I always encourage architects in my office to become active members of the Boston Society of Architects. Those who are active BSA members are generally better informed, better trained, more current, and in general just a whole lot smarter about their profession. Encouraging BSA membership is a strategy for developing talent in our office.
I’ve been a member of the BSA for over 27 years, since 1984. I place tremendous value on my BSA membership, but I have to confess that when I first joined, it was because I wanted “AIA” (American Institute of Architects) after my name. For me, that said to the general public “This guy’s a registered architect”. The only way you could join the AIA was to also join the BSA, so I joined. At first, I wasn’t very active. I paid my dues and that was about it. But after sticking with it for a while, I realized that what I get out of the BSA is priceless.
In 1992, the AIA national convention came to Boston, and the BSA set up a series of focus sessions designed to generate ideas for events the BSA could host that would add to the convention experience. I attended one focus group at the urging of a colleague and quickly understood that the underlying motivation behind all this planning was to avoid the debacle that happened the last time the AIA convention came to Boston, sometime in the 70’s. Apparently, an event out at George’s Island ran late, the ferries stopped running and several conventioneers were actually stranded on the island overnight. That wasn’t going to be repeated.
Following that first planning session, I was asked to help organize an event that would appeal to the children of families attending the convention. A group of us met to brainstorm. After lots of discussion, we settled on an idea, and the first KidsBuild event was born. Using donated materials like cardboard, colored paper, and shoeboxes, children designed and built their own small buildings and arranged them on a city grid. It was held at the Museum of Science during the convention. The creativity was amazing. The convention was a huge success, and the bad memories of the last AIA convention in Boston were erased. I’m proud to say that KidsBuild continues to this day, run now by the third generation of committed volunteers.
During the preparation for KidsBuild, I learned a lot about what the BSA did and what it represented. I learned that it was great place for me to learn more about my profession. I also met other architects, my peers, from whom I continue to learn. I also met the executive director, Richard Fitzgerald, who encouraged me to be more active in the BSA. I remember Richard explaining to me that architecture is a knowledge business, and that the BSA’s primary goal was to be a clearinghouse for knowledge. That concept appealed to me.
Since then, I have remained active in the BSA. I’ve attended countless meetings of various committees, and taken numerous seminars at BuildBoston. I’ve been a committee co-chair. I’ve been a member of special BSA task forces to address specific, short-term issues. I’ve served on the BSA Board. Sometimes, people ask me why I’m so enthusiastic about the BSA, and why I value it so highly.
Throughout my career, I’ve needed training for a variety of things related to my job. It might be purely technical, like how to design an exterior wall, or it might be practice-oriented. I’ve found that the BSA is a wonderful place for learning about the profession. When I heard that state codes governing the design of exterior walls were changing, I joined the Building Enclosure Council. They were actually helping to rewrite state codes, so serving on that committee was like having a front row seat. The BSA also organizes events throughout the year offering more intense opportunities for learning. BuildBoston is an annual event, with a huge trade show of building products plus a wide ranging series of seminars covering a multitude of topics. BuildBoston was where I first heard about sustainable design as a concept, and it is where I first learned about BIM (Building Information Modeling). Our firm uses Revit, part of BIM, very actively, and we have designed over a million square feet of LEED certified space.
I often run into issues that, in order to solve them, require advocacy beyond what I can manage. I was active on the Legislative Affairs Committee, which gave me the opportunity to meet with officials in the State House to advocate for causes important to architects and designers. For example, I believe strongly that only registered architects, and not interior designers, should be allowed to stamp and sign drawings, in order to preserve life safety for the general public. Through Legislative Affairs, we have been successful in maintaining this important responsibility for architects only.
As a principal, I try to stay connected with other architects outside my firm. For me, it’s a way of learning how other firms approach the business. The BSA offers many great networking opportunities throughout the year. Sometimes, just working with another architect on a committee is a great way to learn about their practice and the kinds of issues important to them. I’ve learned so much from my work on the BSA Board, and from my time as chairman of the board for Learning by Design. This group works to place architects in classrooms throughout the state (kindergarten through Grade 12) to introduce students to the value of design, and to demonstrate how all those subjects are actually used in a real-life profession. This is a great way for architects to engage with the public and create better connections to their communities.
The practice of architecture is a constant process of learning; our profession is always changing. Codes change over time, and new materials are introduced all the time. How we design is changing dramatically with increased use of BIM. Because of that, I have the strong belief that architects are naturally geared towards educating others about the nature of the design process, about what constitutes “good design” and about the skills and specialized training architects possess. I advocated for the BSA’s move to Atlantic Wharf because I believe this new location will help us reach out to the public in a way that will totally transform the BSA from a professional society to a convener on design discourse.
The BSA reflects my values. I believe in inclusiveness: we are all better when involving the ideas and opinions of many. Years ago, the BSA made a conscious decision that in addition to serving the needs of architects, it had to be a place where all the building and design stakeholders as well as the public could come together. It opened membership to non-architects. When you attend a BSA event, whether it is a lecture or a BuildBoston seminar, you’re likely to find contractors, engineers, designers, and consultants amongst the architects. Why is this important? Communication is the key to success for any project. The BSA recognizes this, and continues to take affirmative steps to building better communication not only between the design and construction disciplines, but the public as well.
Education, training, networking, public outreach, communication with others who value design – these are all things that I value highly, and have found within the BSA. It’s been, and continues to be, an entity where I can develop as an architect. This organization means so much to me that I have decided to run for President of the BSA this year.