An Opportunity for Architects to Lead

A Message from AIA Pennsylvania President, Marc Mondor

We are going through a remarkable time.

The current Coronavirus crisis is impacting all of us – personally, societally, professionally.  As people, we are concerned for our relatives, friends and communities.  We are affected socially with the sudden absence of large events, whether sports, conferences, gatherings or concerts, as reassuring staples of our daily life.  These impacts are unprecedented in modern times as this pandemic grows exponentially by the day, ultimately impacting nearly everyone on the planet.  We are equally unsettled by the the uncertainty surrounding this crisis, particularly the time horizon. We are all being presented new realities daily.  Many of the stresses on our social structures will work their way back to normal, but it will be a new normal, and many adaptations we are all currently exploring will remain.

As architects, we have an obligation to think about solutions to this crisis. AIA Pennsylvania is currently completing a strategic plan that will call for the increased delivery of services and educational content remotely to all corners of our Commonwealth for our 3,000 members.  We would like to see greater access and participation within the parts of the state not near significant population centers.  This plan will also call for more strategic collaboration.  Technology that facilitates and enables collaboration across team members and disciplines within projects will become expected and likely lead to leaner, more streamlined processes, as well as greater digital collaboration among allied and competing firms.  In the face of our current crisis, new design will be required to accommodate social distancing in our public spaces.  Care and research into non-transmissive materials, clean ventilation and health outcomes will be necessary and expected.

Over this past weekend, not surprisingly, the American Institute of Architects has decided to postpone the 20,000 attendee national A’20 conference, scheduled for May.  The Institute is considering rescheduling, or perhaps a virtual conference, as it considers which aspect of this annual reunion can be delivered remotely.  For those of us who have attended past national conferences, there is no substitute for the spontaneous meetings, impromptu hellos, and the unplanned learning that happen at AIA national events. This crisis will make us more technologically adept and could further strengthen our virtual collaboration channels. However, there is no substitute for the power of place — we will be ready to advocate for the role of place and to reweave the people’s trust in each other and their environment through our design work.

This is an opportunity to lead, as crises typically are.  Just as we have made design contributions to address climate change, school violence and others issues, design solutions are needed in this current environment. As previous recessions resulted in outsourcing and automation, which new strategies will remain with us?  Perhaps we can contribute to enable better preparation, better testing, better scenario planning and help prevent future contagion and a flattening of the curve.  There is no substitute for the nuances and spiritual necessity of human contact, but our ability to adapt to and to adopt promising new norms moving forward will contribute to our next steps as a society.

Marc Mondor, AIA
President, AIA Pennsylvania
[Principal, evolveEA]