The national American Institute of Architects has a number of member interest groups, called ‘Knowledge Communities.’ These range from committees focusing on particular types of projects to practice and technical issues. They began 50 years ago with the establishment of a ‘Committee on Aesthetics,’ now the ‘Committee on Design,’ that was fostered by the late Jean-Paul Carlhian, a partner in Shepley Bullfinch, the Boston firm that evolved out of HH Richardson’s office. Jean-Paul felt that design was too often overlooked by the business oriented AIA as well as the American public, and that the institute needed an ‘ombudsman’ group that would promote good design within and without the AIA.
Over the past 50 years, the Committee on Design has thrived. It does important work for the AIA as a whole, selecting awards juries and finding candidates for special institute honors. When it began in 1969, it met at AIA headquarters to discuss issues and to organize the AIA’s design awards and then visit an American city to focus on a particular issue. By the time I joined in 1980, the Committee was visiting two cities as well as Washington, and the visits included extensive tours as well as discussions. This grew out of Jean-Paul’s (and others’) strong conviction that to be truly comprehended, architecture must be seen in place, not through photographs. And that led as well to the requirement that annual national awards finalist buildings be visited by a jury member.
Recently, Jim Childress and I joined past chairs of the committee in San Francisco to celebrate its 50th birthday at a Committee on Design conference on innovation. It was wonderful to reconnect with many old distinguished friends and see the latest and greatest work arising out of Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s tech culture.
Jim and I are very proud to come from one of only three firms in the country (Pei and Partners has had three) that provided more than one chairman in the Committee’s history. I was mildly horrified that my chairmanship tenure (1986) was the oldest represented at the reunion, but time passes quickly when you are having fun! Jim’s was 2015 and even that seems long ago now.