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The Perspective from Seattle

May 5, 2016
by Marilys Nepomechie
2015-16 ACSA President


A confluence of forces, external and internal, creates the context in which our academic programs advance research, engage communities, and deliver an education in architecture. The reset effected by a worldwide economic downturn that, despite gains, continues to reverberate, has re-focused energy on innovation, entrepreneurship, performance, and productivity. It has done so even while heightening our awareness of a profound global interdependence, of world-wide environmental vulnerabilities, and of the myriad ways in which we are collectively diminished by broad and persistent disparities in access, in income, and in the conditions essential to health and well-being.

Out of that context grows a sharpened awareness of the centrality of research and scholarship to advancement in the academy, in the profession, and in all aspects of practice; of the outsize power that resides in cultivating diversity, and leveraging a plurality of voices, capacities and disciplinary perspectives in the course of our work; and on the necessity to exercise our disciplinary skills in collaborative, reciprocal relationship to our counterparts across borders in the academy and in the profession.

Charges to Board Committees and Task Forces

Over the past months, I have engaged the committees of the ACSA Board to address these conditions through actions that affect the governance structure of the organization, as well as its programming and management activities. These charges have sought to initiate programs and build upon successful ongoing initiatives that express our core values, help frame potential new directions and opportunities for action, and position the organization at the heart of information, innovation, and engagement within our international and multi-collateral contexts.

A joint charge to the Board’s Publications, Awards, and Scholarly Meetings Committees asked members to embark on ambitious programs to assess and grow the number of ACSA instruments and venues for the dissemination of faculty production, including publications, presentation, and exhibitions. 

Presidential task forces have focused on leveraging the growing digital capacity of the organization in multiple spheres: To enhance ACSA’s role in facilitating and advancing peer-reviewed research and scholarship, both in North America and internationally; to stake out a position of influence in the critical arena of program rankings and academic metrics; and to continue to assist programs in their recruitment efforts.

ACSA has convened an International Task Force with representatives from each of the collateral organizations—AIA, NCARB, AIAS, and NAAB—to begin shaping an international agenda for ACSA, raising its profile beyond North America and leveraging its existing programs and organizational strengths to facilitate collaborative international opportunities for faculty, students, and professionals across geographic, cultural, and national borders. As in the area of research, the international task force has worked collaboratively with the collateral participants to attain mutual advancement.

Strategic Plan and Governance

Understanding that significant accomplishment requires a clear and holistic articulation of values and goals, the board’s Planning Committee, led this year by President Elect Bruce Lindsey, has concluded its 2-year strategic planning process.  For the first time in over a decade, and with broad member input, the ACSA has produced a new organizational statement of its desired future. 

Equally important to its ability to undertake and fulfill an ambitious agenda, is a board governance structure that supports greater productivity, and includes broad member participation. A multi-year process that resulted last fall in member approval of a longer presidential ladder, continues this year with the creation of three new governance committees whose work will inform and advance the activities of the board. 

Path Forward with NAAB

Our ongoing work with our collateral organizations on the governance and funding of NAAB has entered a new phase, as we continue our efforts to create a more equitable and affordable accreditation process: one that grows representation on its governing board for educators; that cabins its expenses, bringing them to closer parity with the accreditation processes of comparable disciplines; and one that opens avenues for greater coordination with our collateral partners around our shared interests in sustaining the growth and development of the continuum of architectural education, from K-12 through collegiate, internship, and continuing education. The Board has devoted a significant amount of time to advance these goals, as they affect our members significantly.

Other Collateral Collaborations

Beyond our participation in the joint collateral Path Forward task force, ACSA maintains close, active, and productive ties with AIA, AIAS, NAAB, and NCARB. This range of engagements joins the voices of educators to those of the profession, regulation, students, and emerging professionals. Our leadership in these efforts advances architectural education and research and, in so doing, benefits our members.

With NCARB we have exchanged committee liaisons. ACSA West Central Director Nadia Anderson served on the NCARB Integrated Path Evaluation Committee, along with other educators, and she will soon transition to become our representative on the NCARB Education Committee. Northeast Director John Cays has served for two years on the Internship Advisory Committee. We were pleased to have NCARB Board Member Kristine Harding serve on our International Task Force this year and participate in the Administrators and Collateral Track at the International Conference in Santiago, Chile, this summer.

ACSA is a participant on a NAAB Accreditation Process Review Task Force. Christine Theodoropoulos, CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, agreed to serve on behalf of the Board. NAAB Director Helene Combs Dreiling serves on the ACSA International Task Force, and NAAB Director Tamara Redburn will lead a session on international accreditation as part of the Administrators and Collateral Track of the International Conference.

ACSA is pleased to have the vice president of AIAS as a Student Director on our Board. Joel Pominville was an active and persuasive participant in board committees, discussions, and juries. We were also able to involve AIAS board member Rachel Law in the International Task Force, soon before she was elected 2016-17 AIAS Vice President. Greg Hall, Mississippi State University, will be ending a two-year term as ACSA liaison on the AIAS Board of Directors. Carmina Sanchez del Valle, Hampton University, will continue Greg’s work in facilitating collaboration and dialogue between the organizations. 

Finally, under collateral relationships, several partnerships with the AIA have created opportunities for our members. We are partnering for the second year in the upcoming Intersections Symposium during the AIA National Convention in Philadelphia, a conference/workshop intended to highlight research that informs architectural practice. This partnership will continue in coming years, affording more peer-reviewed opportunities for faculty to showcase their research.

We continue our work as partners with AIA and the Architects Foundation on the Design and Health Research Consortium and on the National Resilience Initiative, each of which has identified a number of member schools to advance research and teaching agendas in areas of critical importance for the profession.

AIA 2017 President and UIA Secretary General Thomas Vonier is a member of the ACSA International Task Force, and is working with us to organize the Administrators track in Santiago, Chile. We took the opportunity to work with the AIA Housing and Community Development Knowledge Community to co-organize a workshop at the beginning of the 104th Annual Meeting. Our thanks to Kathy Dorgan and Etty Epadmodipoetro for collaborating with us on an outstanding preconference housing workshop. 

Conferences and Competitions

Between the Autonomous and Contingent Object, the 2015 Thematic Fall Conference, was hosted in October by Syracuse University. Co-chaired by professors Roger Hubeli and Julie Larsen, the conference focused on architectural theory and discourse, employing a provocative format structured around a series of debates. Selected papers form the core of the inaugural issue of the Plan, a new theory journal.

Uncharted Territories, the 2015 Administrators Conference, was co-chaired by deans Patricia Belton Oliver, University of Houston and Francisco Javier Rodriguez, Universidad de Puerto Rico. It was hosted by the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan and challenged administrators to address the plethora of new realities that increasingly define our work in the academy 

The 104th Annual Meeting was titled Shaping New Knowledges. Co-chairs Sharon Haar, University of Michigan and Robert Corser, University of Washington graciously accepted my suggestion that the conference focus on the multiple modalities and products of architectural research currently underway at member schools. Hosted by the University of Washington, the conference offered a window on the impressive range of exploration collaborative practices in which our colleagues -- in the academy and in practice -- are presently engaged.

Cross-Americas: Probing Disglobal Networks is the title of the upcoming 2016 International Conference, to be held next June in Santiago, Chile. Focused on global discourses in architectural practice and research, the bi-annual conference will be hosted by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. It is co-chaired by [from north to south] Vera Parlac, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Dana Cupkova, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, USA; Alfredo Andia, Florida International University, Florida, USA; and Umberto Bonomo and Macarena Cortes, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. Confirmed keynote speakers include Alejandro Aravena, winner of this year’s Pritzker Prize and curator of the upcoming Venice Biennale.

This year, for the first time, ACSA has introduced an International Administrators and Collateral Track within the program of the academic conference. Co-chaired by Emilio de la Cerda, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile, and Roger Schluntz, University of New Mexico, the Administrators Track includes sessions on international NAAB accreditation; transitions from the academy to practice in an international context; post-professional education across borders; and international study, internship, and practice. 

We invite you to participate in the critical discussions on every aspect of education and practice, and encourage academic faculty, program administrators, and professionals to attend this multi-national discussion. 

Finally, selected by the ACSA Board at the close of spring 2015, and focusing on research in design and health, the upcoming 2016 Fall Conference will be the first jointly offered by ACSA and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). Titled Building for Health and Well-Being: Structures. Cities. Systems, the meeting will bring together academics, practitioners, and policy makers to focus on research at the intersection of design, the built environment, and public health. The University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Architecture will host the meeting co-chaired by Sara Jensen Carr, University of Hawaii, Billie Faircloth, KieranTimberlake, and Howard Frumkin, University of Washington School of Public Health.

This year’s ACSA competitions cover a range of materials and areas of design focus. Tall Buildings is the focus of the 16th ACSA/American Institute of Steel Construction student design competition, a staple for many faculty in North America. The Binational Softwood Lumber Council returns as a sponsor for Timber in the City: Urban Habitat Competition, with a mixed-use program that includes an outpost of the Andy Warhol Museum. Two AIA committees are partners for separate competitions. Last year the AIA Committee on the Environment expanded its renown COTE Top Ten competition to include students. The AIA Historic Resources Committee also continues the biannual Preservation as Provocation competition with a design challenge for a new visitor center at the Farnsworth House.

Thanks in Conclusion

It has been a year filled, I hope you will agree, with accomplishment. It is an honor to serve on behalf of ACSA with dedicated colleagues and a truly outstanding staff led by Michael Monti. The ACSA Board of Directors is a committed group of volunteers who have devoted a great deal of time to advancing the mission of the ACSA.

We were saddened to learn recently of the death of Norman Millar, member of the ACSA Board of Directors from 2012-2015, and its 2013-14 President. Dean of Woodbury University, Norman was a long-time colleague and valued friend. The architectural community is diminished by his absence. 

– Marilys Nepomechie
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