thursday’s keynote opened up on a drummer laying down some pretty groovy backbeat. He was later joined by the rest of his band, which turned out to be a 4-piece that covered a song by the band fun.. Then a BMX biker rode down the stairs and did some tricks on the stage. This really happened:


I thought I might be delirious from lack of coffee, or maybe I was hallucinating from all that recreational marijuana being grown in front of the stage. Just when I thought I was at the wrong convention, a grey-haired white male came out and made a joke about golf, and I knew I was in the right place. The AIA seems to be doing some self-reflection these days. President Mickey Jacob walked us through it: the AIA has surveyed its members as well as the general public and is looking to make some changes. Or, to borrow some of the jargon, the AIA has accumulated “31,000 points of data” and will soon be “repositioning the institute” to “invert the pyramid towards the member”, who should in turn strive to be a better “citizen architect”. In a refreshing moment of clarity, the AIA admitted that “the general public has no clue what we do“. The AIA has revised its Gold Medal criteria so that it can be awarded to more than one person. And they are starting a TV show called Cool Spaces to gain ground against all the TV shows dominated by contractors and interior designers. Basically, the AIA has been reading my blog.

The keynote speakers also sounded notes that seemed to be a result of some introspection. Blake Mycoskie, founder and “Chief Shoe Giver” of TOMS Shoes, told his story of founding a for-profit business based around the concept of giving. For those of you (like me) who were unfamiliar with TOMS, I’ll fill you in. TOMS gives away a pair of shoes to children in need for each pair of shoes sold, a business model he calls “one for one”. It was a really inspiring story, and Blake was a great speaker. He summarized some benefits of incorporating giving into a business model (as opposed to running a not-for-profit or giving as an afterthought). A giving business attracts passionate customers who become your best salespeople, it attracts the best talent and strengthens office bonds, and it attracts good partners for strong inter-business relations. It’s tough for me to imagine a business model for architects that incorporates giving so thoroughly as TOMS does, but it’ll be a while before I start a business, so I’ve got time to think of something. To continue the theme on Friday, the keynote speaker was Cameron Sinclair, co-founder and “Chief Eternal Optimist” of Architecture for Humanity. AFH does a lot of great stuff, primarily centered around going into areas hit by disasters and providing support. They pride themselves on staying until the job is done, not just until the TV cameras are gone. They are also committed to using local help and managing expectations among the residents. I’m glad to hear that there is an organization addressing these major problems; Planet Money did an episode that shows how heartbreaking the consequences of poor management can be. Overall, really great and inspiring work by all the keynote speakers.

I didn’t go to see Colin Powell because I’m a bad person.

That’s all for today, check in all this week, I’ll be breaking my “every Monday” schedule to bring you more Denver goodness. Or, I guess, you could take this as fair warning to ignore me on facebook for a while. Whatevs.

3 thoughts on “AIA Convention 2013: Keynotes

  1. You’d never heard of TOMS? Everyone in Brooklyn wears them, and I have to say they are some of the ugliest popular shoes out there. Second only to Crocs and nurse shoes.

    • How long has everyone in Brooklyn been wearing them? Because as fashion goes, I hear Pittsburgh is 2 years behind New York, and I’m 2 years behind Pittsburgh, which means I’m probably 11 years from understanding this:

      • For like 4 years. And I tend to think Pittsburgh is more like 5 years behind. I’m looking forward to being really really hip when I move (with last season’s clothes).


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