February 8, 2017 by Claire Natola

As the new year approached, over 700 architecture students gathered in Boston for AIAS FORUM, the signature conference of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). FORUM 2016, celebrating the 60th anniversary of AIAS, was hosted by Wentworth Institute of Technology and Massachusetts College of Art + Design at the Westin Copley Place.

The mission of AIAS is “to promote excellence in architectural education, training, and practice; to foster an appreciation of architecture and related disciplines; to enrich communities in a spirit of collaboration; and to organize students and combine their efforts to advance the art and science of architecture,” and FORUM 2016 certainly ticked all the boxes.

Tracks

Attendees had over 60 presentations to choose from, categorized into four tracks: Traditions in Design sponsored by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Connecting to Culture sponsored by Sasaki, In the Now sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners, and Fabricating the Future sponsored by Gensler. Topics ranged from the historical and educational (Building Construction: Methods of the Past, Present and Future; Intro to Parametric Design) to the topical and practical (Aleppo: Rebuilding the City; What Happens Next: Life after Architecture School).

General Sessions

General sessions included six keynote presentations, one of which was a panel moderated by Kelly Hutzell, Director of Graduate Programs in Architecture at Wentworth. The panelists included Phil Bernstein, FAIA of Autodesk; David Gamble, AIA AICP LEED AP of Gamble Associates; and Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA of Arrowstreet. The remaining five keynote presentations were by individual speakers, including Katie Swenson of Enterprise Community Partners and Gary Handel, FAIA of Handel Architects. Keynote speaker sponsors included:

“In generating the keynote lineup, we worked to pull in inspiring local professionals, who each have a passion in an aspect of architecture that varies from the other keynote presenters,” said Jared Guilmett of Misiaszek Turpin Architecture | Planning of Laconia, NH. Jared, a 2015 graduate of Wentworth, served as Planning Chair for FORUM 2016. “It was our goal to match our keynote presenters with one of the four programming tracks. However, their presentations demonstrated that each track can blur into another one – really showcasing how instrumental and inspirational architecture is, and how everything you learn and experience builds on top of each other.”

The FORUM 2016 Planning Committee of eight representatives from both Wentworth and MassArt ranged from sophomore level through graduate student, which engendered an atmosphere of robust dialogue and development. “I saw the passion grow in each member of the committee during the two-year planning process for FORUM,” said Guilmett, “and it was wonderful to see that spark of passion passed to the attendees at the conference. Our theme was Revolution: Challenge Today; Spark Tomorrow, which our attendees and presenters really embraced.”

Numerous opportunities for collaboration were provided to FORUM 2016 attendees. “Quad Breakouts” were scheduled so that members of each regional quadrant (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West) could network, participate in roundtable discussions, meet candidates running for AIAS national offices, and learn about upcoming events. The Freedom By Design Advisory Group (FBDAG) of the AIAS led several sessions for local chapters covering such topics as how to fundraise for an FBD project, how to work with community partners to secure a project, and how to start an FBD program in a local chapter. FBDAG even hosted a Boston-based design charrette, which had students work in small groups to generate creative solutions.

The Planning Committee worked closely with, and received tremendous support from, the National Park Service to coordinate tours around Boston. These and other tours of the area, numbering two dozen in total, supplemented the knowledge gained in the seminars and presentations, providing attendees with the opportunity to see up close how the city has led architectural trends and responded to planning challenges. Ten local architectural firms also opened their doors for attendee tours:

College and Career Expo

FORUM 2016 also staged a College and Career Expo sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), featuring representatives from design firms, colleges and universities throughout the United States, and professional organizations such as AIA and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Students could have professional headshots taken at the Expo, which was open not only to AIAS members, but also to high school students. The Planning Committee reached out to regional high schools that offer specific architectural and engineering courses to invite their students. “This was the first year that we worked to include a full portion of the College and Career Expo specifically dedicated to local high school students,” said Guilmett. “We are excited to be able to share our experience with future AIAS members, so we can better bridge the experiential gap from high school to college.”

FORUM After Dark

In addition to all the learning, FORUM treated attendees to exciting social events. “Pioneers of Change,” a 60th Anniversary Celebration for the AIAS, was held on the first evening of the conference. Sponsored by Roger Williams University, it began with a ceremony to celebrate AIAS Legacy members (past presidents and vice presidents), who greatly influenced where the organization is today. Post-ceremony festivities included AIAS trivia games and a silent disco. On New Year’s Eve, the University of Hartford sponsored “Ignite the Nite,” the annual FORUM Beaux Arts Ball. The annual AIAS Honor Awards Ceremony (sponsored by Boston Society of Architects) and closing night festivities at Kings Boston, a retro-modern bowling alley and game space, rounded out the special “FORUM After Dark” offerings.

During the conference the AIAS Council of Presidents, comprised of delegates from the various AIAS chapters, voted on the next leaders for the organization’s Board of Directors.

Overall, FORUM 2016 was considered a great success. “FORUM was a life-changing experience, not only for myself, but for all the aspiring architects that joined in the FORUM Revolution,” said Guilmett. “We came together and had meaningful conversations with some of the area’s leading professionals, leaving the conference with renewed enthusiasm and dedication to our individual and collective passions.”

Looking toward the future, Guilmett added, “It is time we examine and reflect upon the traditions and cultures of the architectural profession. Regardless of our personal aspirations and goals, we are all members of architecture, and therefore have a responsibility to lead with passion and innovation. Through discourse, networking and design, we saw a spark of true inspiration occur at FORUM 2016 to light the way to an incredible 2017.

The AIAS would like to extend a special thank you to our national partners, our Collegiate Associates, our Design Alliance, and our AIAS FORUM sponsors.

AIAS FORUM 2017 will be held in Austin, Texas from December 29, 2017 – January 1, 2018.