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February 3, 2020 / President's Letters

February 2020 President’s Letter: Citizen Architect

Twelve years ago, AIA National Board of Directors defined the term Citizen Architect.

“The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.”

What does Citizen Architect mean to you?

When I moved to Baltimore fifteen years ago, my wife challenge me to get involved and make a difference in the lives of people who need assistance. We began by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood, and continued on working with the Neighborhood Design Center.

These experiences confirmed to me that design can strengthen communities and improve quality of life in our neighborhoods and together we can find solutions to their most pressing needs. It was an awesome experience, but our effects were limited—one house here, one project there—while the overall need was so much greater.

In retrospect, these experiences also taught me the limits of our service. We had made a difference, but to make a lasting impact on the larger public, we needed to scale the influence of architecture.

For me, Citizen Architect means engaging in a larger community. It is about building capacity in our institutions to capitalize on architects’ best skills: creative problem-solving, team work, consensus building. It is also about galvanizing our institutions to take on the biggest challenge of our generation: climate change.

Over the past few years, I have attended AIA Maryland Advocacy Day to meet our state senators and representatives in Annapolis, and the AIA National Grassroots Conference, where over 600 architects converge on Capitol Hill. In both instances we collectively advocated for a sustainable future and school safety. Moving forward, we will be spearheading changes to the building code to require zero net carbon and work with legislators to address climate change. These experiences taught me that advocacy is critical for scaling our influence.

The 2020 AIA Maryland Advocacy Day is just a few days away on February 6. Please come and make your voices heard.

As we advocate for critical policies, we must also work on perfecting our craft.

Last year, the AIA National Board of Directors approved initiatives to drive climate action. This includes the Framework for Design Excellence (formally the COTE Top Ten Framework). The framework “organizes our thinking, facilitates conversations with our clients and the communities we serve, and sets meaningful goals and targets for climate action.” It is a guide for sustainable, resilient, and inclusive design. These are some of the beginning steps in our march towards zero net carbon. In a concurrent step, the Framework for Design Excellence is now an eligibility requirement for all AIA National design awards and will soon be required for state and local design awards.
To help our understanding of the Framework for Design Excellence, the AIA Baltimore COTE|R Committee is hosting workshop on March 17.  The workshop will use real life examples and go through each of the framework’s 10 measures (listed below).  Please join us for the important workshop.

Designing for Integration
Designing for Equitable Communities
Deigning for Ecology
Designing for Water
Designing for Economy
Designing for energy
Designing for Wellness
Designing for Resources
Designing for Change
Designing for Discovery

Becoming a Citizen Architect is about finding your passion. Our profession is diverse and expanding. If your passion lies in healthcare, urban design, education, the environment, advocacy, technology, practice, or any of the other areas our profession touches, we have a place for you.
Participate. Make a Difference.


Scott M Walters, AIA, LEED AP
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