Monday, November 11, 2013

Sea Change – Part 2: Transitions

One of downtown Vancouver's multimodal streets (photos by me). 

This is the second of two posts about the 2013 American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region Conference, which took place this past October 23-26 in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

A number of AIA-Southwestern Oregon members made the trek north to attend the 2013 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region conference in Vancouver. Of course, as one of the Region directors, Bill Seider, FAIA did much to ensure its success. AIA-SWO president Will Dixon and president-elect Scott Clarke represented the chapter as voting delegates at the Region board and general meetings. Jonathan Stafford, Paul Dustrud, Jyoti Naik, and Jim Robertson were among the others rounding out the AIA-SWO entourage. 

Outside of the convention center, spectacular October weather ensured everyone’s visit to Vancouver was exceedingly pleasant and kept my explorations of the city by foot dry and comfortable. I do make a point of taking stock of the latest developments every time I’m in the city. I found plenty of construction activity on the downtown peninsula, including more of the tall, glassy condominium towers for which Vancouver has become synonymous. 

I’ve said it before: Vancouver is a living case study for high-density, transit-oriented urban design. Vancouver is North America’s poster child in this regard, albeit the continent’s least affordable city to live in. Worldwide, only Hong Kong surpasses Vancouver when it comes to the cost of housing. Regardless, the tower-plus-podium morphology that is characteristic of Vancouver has proven an effective instrument for achieving compact city development. 

My parents live in the Buchanan tower atop the Madison Centre shopping mall in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, B.C.

Speaking of housing and transit-oriented development, my aging parents recently sold their house in Vancouver to take up residency in one of those tall condo towers. Their new home is actually located in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, right on top of the Madison Centre shopping mall and just a block away from the Brentwood Skytrain station. Skytrain is the Vancouver area’s heavily used rapid transit system, part of an extensive multimodal public transit network. More than once during my stay, my father made the short journey by elevator to the Sav-On-Foods supermarket downstairs to pick up groceries. Sure beats driving to do one’s shopping. 

I used Skytrain to commute to and from the Convention Centre on the downtown waterfront (I spent nights during my stay on my parents’ living room couch), much more quickly and at less cost than if I had traveled by car. It’s noteworthy that Vancouver’s investment in public transit and emphasis upon densification has resulted in a 10% decrease in vehicle trips and a 4% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions despite a 22% increase in population since 1990.  

I had the pleasure of speaking with numerous AIBC members who said how much they welcomed the opportunity to interact with their AIA counterparts. They expressed the hope we could enjoy further joint conferences in the future. Ironically, this first joint AIBC/AIA-NW&PR conference may also be the last. 

While I haven’t been a member of the NW&PR board since 2010, I attended both the Region board meeting and the general member meeting while in Vancouver. The Region has assumed primary responsibility for producing future NW&PR conferences, assisting local components who alone would find the burden overwhelming. Southwest Washington was scheduled to host the 2014 Region Conference in Tacoma, but the Region board elected to not proceed with a flow-blown event next year (there may be a reduced-scope leadership conference instead). Indeed, whether there is another NW&PR conference along the lines of those we’re familiar with in following years is an open question. 

Additionally, I was surprised to learn that AIA Washington Council will no longer handle administrative duties for the Region, a role it held for many years. The board discussed options for delivery of Region services but left the conference with no definitive plan in place. My understanding is the decision to part ways was a mutual one, considered to be in the best interest of both the Washington Council and the Region. 

Bill Seider and his fellow Region Director Greg Kessler, FAIA, did provide us with an update on AIA’s “repositioning,” the changes to the Institute’s overall governance structure. The Region director positions will remain but the directors will no longer hold fiduciary responsibilities. Those duties will fall to the members of the Institute board, who will be elected at large nationally. The new structure is analogous to the bicameral organization of the U.S. congress. 

The members in attendance at the Region Business Meeting did elect a new College of Fellows Region Representative (Butch Reifert, FAIA), and also a new Region Director (Donald King, FAIA, who will succeed Greg Kessler). Bill and Greg announced the new Young Architects Fellow (Shannon Peterson, AIA) and the new Region Associate Director (Lucas Gray, Assoc. AIA).  

Surrey City Centre Library, by Bing Thom Architects
Attending the conference provided me with a reunion of sorts with my former employer Bing Thom, AIA, FRAIC of Bing Thom Architects (BTA), and several of my BTA colleagues, including Arno Matis, MAIBC, Dean Paterson, MAIBC, and Scott Kemp, MAIBC, who happens to be the current AIBC Council President. It was great to reconnect with each of them. I will have more to say in a forthcoming blog post about Bing, who is arguably the most highly regarded Canadian architect in current practice. 
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I attend conferences because they’re energizing. This year, it was the AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference in Vancouver; next year, it may be the Oregon Design Conference at Salishan, the AIA National Convention in Chicago or CSI’s CONSTRUCT in Baltimore. It’s more than just continuing education and collegiality that draws me to these gatherings; it’s also the opportunities to address issues larger than those I regularly encounter in everyday practice. It’s the ability to see the big picture that sets architects apart, and it’s at conferences where that picture comes into focus.


Bill Seider said...

Randy. I hope it okay to append your great summary with the following message sent to the leaders of the regions components.

1. At the board and business meeting last week in Vancouver it was announced that the Region will no longer be contracting with Washington Council for Administrative services to the Region beginning January 1, 2014. This decision has been a joint decision made in collaboration with the leadership of Washington Council, and we believe will allow both parties to pursue the needs of our members more effectively.
2. As noted below, the 2014 Region Conference has been canceled. The Region while enjoying the collegiality of the yearly conferences has had great difficulty drawing the number of members to the conferences to support the financial risk of organizing the conferences. Less than 5% of our membership has been attending conferences for the past three years. Other factors include:
a. Increasing registration costs to cover facility rental, meals and other conference expenses

b. Competition for the same limited sponsorship dollars available across the Region with the Region Components

c. Competition for the offering of Continuing Education with the Region Components

3. We feel that we can become very creative in offering opportunities for our members to interact and share experiences and knowledge for far less cost and risk.
4. Planning is currently underway to develop a forum for this to occur next year albeit it will be a much more modest, and focused on gathering the component leaders from across the Region, but we believe equally effective event.
5. All the Region awards programs will continue for next year.
6. The Region Leadership Institute will continue next year.
7. Some other changes include:
a. The region will not focus on providing continuing education opportunities to our members.
b. A proposal is in front of the Board to define specific areas of focus for the Region that will be directly beneficial to members and components.
c. Regional representation to the National Board (Council) will definitely continue.

We appreciate your patience as we make changes to the Region structure and management, and look forward to serving our members in new and productive ways.

Randy Nishimura, AIA, CSI, CCS said...


Of course it's okay! Thanks for adding your message, which succinctly describes the reasons for the proposed changes to Region administration and the annual Region conference.

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