“Look Up”

That’s the AIA’s national public relation and advertising campaign that launched back in December of 2014. The goal is to raise the public profile of the architect’s contribution to the built environment. At Grassroots this year, Robert Ivy, CEO of the AIA, asked attendees if they had seen the recent ads for the Look Up campaign on TV. To be honest, I had not seen an ad for this campaign until after the conference, and even then it didn’t make much of an impression on me. This is not and will not be a critique of the ad; in fact, following the 2015 AIA National Convention this past week in Atlanta, I have quite a different opinion.

I had the opportunity to walk thru Centennial Park in Atlanta on my daily commute to the convention center each morning and then back again to my hotel room each evening. The park is located in the heart of the city and acts as a focal point to many public activities and events in Atlanta during the course of the year, like many other parks throughout the United States. It has your prerequisite Ferris wheel, water fountains, outdoor stage, park benches and trees, but that’s not what makes it special. When you “Look up,” that’s when you see what really makes it special…..architecture! The city is all around you and acts as a back drop to the park. The AIA wants to “tell architecture’s story—the spaces and places in our everyday lives that make our communities unique and our economy strong”. Although Atlanta has its own unique political and social problems, they have managed to create a space in the heart of the City that is all inclusive. How appropriate for a park that is adjacent to the new Center for Civil and Human Rights. If you look up you will see the Georgia Aquarium, the Coca Cola Center, the College Football Hall of Fame and a wide variety of John Portman’s hotel portfolio throughout the skyline of Atlanta. Each one off these places has a lot to offer on their own, but as collage of architectural influence, they are extremely powerful.

I have been to three conventions in my career and all within the past six years. Looking back, I regret I had not gone sooner and more often. Although one could earn all of their required LU’s in this one week, to do so would be missing out on the real purpose of the convention. As architects, we spend long and countless hours working to meet some client’s deadline, designing our latest project, or spending endless hours with local public officials, usually late into the evening, on some required approval or presentation. We do this with our heads down, focused on the task at hand. The convention gives us the opportunity to “Look up” and smell the roses as it were. We get the chance to look at the world from a different and less familiar perspective. Understanding the world we live in, how people function in that world and how they, you, and I feel in that world is essential to our purpose as architects.

Take the case of Ryan Gravel of Perkins + Will. It was my distinct pleasure to hear him speak one evening with such passion and excitement about his work and efforts over the past 10-years converting an abandon rail bed into the “Atlanta Beltline.” Warehouses and industrial buildings that were built along this stretch of railroad following the Civil War have been repurposed into new restaurants, retail space, townhomes and apartments. Whole new neighborhoods have been created around a feature that once brought reconstruction to the south. Now that reconstruction is bringing new life to the city and a charm and sense of place that did not exist prior.

We have the greatest potential impact on the everyday lives of people as they move about the environment we create, from the moment they wake up to the moment they lay their heads down on the pillow at night. As Robert Ivy said: “...reaching many begins with one person. The experience starts with you. Changing perceptions will require us all to become advocates for architecture. Whether we stand up at PTA meetings or join planning commissions, whether we run for public office or share our calling with neighbors and friends.” Look up……the times they are a changing! 

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