Experiencing AIA’19 in Las Vegas

By Marcella Massa, Int'l AIA

During the first week of June, I had the opportunity to attend the AIA Conference on Architecture 2019 in Las Vegas, hosted by The American Institute of Architects. It was such a great experience for both personal and professional growth. With this year’s theme being “Blueprint for a Better Future”, the conference challenged professionals to think about the future cities. Most of the workshops and sessions talked about sustainable practices and how to implement them into the design and the business of architecture.

On opening night, I attended a lecture on third-party certifications (LEED, WELL, Fitwel and RELi) and their main goal to integrate sustainability, wellness, and resilience. I learned how important it is for us to understand all the risks that are associated with climate change and resilience, and how impactful they are on an occupant’s health and well-being. All of the third-party certifications that are available right now, complement and overlap each other while bringing a holistic approach during design. It is worth checking them out!

Thursday’s keynote speaker, Reshma Saujani, talked about closing the gender gap in STEAM careers. Reshma is founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, an organization equipped with programs that will sharpen the skills of women who are interested in the computer science field. Although Reshma’s background is in political science, she started Girls Who Code because she wanted to help. She is an advocate for helping others and her life story was very inspiring. Reshma encouraged the audience with her new model of leadership: Embrace Risk and Failure. It was a fun and pleasant talk.

Friday’s lectures were mostly about the licensure process, ARE tips, and how to study for the exams. Interestingly enough, I learned that the majority of candidates fail or will fail their exams (at least once). My advice to all of the candidates with an upcoming test: don’t give up, keep trying, and keep pushing yourself. Also, the most valuable information that I have kept for myself: Don’t study only to pass the exams, but study to be a better professional!

The last day of the conference was highly anticipated and was a day that I worked so hard for. The members from the Urban Design Committee at AIA Baltimore and myself, conducted a public life study for the McKeldin Plaza in downtown Baltimore, using the Jan Gehl’s methodology. We were invited to present our research in one of the “Blueprint for Better Communities: Project Successes & Failures” panels. One of the sub-committee members presented our findings and discoveries to the audience and it was such an amazing experience to be able to see everyone’s engagement on the topic. We wanted all the professionals to understand why it is critical to have stakeholder engagement when discussing public space, compare community engagement when talking about the pros and cons of each, and identify potential stakeholders and possible unheard voices during the design process. This experience was one of the most rewarding to me as a professional with an Urban Design background and a follower of Jan Gehl’s work. I was overwhelmed with joy that I got a chance to meet Jan Gehl in person, receive great advice from him and personally invite him to watch our panel. Since we used Gehl’s methodology, having him in the room was a priceless experience.

Jan Gehl and I at the AIA ’19 National Conference

The AIA Conference on Architecture 2019 was a valuable opportunity for me as a professional. I got a chance to meet other professionals from around the world, network with a lot of inspiring emerging professionals, learn and understand about new product’s technology and trends, and for the first time, I can say: What happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas!! Let’s all think/talk about Future Cities and Design.

I cannot wait for the AIA’20 conference in LA next year!