Meet the Candidates for AIA 2022-2024 At-Large Director – ARCHITECT Magazine

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From June 11 to June 15, accredited AIA delegates will vote for the next leaders to hold office at the Institute's national level. According to AIA, "delegates are selected by their assigned chapters to cast that chapter's votes" and must be AIA members—Architect, Emeritus, Associate, or International Associate—in good standing. In the event of a tie, a runoff will be held June 15 to June 17. The election precedes this year's A'21, the Conference on Architecture, which begins June 17.

As in past years, ARCHITECT asked each candidate running for elective office questions about their qualifications, platform, and outlook on the profession. Since 2014, the board has featured three at-large director positions that are filled on a staggered basis; three additional candidates are also selected by AIA's Strategic Council. In this article you will meet the candidates running for 2022-2024 at-large director: Alton P. Chow, AIA, Kevin M. Holland, FAIA, and Ricardo J. Rodriguez de Santiago, Assoc. AIA. Responses have lightly edited for clarity. Find videos of the candidates presenting their platforms at the end of this article.

Alton P. Chow

Title: Vice president, global head of commercial development, Asia head of architecture, AECOM

Local AIA component: Shanghai Chapter, International Region

Leadership roles: Global Strategic Delivery task force, AIA National (2019 to 2021); adjunct board of directors, AIA International Region (2021); secretary, AIA International Region (2020); past president, AIA Shanghai (2019); president, AIA Shanghai (2018); vice president, AIA Shanghai (2017); sponsorship chair, AIA Shanghai (2016); board member, Syracuse University (2015-present); member, Young Presidents Organization (YPO) (2017-present); advisory board member, Urban Land Institute (2016-2018); member, U.S. China Business Council (2015-2019)

Alton Chow
courtesy The American Institute of Architects
Alton Chow

Why do you want to hold this leadership position at AIA?

From advances in technology to political forces, both foreign and domestic, and to the recent pandemic, we are undergoing major disruptions. We need to get ahead of all of this or else we risk losing everything and AIA can lead the way.

How have your experiences prepared you for this role?

In over 20 years of growing successful practices and organizations, I have built a reputation in the industry as a person who can deliver results by thinking creatively and acting practically.

What key issues do you hope to address in this role?

Besides key issues like equity and sustainability, I hope to bring the need for us to do more for our members on a grassroots level. We must think about the practical issues our industry faces and how we can take actions to ensure our survival.

What are the greatest challenges facing architects today? How can AIA respond to them?

Disruption. We need to shift from seeing only the macro and focus on practical and actionable objectives to effect immediate change now.

Kevin M. Holland

Title: Design manager, Los Angeles Unified School District; managing principal, K.Michael Architects

Local AIA component: AIA Los Angeles

Leadership roles: Board secretary, AIA Los Angeles (current); national president, National Organization of Minority Architects (2015-2016)

Kevin Holland
courtesy The American Institute of Architects
Kevin Holland

Why do you want to hold this leadership position at AIA?

I have had many conversations with architects who have started conversations with, “AIA needs to…” My response has typically been to encourage that person to become involved with AIA in some capacity. We find ourselves at a unique, sociopolitical crossroads in which the generations that follow will judge our generation, our government—and our Institute—for our positions. AIA, as much as it is not a political organization, is not immune from the effects of this current political climate.

Our 44th U.S. president was quoted as saying, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. … We are the change that we seek.”

The decisions and policies that are made today will affect members of the Institute and the profession for, at least, a generation. Essentially, I want to hold this leadership position to make an impact on those things that require fairness, justice, and empathy.

How have your experiences prepared you for this role?

I have a wide variety of professional and personal experiences that allow me to relate to many architects: [working with] small firms, large firms, startup firms, [working as a] project architect, project manager, operations director, and managing director, [and working on] small projects and large projects.

Following my undergraduate experience, I left with student debt and incurred even more debt following my graduate degree. When I graduated with my B.S., I was met with an economic recession—not unlike that caused by the COVID pandemic—which saw many architects leave the profession for other opportunities.

I served, for nine years, on the National Board of the National Organization of Minority Architects; eventually, serving two years as the 31st national president and led the beginning of a period of membership expansion, financial growth, and the establishment of the role of executive director. I have also served on the AIA’s National Government Advocacy Committee and presently serve as the board secretary of AIA Los Angeles.

What key issues do you hope to address in this role?

There are several critical initiatives and issues (raised by the AIA Board of Directors) in which I anticipate discussing. However, my campaign platform consists of four issues, described as:

  • Creating Space and Opportunity (diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring and firm leadership)
  • Citizen Architect (extended effort to encourage participation in local, elected politics)
  • [Affordable] Housing Solutions for Everyone (local lobbying efforts for increased funding and architectural solutions to make housing affordable)
  • Essential Work to Lessen Debt (lobbying to qualify homelessness solution as essential work qualifying for student debt relief)

What are the greatest challenges facing architects today? How can AIA respond to them?

The development of new design ideologies and the emergence of newer and faster technology will continue. The greatest challenge facing architects is the dichotomy between technological advancement and struggling to, socially, maintain an antiquated status quo that feeds into our struggle to maintain a relevance in a society that is increasingly respecting experts and authority less with each passing day.

As a result, the status quo, internally, disregards the voice and leadership of underrepresented groups while the lack of relevance empowers others to infringe upon the professional domain of architects, thus devaluing our education and experience.

Ricardo J. Rodriguez de Santiago

Title: Global virtual design & construction specialist at MBCC Group

Local AIA component: AIA DC

Leadership roles: AIA liaison, AIA Students board (2020-2023); at-large representative, AIA National Strategic Council (2020-2021); BIM Committee #131, American Concrete Institute (2018-2021); chair, AIA DC Emerging Architects Committee (2015-2016); inaugural scholar, AIA|DC Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program (2013-2014); chair, AIA DC Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program (2016-2017); co-founder and chapter president, AIAS Poli (2004-2005)

Ricardo J. Rodriguez de Santiago
Brandon Tobias / courtesy The American Institute of Architects
Ricardo J. Rodriguez de Santiago

Why do you want to hold this leadership position at AIA?

I aspire to the director at-large position because I’m committed to supporting our profession in dismantling the institutional roadblocks preventing equitable access to the resources, knowledge, and tools needed by our members to navigate change. The National Board plays a crucial part in establishing how its strategic priorities will be funded and executed. Also, I’m a firm believer that AIA is a force for positive change in our industry and our planet. However, we urgently need to reshape how we practice our profession if we intend to have a genuine impact on climate change, equity/diversity, and architectural education. How architects meet these lofty challenges is directly tied to a mindset shift regarding our role. As an architecture-adjacent leader, I’m passionate about establishing innovative ventures globally at MBCC Group. Given my unique perspective, I hope to serve the Institute as a bridge with the digital and business innovation world.

How have your experiences prepared you for this role?

Since my first year in college, I had consistently worked at an AEC firm. Until my recent career shift, I had spent 12 years in traditional architectural practice as a designer/project manager, working in Puerto Rico and D.C. for Gensler, NIKA A+E, and WDG. Throughout these positions, I’ve served in multiple leadership roles at AIA DC, chairing the Emerging Architects Committee and the Christopher Kelley Leadership Development program.

Three years ago, I joined the MBCC Group (formerly BASF) as a Global Virtual Design & Construction Specialist. In my current role, I help build tech-centric innovation efforts and establish strategic partnerships to meet the AEC industry’s biggest challenges head-on.

From 2020 to the present, I’ve had the honor of serving on the Strategic Council’s Technology Impacting Practice work group, where I helped lead our Virtual Summit. This event brought together 12 worldwide AEC-tech leaders, revolutionizing our industry and urging us to change.

What key issues do you hope to address in this role?

The lag in evolving our practices has overlapped with the needs of a global pandemic. We need to focus on four critical initiatives: Innovation, Partnerships, Equitable Access, and Education.

We should start by elevating the importance of fostering innovation and strategic foresight. AIA could formalize existing efforts and be proactive in incubating new ways of practice. Likewise, we must expedite ways to empower our members across components. Advocating for the inclusion of new voices and external partnerships would fuel member growth. In this pivotal moment, the Institute should lead through action by providing equitable access to resources and services our members need to navigate change. Likewise, I believe that we need to rethink how we approach digitalization within our profession. Since these discussions are tied to business operations and even continuity, we must develop new ways of bridging the gap to address data/tech literacy across all experience levels.

What are the greatest challenges facing architects today? How can AIA respond to them?

“Business-as-usual” is holding us back. With recent studies finding our annual productivity growth increased by only 1% in 20 years, automation will potentially displace a significant part of our workforce. Digitalization caused new paradigms to emerge, which have only accelerated with the pandemic. We must adapt and transform our business practices.

I believe in AIA’s leadership in being a platform for business empowerment, helping our members become agents of change. The Institute can leverage its global reach and urgently act on these complex issues. In facing these, we must chart new ways of providing member value, developing truly comprehensive tools, engaging in agile processes, and opening our ranks to even more professionals, such as myself, bringing forward our unique expertise. Consequently, we can ensure our voices remain relevant in a digital-first world and our members prosperous by engaging and serving their communities via innovative yet more effective channels.

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