Architects do more than imagine spaces, buildings and forms. We continually strengthen the communication link between the mind and the hand that draws or clicks to form creations on napkin, paper or computer screen. In more simple terms, my job as an architect is to dream with my clients and then make those dreams a reality.
Pretty impressive, for sure, but is that all an architect does? Does an architect only dream up aesthetically pleasing ways to compartmentalize open space into convenient boxes for people to occupy? Isn’t there more to design than deciding what these boxes look like, their size, their location and the order in which they fit together? Surely, architects do more than create nice boxes to put our “stuff.” (Insert George Carlin reference here)
When I left the safety net of architectural school and imaginary projects, I had visions of designs that could change our culture, our world and how we live. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was already beginning to think like a Citizen Architect.
In 2005, a group of architects, affiliated with the American Institute of Architects’ new strategic goal of encouraging the growth of sustainable, healthy communities began to play a role as advocates in the policy decision-making process in our legislatures. Since then, Citizen Architect has become a buzzword in the architectural community resulting in many blog posts and even a movie! Architects grew more actively involved in their communities, using their skills to help make decisions about planning, development and legislation. Their skills were implemented in ways beyond the ability to design pretty buildings!
From the movie embedded above (or found here), “We spend all of our time in Architecture. We have the responsibility to use our skills to make people’s lives better.”
Who are these Citizen Architects in South Dakota?
Spoiler alert: They are every architect you know. In fact, if you don’t know many architects, I’ll tell you they are every architect I know — and I know A LOT of them. Every architect I have met is passionate about many things, but the common denominator is the desire to make their communities better places. Mostly, this is through designing buildings that improve quality of life:
- Elementary schools for children to learn and grow
- Hospitals and clinics for professionals who heal our sick and practice preventative medicine
- City buildings for the government to continue developing our communities
- Parks for children to play and socialize
- Offices for owners and employees to build businesses and contribute to our economic structure
- Homes for people to enjoy
Citizen Architects also participate in community life by volunteering at events, serving on local boards, acting as advocates during the legislative session and simply being good neighbors. Citizen Architects don’t separate their design mindset from everyday life. They can’t. Instead, they channel that drive to be a force for positive change.
I hope you all noticed the verbs in these descriptions. Citizens Architects are “doers.” We create spaces for human interaction. We work to make our community a better place for all.
My hope is that we start to see the Citizen Architect who lives within every architect in our state. We should see buildings designed and created not to hold our “stuff” but to support social interaction and progress. Architects are people and community members first, but they are also called to use the architect’s specialized skill set to leave a positive mark on our communities.
Allison Dvorak, AIA, CPHC, is a member of the AIA South Dakota Board of Directors, liaison to the Emerging Professionals and Communication committees, and an architect in Sioux Falls. She received her M.Arch from North Dakota State University and continues to develop her Master’s thesis of researching and implementing design theories focused on human centered design through speaking engagements, design practice, and one-on-one client education. Allison lives in Sioux Falls with her husband, son and daughter.