I attended my first AIA convention in Atlanta recently and it reminded me why I wanted to be an architect. For those that did not attend, allow me to recap. There were keynote speeches, workshops and panel presentations and the expo. The expo is the ginormous showroom for manufacturers of building materials and services. Many had elaborate booths and exhibits that probably cost more than some of our projects. There were manufacturers we’ve all heard of, Oldcastle glass or Grace Roofing products and lesser known manufacturers such as Door Saver, door stop/hinge products. There were at least four different bike rack manufacturers exhibiting in the expo. The expo was HUGE! It took a concerted effort over the three days just to see all of the booths let alone get engaged with the exhibitors and learn more about specific products.
Architects specify products and to the manufacturers and vendors, we are the first line of customers. I spent some time with a small manufacturer of a marker board system. The rep and I spent a little bit of time chatting as I had an interest in marker boards and systems. However, looking at the system, it was all function and lacked some form. The rails were visible and the final installation looked too much like a contraption rather than a finished product. I explained to the rep that while the functionality was great, the aesthetic was terrible and it could not be specified in its current state. Architects need to demand more from manufacturers to innovate and deliver products that meet our needs.
It was when I took time to go out to the High Museum in Atlanta that I remembered why I wanted to be an architect. One of the earlier works of Richard Meier, the High Museum, recently had an addition completed with Renzo Piano and I reveled in the architecture. I enjoyed each masterful detail as I took in the space. The light and forms were a real contrast to the grind of the convention with its expo and exhibits and panel presentations. It occurred to me that all of those things back at the convention center were to support what we do so we can deliver projects like the High Museum.
As I noted, this was my first AIA convention. I’m not sure I’d go again for the expo, presentations or business meeting. But any chance I get to be excited about what I can do as an architect, I’ll be there.