Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Civic Lessons at CivicLAB of AIA Baltimore

The basement gallery space at the local headquarter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) may not be very impressive but the group that assembled yesterday for an extracurricular session of "CivicLAB" certainly was and so was the mix of a writer, a politician, an artist and an architect to discuss, where architecture stands in society.

The architecture profession, like our nation at large, is also in the midst of a soul-searching moment. There are calls to equalize the vast gender and racial gaps in the profession. There are petitions to consider the ethics of what and where architects build. These outcries are premised on the notion that what we build—and how we build—speaks volumes about who we are as a culture. Architecture is nothing less than mankind's values writ large. (Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson)
Fra Carnavale, The Ideal City, 1480-1484, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (from AIA's CivicLAB website)

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson Baltimore's eminent writer about architecture, design, and cities in places like The New York Times, Slate, Design Observer, and Metropolis, among others, She is also a contributing editor at Architect magazine. Read Elizabeth’s most recent article on Baltimore  or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter and learn more by visiting

Briony Hynson, Briony,  leads the Prince Georges Office’s programs, staff and fundraising, and undertakes Design Leadership initiatives at NDC’s Baltimore and Prince Georges offices. Her recent work in Baltimore City, investigating public spaces that promote access to play within underserved areas, culminated in the Robert W Deutsch Foundation Social Design Fellowship in 2012-2013.

Elaine Asal, Designer/Architect at Gensler, Baltimore. Gensler with offices around the globe is the world's largest architecture firm. Elaine is leading an office initiative to incorporate social responsibility and community-driven design into architecture and planning projects throughout Baltimore City. She helped launch gServe, a corporate social responsibility program for Gensler and currently serves on the firm-wide steering committee.

Delegate Corey McCray, District 45, Baltimore, a trained Electrician, business Owner of McCray Properties, LLC, Member of Local no. 24, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), financial secretar of the Baltimore United Democratic Club, and member  of the Bel-Air Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. and the Overlea Community Association.   

CivicLAB participants and guests participated in a lively discussion about the role of architecture and architect in today's society and in Baltimore in particular. Elizabeth reminded us to "challenge the challenges" so we are not only repeating what we have always done.
Elaine described how she has brought individual pro-bono work at the global Gensler universe into focus and under a common purpose.

Delegate McCray wrote me afterwards:
I had a great opportunity to expand my thinking in reference to architecture and the design of buildings. Such a great group of people working to empower this great place we call Baltimore. 
I had helped the late Karen Lewand, then executive director of AIA in Baltimore, to initiate  the CivicLAB program now in its fourth year. Back then I had described like this:
Thanks to the increasing awareness of environmental and social justice concerns, as well as a general realization that the built environment, indeed, plays a huge role in the well-being of both the planet and its people, architects are presented with a huge opportunity and responsibility.   As professionals who are trained to coordinate many disciplines and solve problems holistically through the integrated approach of design, we are uniquely positioned to address these concerns.  But even for us generalists, truly integrated design requires that we move out of our comfort zone and into areas which are adjacent and outside our fields of training.  Learning to engage community and achieve acceptance; to influence legislators and the regulatory framework; how our designs fit into the bigger picture; how to reform established methods and procedures for better outcomes —  these skills are not only essential for progress in our society, but are increasingly necessary for personal advancement in our industry.
AIABaltimore has stepped up to this challenge and offers a program that teaches these very skills to our young, promising emerging professionals.  This new and unique program, which is partly funded by a grant from The American Institute of Architects, relies upon local business leaders to nominate and sponsor promising young architects.  AIABaltimore is one of the leaders in the nation in its level of committee activism and involvement in a wide range of topics relevant to the profession. (Klaus Philipsen)
 The purpose is further described on AIA's website like this:
In 2012, AIABaltimore introduced CivicLAB (Leadership. Architecture. Baltimore), a series of participatory educational sessions that will help to mobilize AIA members interested in taking on or expanding leadership roles in their communities, their professional lives, and in academia.
As a result of participation in CivicLAB, AIA members will be prepared to help guide and implement public policies and community initiatives that ensure healthy, livable, sustainable, and high-quality built environments for future generations.  These sessions will introduce participating architects, interns, and allied professionals to opportunities for civic engagement across the full spectrum of their careers.  We invite the chapter’s emerging leaders to expand their role in critical issues facing our communities and the profession, and to communicate and demonstrate how architecture makes a difference.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I am co-chair of AIA's local Urban Design Committee and chair of the national Regional and Urban Design Committee (RUDC)

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