The Drawing Board: A Time to Celebrate
February 9, 2006
In architecture, it’s a time to celebrate! For architects everywhere, we prepare as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) celebrates its 150th birthday in 2007. To kick off this celebration AIA-150 will embark on a series of initiatives to revitalize the AIA, its membership, and the profession as a whole. AIA believes in the Power of Architecture to elevate and enrich the human experience. We know that the goal of an architect is to create buildings that are responsive to the basic tenets of our profession: To design buildings that account for the health, safety, and welfare of its inhabitants. But the AIA is driven to engage the public and help them to understand the value of architectural design in their daily lives.
This mission is also the mission of AIA-Detroit, our local chapter of the national organization (based in Washington D.C.).
The celebration continues: AIA-Michigan will celebrate its 120th birthday and so will AIA-Detroit. The Michigan Architectural Foundation will celebrate its 50th birthday. We have much to be proud of here in the Great Lakes state. Certainly Michigan’s economy continues to struggle to recover. The City of Detroit also faces its own challenges with a shrinking population situated in a large geographic area that simply cannot be served by the public services the City of Detroit offers. The shrinking population of the city impacts an already eroding tax base and today land uses that once served industry and neighborhoods now lay to waste. The architectural heritage of Detroit continues to witness the demolition of important pieces of the fabric we call Detroit. Even the National Trust for Historic Preservation (featuring in a recent issue a prominent cover story on Detroit), has placed Detroit on a list of endangered Historic Places. Indeed, there is much work to be done. How can architects help?
We must deepen our commitments and remain involved. To that end, our involvement in our community has been to make our efforts as leaders in our profession visible. Our fi rm, Victor Saroki & Associates Architects, attempts to help in a small way. This month, Victor Saroki was elected President of AIA Detroit. His commitment to AIA is deep and proven in his years of service to our chapter. In the presentation the night of his induction he suggested, “it is my hope that the challenges we face here in Michigan help to bring the mission of AIA Detroit into focus and strengthen ties to one another and between our profession and our leaders.” The effort to align with the national level of AIA as a platform for AIA-Detroit is a strategic one. This can be accomplished if we, as architects, embrace advocacy, community, and knowledge. These points will become the mission of Saroki’s term as president of AIA Detroit. To those who know him, it seemed inevitable that his involvement in AIA would lead him to this point-he truly wants the best for our neighborhoods, our community.
Our firm has evolved from a small firm designing modest additions to houses in our neighborhood to a large firm designing high-rise, mixed-use developments in our community. Even with the rich variety of buildings we’ve designed between then and now, it is likely that twenty years ago we could not have predicted such a prosperous outcome for our firm, nor could we have predicted the kind of buildings we do today. We are clearly indebted to our talented staff who produces this work and to our clients who aspire to have thoughtfully designed buildings.
More than that is the observable trend to develop on sites within our cities buildings with a variety of uses. In our work at Main North in downtown Royal Oak for example, our buildings feature residential condominiums, retail spaces, office spaces, and parking-all within any one of the buildings on this site. The emergence of these mixed-use developments is important because cities around the country are growing increasingly concerned about the issues pertaining to livability and these developments attempt to promote livability.
As we have grown to do this significant work in our community, so too has our own concern for the livability of our communities. According to the mission statements of AIA, livable communities are concerned with issues of traffic, safety, schools, the environment, economic development, and a sense of community. Architects, because of our training, are well suited to be advocates of the livable community. Architects here in Michigan, endeavor to do just that-engage the public with the designs created by architects. Every day architects face project challenges like strict budgets, zoning ordinance requirements, planning commission expectations, but we hope that the buildings we design are meaningful, handsome, and durable. Ultimately, we appreciate that an individual building becomes a piece in a lager fabric. When these pieces relate well to the other pieces, it can produce a vibrant place-a livable community.
Places like Chicago, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Boston are good examples of livable communities. In Michigan, cities like Birmingham, Royal Oak, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids are attractive, livable communities. How did these cities get to their prominence? The involvement of architects in the local AIA chapters, on planning boards, on zoning boards is probably one answer. Architects can create the advocacy of livable communities through public awareness efforts and involvement in governmental affairs and they do.
The challenges our communities face are seemingly daunting. However, the role of an architect involved in her or his community cannot be underestimated. The contributions of one individual can be significant if joined by many others who share these commitments. The quality of our livable communities will largely depend on architects doing more than working in our offices and working for our clients-we must deepen our commitments to serve and remain involved. If the power of architecture elevates and enriches the human experience, then we must be doing something to be proud of. The birthdays for AIA at the national level, AIA-Detroit, AIA-Michigan, and Michigan Architectural Foundation, are the result of individuals like you who extend themselves, putting service about self. Now that’s something to celebrate!