Be IN the Room

Tonight’s the night. AIA Pittsburgh is hosting its annual Design Pittsburgh awards ceremony and gala. The event is promoted as “celebrating excellence in (regional) architecture and design, [and] honoring those who create it.” Our chapter produces several major events per year, but this is by far the largest and probably the most well renowned. It’s become an industry-wide event, allowing ample opportunity for networking against the backdrop of design excellence in our region. I can guarantee you that I will enjoy chatting up some of my fellow professionals, some of whom I haven’t seen since last year’s event. I can guarantee you that I will likely drink more than a few “Corboozies” along the way. I can also guarantee you that I will be one of a very small percentage of young architects in the room.

This fact never ceases to amaze me. Architects — particularly young architects — are often quick to point out that the profession is dominated by “old white men.” However, the vast majority of that same demographic seems not interested in doing anything to change it. Maybe its the cost of the ticket, maybe its the stigma that the AIA just ain’t cool, or maybe it’s the thought that, as a young architect, you just don’t belong in the room. None of these things are true. Young architects are just as much of a part of the profession as the more seasoned professionals — last I checked, the words “honoring those that create it” didn’t come with any exclusions. We make our contributions in different ways, but they are no less important than those of our project managers and senior principals.

During a committee meeting earlier this year, we were discussing this particular phenomenon. One of my former colleagues put it very adroitly: whether or not you see any value in belonging to a professional organization like the AIA, whether or not you think that the ticket is too expensive, if you care at all about your career, “sooner or later, everybody has to decide that they need to be in the room.” You need to be perceived as a part of the collective.

I will openly admit that I was very apathetic as a young professional. My first few years out of college, I rarely took advantage of these types of opportunities. My biggest reason? I didn’t feel that I had anything to offer. It turns out that I was completely wrong, but I didn’t find that out until much, much later… and I wish that I could have some of that time back. My involvement with the AIA has made me feel like much more of a part of my local architectural community, as well as the national organization that we belong to. It’s shown me that there is much more to the profession than just the three walls of my workstation, or the project currently in my browser.

This post is not meant to be a “bang the drum hard for the AIA” type of post. It’s not even necessarily advocating one the form of community involvement over the other. But it is about taking part in the community, and growing beyond your comfort zone. It’s about choosing to see the value of being in the room. (And yes, there are many other ways in which to do that, not just through the AIA, but this is the one that I’ve chosen.)

Whether or not you join us tonight, no matter which projects win our awards, I can tell you one thing for sure: It’s going to be one heck of a party, a celebration of our collective achievements over the past year, in a room full of talented, creative professionals. I’m proud to be in that room. If you do join us, seek me out, and let’s marvel together over the incredible community that were fortunate to be a part of. Let’s be in the room together. Might as well grab another Mintamalist while we’re at it…

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