October 4, 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.


John Cary


Author, Design for Good


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An architect by training, I have devoted my career to expanding the practice of design for the public good. I am the author of two books, Design for Good: A New Era of Architecture for Everyone (2017) and The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories About Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients (2010). My writing on design, philanthropy, and fatherhood has appeared in the New York Times, on CNN.com, and in numerous other publications.

I work as a philanthropic advisor to an array of foundations and nonprofits around the world, and I frequently curate and host events for TED, the Aspen Institute, and other entities. Deeply committed to diversifying the public stage, I am a founding partner in FRESH Speakers, a next-generation speakers bureau that represents young women and people of color. For seven years, I served as executive director of the nonprofit Public Architecture, building the largest pro bono design program in the world, pledging tens of millions of dollars in donated services annually.

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I am a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Berkeley. I am also a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, a resident of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, and a three-time commencement speaker, among other honors. I live in a co-housing community in Oakland, Calif., with my wife, author Courtney E. Martin, and our two daughters. I drive a vintage orange VW Bus and like to run marathons. I proudly served as the 1999-2000 AIAS National Vice President.

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

AIAS gave me direct exposure to the inner workings of the AIA and NCARB, which I immediately put to work in co-founding ArchVoices, a nonprofit organization that raised awareness of issues impacting emerging professionals– before it was fashionable to do so. We led the charge to give graduates the opportunity to take the ARE upon graduation, concurrent with their internship experience. Our weekly newsletters, advocacy, and the dialog that we created became my springboard into the profession and beyond.

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

My wife, a journalist, dramatically broadened my view of design by encouraging me to more directly engage with building clients and users. Until we met in 2009, I had spent the first half of my career talking about and with architects and designers, but very rarely with those impacted by design. I realized I was only getting half the story, as we too often do in design articles, publications, and award programs.

How can someone best change the world?

Align your greatest gifts with the world’s deepest needs. That’s the sweet spot.

How can someone be a better designer?

By listening.

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

Don’t wait for permission to start calling yourself an architect.

How have you overcome unforeseen challenges through your career?

By challenging the status quo.

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

Work-life balance has become achievable for me by finding a partner who I love and work with on a daily basis. We both work on a freelance basis, so we prioritize our kids above all else, set our schedules, and only work with collaborators who are kind.

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

To start the first email newsletter for architecture students at the University of Minnesota, back in the late-90s. It was my first experience with writing and editing, and it gave me a taste of the power of communication.

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