Sunday, November 18, 2012

Architects Building Community

The American Institute of Architects is the voice of the architectural profession and the resource for its members in service to society. Through its culture of innovation, the institute’s Southwestern Oregon chapter (AIA-SWO) empowers local architects and inspires creation of a better built environment. During its sixty years of existence, AIA-SWO has also sponsored efforts to elevate discussion about architecture and urban design in the communities its members serve. 

AIA-SWO recently established Architects Building Community (ABC), a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to deploying architects and others committed to the betterment of the built environment. The non-profit’s mission is “to support public education, community outreach, and well-informed public involvement in planning design excellence for our communities and public spaces.” Fundamentally, the charge of the ABC board of directors, comprised of past presidents of AIA-Southwestern Oregon, is to identify and fund projects that support this mission. 

Of course, what constitutes design excellence to one person may not be the same for another. This is too often true when it comes to the perceptions of professional architects versus those of the general public.  Regardless, ABC believes there are objective criteria that can be agreed upon by everyone. The best examples of good design, whether at the scale of an individual residence or a city, follow universal, time-honored principles. 

Still very much in its nascent stage, ABC is now ready to request proposals from groups or individuals for projects that would advance the design excellence dialogue in our communities. Such projects might include production of a public lecture series presenting widely respected speakers in architecture and urban planning, or perhaps a community workshop focused upon a design challenge of common concern. ABC’s board of directors will vet all proposals and disburse funds to those projects it deems most deserving and consistent with its design excellence vision. 

ABC’s monetary support comes from corporate sponsors, charitable foundations, and individual donors. The organization is also a member the Oregon Cultural Trust. This means any Oregon donor can double his or her support (up to $500, $2500 for corporations) of Oregon culture—at no cost to the donor—by making a matching donation to the Trust and taking an Oregon tax credit for that match. Unlike tax deductions, tax credits reduce tax liabilities dollar for dollar, making the second donation completely free to the donor. Additionally, ABC is eligible to compete for the millions distributed each year by the Trust. 

What’s more, ABC is an eScrip member organization. eScrip is a fundraising program in which participating merchants contribute a percentage of your grocery loyalty cards, credit card, and debit/ATM card purchases to the organization of your choice at no additional cost to you. Participating merchants in the AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter area include Market of Choice and Safeway. The eScrip program brings an unprecedented ease of use and many other advantages to fundraising. Simply buy groceries at your favorite supermarket as you normally do and ABC is the winner. Sign up at

Is ABC the start of something big? The members of the ABC board certainly hope so. They welcome your support, either by means of your direct contributions or via eScrip. If you have a project you believe merits ABC’s backing, you’ll soon be able to find details at the organization’s website about how you can submit your proposal. 

Ultimately, ABC hopes its efforts will foster a culture of admiration and enthusiasm for design excellence amongst those who most influence and shape our communities. If ABC successfully instills public appreciation for the importance of good design, we'll all be the beneficiaries.

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