by Branko Kolarevic, ACSA Second Vice President
Every year the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) holds its largest annual gathering – the AIAS FORUM – over winter break, bringing together hundreds of students from all over the country for four intense days of workshops, lectures, tours, meetings, and social events, with career and college expos added into the mix.
The 2016 FORUM took place in Boston from December 29, 2016, to January 1, 2017, under the overall theme of “Revolution” (a title that Paul Revere would certainly approve of). The student organizers from the host institutions, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Massachusetts College of Art + Design, prepared an ambitious, dense agenda to explore “the innovative evolution of the architecture profession – from the origin story to a fabled future.” The FORUM was also an opportunity to mark and celebrate the 60th anniversary of the association, which started in 1956 as National Architectural Student Association.
The FORUM opened with a panel on “The Future of the Profession,” moderated by AIAS President Sarah Wahlgren, who posed a series of probing questions to the assembled leaders of the collateral organizations (ACSA, AIA, NAAB, NCARB). The topics ranged from attracting new architects, integrating education and practice, curriculum innovation, to architects’ roles in society. The large audience of approximately 700 students then had a choice of attending one of four tracks titled “Traditions in Design,” “Connecting to Culture,” “In the Now” and “Fabricating the Future.” Each of the tracks featured presentations, workshops, and tours of the sites and offices in the Boston area. The FORUM was Boston-centric, with most of the keynote speakers, panelists, and presenters coming from the area’s firms and organizations.
The AIAS FORUM isn’t just about learning. Its social side is equally important. Every evening there was “FORUM After Dark,” which this year included the 60th Anniversary Celebration (with a Silent Disco that started at 11 pm), the Honors Award Ceremony, and the Beaux Arts Ball, with students ringing in the New Year, “igniting the night” dressed in black, gold, or red and keeping it “mysterious with a mask.”
One of the most entertaining parts of the FORUM was the “Roll Call” that took place in the general session on the first day. In this important part of the AIAS tradition, each group of students from the same school could dance, sing, rap, act, shout, or do anything else that comes to mind, but they must keep it PG-13, as Rachel Law, AIAS Vice President, reminded the attendees. (You can find videos of past AIAS “roll calls” on YouTube.) Things then quickly got serious as candidates for the Board of Directors gave short speeches as part of the process of electing the future leadership.
In summary, the AIAS FORUM is a unique student gathering, featuring a rich, intense mix of educational and social programming. It is the largest annual assembly of architecture students in the world. Its energy is palpable and infectious, “invigorating all in attendance,” sparking “a renewed passion in architecture, design, and community,” which the organizers clearly delivered. As they stressed in the introduction to the event, “every exploration, discovery or modification stemmed from the minds of individuals who never let limitations destroy their dreams, individuals who constantly question the established norms, and individuals who continually dare to be revolutionary.” That was the spirit of this year’s FORUM. Our future is in good hands.