June 7, 2017


The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) is celebrating the 60th anniversary of student excellence in leadership, service, and design. In honor of our 60th year, the AIAS is excited to share 60th: Legacy, an ongoing weekly celebration of and thanks to our alumni sponsored by Professional Publications, Inc (PPI). PPI is a publisher of professional licensing exam materials since 1975 and wants to recognize those who have helped the AIAS achieve 60 years of success.


Brad Buchanan, FAIA


Community Planning and Development, City and County of Denver


Executive Director


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Throughout my career, I have been committed to expanding the role of the architect. It became clear to me, early on, that we, as the keepers of the flame for the public realm, hold a high responsibility, and privilege of being expert in all aspect of that which creates our built environment. For me that means that we need to understand all of the forces acting on built solutions. That includes understanding the marketplace, the political landscape, finance, sourcing, construction in addition to our core expertise of design and building systems.

Towards that end I created a non-profit in 1999 called Freedom by Design to give a place for architects to be of contribution without any agenda other than to make a difference for others. That core value is at the heart of what architecture is and FBD created a place for that to happen without any other agenda, while at the same time challenging architects to expand beyond their purely design role into construction and advocacy for their community. At an AIA National Board meeting, in 2002 I think, I presented to the board the FBD project and what we were accomplishing in Denver, Colorado where we founded FBD. Wayne Mortensen, the AIAS President at that time, was in the audience. He came up to me after the presentation and suggested there might be a fit for FBD and AIAS, I was immediately drawn to the possibility. From that coincidental conversation grew Freedom by Design/AIAS. From humble beginnings of a few chapters to what today AIAS has grown FBD into–creating project solutions in more than 50 cities across the United States–FBD changes lives, for both the students who are involved and even more importantly, the lives of the project recipients and clients. You can learn more at www.aias.org/fbd. I’m also proud of the diverse types of learning I’ve had in my life–I’m a serial entrepreneur and love learning about new things. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been focused on understanding both urban and rural places and what they have to learn from each other. I did a TED talk in 2014 about this.

ARE Prep Tip: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting to test?

Keep it simple, stay focused.

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How did your experience with AIAS help you to achieve your goals?

AIAS gave me my first leadership opportunity and I’ve been in leadership roles since then.

What and/or who shaped you into who you are and what you do today?

I have been blessed with a number of incredible mentors my entire life. They have come from diverse and unpredictable places and in unexpected forms. My advice is to be open to who a mentor might be and what there is to learn from them.

How can someone best change the world?

Learn what makes you tick, and when you do I suspect you will find that it is something around service to others. There is nothing more reward than making a difference in someone’s life.

How can someone be a better designer?

Put yourself in the user’s shoes.

What is one tip you would give yourself in your 20s?

Be bold, don’t put any stock in anything that limits your belief in what you can do. Learn to get out of your own way. You can truly do anything. That is not a platitude it’s a fact.

How have you overcome unforeseen challenges through your career?

There have been many, and each of them has taught me something. Problems and challenges are part of the process. Learn to embrace them and understand that that is progress. I’ve failed more times than I have succeeded, and I’ve succeeded a lot. Don’t take failure personally, learn to overcome it.

How do you define work-life balance and how is it achievable?

People who know me think I work all the time, and I suppose I do, but it doesn’t feel like work because I love what I do. I have two big jobs: I’m the planning director for the city of Denver and I own and run a 3500-acre grass fed cattle ranch, Flying B Bar Ranch, in Colorado. Individually, each one is more than a full-time job, but I’ve learned I can always do more than I think I can and I’m always taking on more and more. Again, learn to get out of your own way and learn that the experience of being “overwhelmed” is completely made up by us, and it’s only an excuse for not doing what’s next. That said, I also know when I need a break and when I do I take it.

What is a decision or action you made in school that influenced your trajectory?

I began to believe in myself in school and that is the basis for everything else in my life.

If you, or another AIAS alumni you know, deserves recognition for their contribution to the profession and society at large, please use the link below to nominate them for this honor. 

Nominate Here