Resilience

To me “resilience” is to not accept failure, to work harder each time the challenge is bigger, and to keep trying until I succeed. I’m not sure where it all ends, but I’m far from my end. Each one of us has that energy within us to bounce up when we fall. We are designed with the mechanism needed to reach the top and win each failure. This applies to every aspect of our lives. The fact that you are reading this proves that you are a professional who is curious to read your organization’s newsletter, and are still surviving in the midst of the seemingly never-ending recession. You have what it takes.

This is the first recession I’ve faced. But as I understand from my superiors the cycle of recession repeats itself again and again, while some stress that this is the worst recorded recession. Simple conclusion is that even when things get better, another recession will come back after a few more years. The building industry is one of the worst hit industries each time. We need to figure out a way so we don’t suffer this next time around.

We started this year with the theme of “rejuvenating architecture” in which we pledged to fight back the results of 2009 recession with renewed energy. How are we doing? We are coming to an end of this year very quickly. Have we architects done better this year than the previous? What are our future prospects? Don’t give in yet; be resilient. We will prevail.

The “it” word these days is “resilient” in all sorts of business world discussions. Architects shouldn’t stay behind. On November 17 the AIA Las Vegas Emerging Professionals and Young Architects Forum (EPYAF) has organized a half day workshop on the theme of “Resilient Architecture”. While we try to stay afloat in these tough times, maybe we should take advantage of the down time and gain some skills to avoid facing similar problems in future. There are certain avenues that we can focus on, maybe some level of diversification, and key steps we could take to secure our futures as the leaders of the building industry. Based on the predicted future trends of the profession, the workshop will focus on four areas – wellness, education, technology, and economy. The results of the workshop will be presented at the end of the evening. This workshop might widen your perspective towards future, so please join us. The details of the workshop are included in the newsletter.

By the way, election period is here! More than ever our legislative committee is working very diligently during this election to plant some seeds in our leaders’ future plans. We were approached by Senator Horsford to help on the plans for “Envisioning Nevada’s Future” created by the Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group. Our task force is working together on the expansion of the vision.

We are continuing to increase the PAC funding, and support all the leaders’ policies that help the future of our profession. AIA is a non-partisan association and provides a support system to all candidates who need guidance from architectural or construction standpoint. If you are in support of a candidate and would like AIA’s assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Don’t forget to vote.

And now for smiles, I’d like to congratulate all the winners of 2010 AIA Nevada Design Awards and Honor Awards. Thanks to everybody who participated and I encourage you to do so again next time. Congratulations to all the winners of product show giveaways, and thanks to all the exhibitors and speakers for the CE classes. If you attended the WMR conference, share with us your stories!

Enjoy the winter and have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

Silence in Architecture

My favorite buildings are the quiet ones. They are draped in solitude and wear silence as a jewel. Inside them, even a whisper has an echo. These may appear in the form of spiritual abodes or as shelters of art in the midst of an urban jungle.

 

I recall visiting a Hindu Ashram about ten years ago. It is a campus of multiple spiritual centers, yoga ashrams, and meditation huts. The place was packed with monks, students, tourists, and workers. People of all colors and races were moving in all directions, and the all-pedestrian hustle-bustle was similar to Central Park at NYC. Yet there was pin drop silence. All you could hear were the wind and birds. If you were to close your eyes, you’d think you were alone. As I entered a meditation hut, I felt that I was the only person alive in the world. It was surreal. Solitude can be beautiful.

 

What made this experience so memorable was the backdrop of composed architecture. The buildings emerged from the ground in simple forms stepping with the grade. The meditation huts provided personal space for seekers. The interiors were dimly lit with focus on a single source of light and sound that triggered the spiritual senses. Architecture became an important tool for the seeker’s journey.

 

I was fortunate enough to visit the hospital last month; fortunate because I got to experience something remarkable during my visit. I noticed a woman with a head scarf coming out of an unusual door. Curiosity overtook me and I found myself standing in the middle of a beautiful chapel. A man was praying in a corner. I wished for the best for all humanity and left the chapel with great content. Life is beautiful, and sometimes architecture can help make it seem even better. A hidden chapel inside a hospital – so intimate and beautiful, only good architecture can accomplish that.

 

Each time I travel for vacations, I spend the most amount of time inside museums. I love being surrounded by beauty and the lip-sealed people who watch this beauty with me. The culmination of art and architecture is ever so powerful, no matter the medium or scale. I miss the serenity of museums in Las Vegas; quiet museums. Peaceful and silent museums located in busy urban areas. Although the hiking opportunities here do offer the respite away from people! This reminds me of another story…

 

I was doing an internship at Ahmedabad with Neelkanth Chhaya and went to see one of his best projects on a Saturday – the Center for Environmental Education. At first I thought I was lost. The place was deserted and lush with overgrown trees, not something you expect in a busy city. As I moved into the seemingly dense forest, I discovered a building behind the veil of green. The walls and roof slabs were bent and cut to accommodate the existing flora. Not a single tree was cut during the construction of this project. As I meandered out of the building into the depths of growth, I was lost in the sounds of silence. Suddenly it hit me… I was afraid of another human showing up and I shuddered with fear. I got scared of a person showing up, not an animal! I ran out to the city to be surrounded by the masses again.

 

I realized that day that I would rather be in an urban center surrounded by people or all alone in complete solitude. If you combine both, that’s called perfection. Think of the Museum of Modern Art or the St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Manhattan, or the Institute of Contemporary Art at Boston, or Seattle Public Library, or Smithsonian Institution at DC, or the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at San Francisco. Add fog to the weather forecast, and I am in heaven.

 

Las Vegas region lacks this – the contrast of a quiet building within an urban center. As we come out of the recession, let us tread carefully. We faced a big loss of people moving out of Vegas in the last couple years. To make people want to live here, we need to create avenues for family life. This city can only become a livable community when we pay more attention to its large scale development with urban centers, museums, performance theatres, and parks. This is the time to find the fix while the development is slow. The problem is not all about job creation or water scarcity, the quality of life is a big part of it.

What does AIA do for me?

We hear such questions often…  What has AIA done for the profession? What does AIA do for me? What are the board members of our chapter doing for us? Where is all the membership money going?

My question is… who is AIA? WE are the AIA! AIA is not a separate entity managing us and our finances. We manage our own assets at AIA and it is us that we serve. The mission of AIA is to be “the voice of the architectural profession and a resource for its members in service to society.” That’s what the board of directors is trying to do every day: serve.

How many of us really know what it means to be an AIA Las Vegas Director? Being an AIA Director should be seen as a privilege because it allows you to make things happen that we want to see AIA doing. One should not run for an election because they want it in their resume or they are marketing their firms. One needs to have passion to make a difference or to continue the progress on the aspects that already work well. If we do it for the right reasons, we can certainly help the profession.

The nominations for the elections are still ongoing. I encourage you to send the nominations for strong leaders with variety of assets and backgrounds. I believe that when a person starts on the AIA Las Vegas board, they already should have an idea on what it is that they want to do in their role. One shouldn’t have to give you your job responsibility; you create your own responsibilities. You volunteer your own time as much as you can and you make of it whatever you want to get out of it. Whether your passion is codes, residential work, environmental responsibility, golf, products, urban design, event planning, socializing, managing, finances, or even running raffles, you can add significantly to the board. We need a variety of skills and we certainly need passionate people. Ones with passion are usually responsible as well.

In terms of time, you can input 10 hours a month to 30 hours a month towards this volunteer role. It is entirely up to you. The more you give, the more you get. It has been an incredible learning experience for me. I started with USGBC Nevada board first and joined AIA Las Vegas board later. I can’t imagine having grown professionally as much if I had worked in an office all day. I wouldn’t enjoy moving forward without volunteering some of my time anymore! It is the most rewarding experience in my opinion. If I could do volunteer work for a living, that would be perfect! And yet again… the more you do for the AIA, the more it will do for you in terms of your own learning experiences.

Where the membership dues are spent is a public record. Please feel free to stop by the AIA office anytime and we can share where the money is going. The board of directors is not partying with the AIA money, the expenses for our travel to conferences are not being paid by the AIA, and the lunch we have during the board meetings is not paid by the AIA. The AIA staff has more workload than three people can handle and they do an incredible job at it. Our chapter would not be so successful if not for the three ladies that work for AIA.

I do want to bring attention to another avenue that is often neglected – committees. Do you know what our committees are? Membership, Programs, Emerging Professionals/Young Architects Forum, Committee on Design, Advisory, Legislative Affairs, Product Show, Golf Tournament, High School Design Awards, and Architecture Week. There are numerous avenues where we can use your help. Please ask us today how you can join one of our committees and help make 2011 a better year than 2010. (Rob, you owe me one for this!)

We look forward to all the great people who will be joining our board next year and we thank all the board members who are currently serving on the board with me. They are incredible individuals that I continue to learn from. At the next meeting, please come and talk to us. We want to listen to you and act. Please consider running for the elections and certainly don’t forget to vote!

COD vs COTE

I was in a shuttle going from the airport towards my hotel at the last AIA Convention in San Francisco when I overheard an amazed UK girl speaking to her mother. “Look mom, all the drivers are alone in their cars! There are no passengers!” she said. The mother tried to explain with futility, when the girl asked, “But why are there no passengers? Why are they driving the car for just one person?” The mother simply asked her to shush.

It brought back memories when I was that age and lived with parents in India. Quite simply, we used cars when at least two people were travelling. At other times we used scooters, bikes, mopeds, rickshaws, horse carts, three-wheelers, buses, and trains. This was not because of lack of means, but lifestyle and culture. I could count the number of times I had been inside an air-conditioned building on my two hands until I moved to US. We faced severe cold and heat with the same comfort as the pleasant spring and summer seasons. We lived among the rain and the fog. We adjusted. Our buildings worked, and we adapted to the seasons. Times have changed. Countries like India have “progressed” and become westernized in their luxuries. But are they getting away from nature in their pursuit of luxury? What’s the point of having an air-conditioner installed in a house if we face power-cuts? That’s common there, but may not be far from us at US. Are we prepared? Can our buildings function without electricity?

Environmental design, sustainability, green building, responsive design… whatever we call it… These words were new to me when I moved here. I didn’t initially understand why we were talking about these things. To me, it was part of design. I soon realized the dependence on fossil fuels that this country suffers from. Over the years, I have started to suffer from the same dependence. But I do understand what an experienced architect is talking about when they speak of green building versus someone fresh out of school. There is a big educational gap there. My architectural education in India was similar to US education 20 years ago, while my Masters at Michigan is of the current age. I’d say I’ve seen both sides of the coin. So what do we do about this?

In today’s date, LEED is considered the highest rating system for a building’s sustainability. There are strong opinions for and against LEED. Instead of getting into debates about how good LEED is, why don’t we stop and wonder; if we didn’t have LEED or similar rating systems, will all the buildings being constructed be sustainable? Is architecture all about form and function or are there certain basic principles that some architects overlook? Why are we separating the “LEED” items from a regular building design? I don’t think we should fight LEED because we think we know better! I believe it is an essential tool because without it, many professionals will be lost about how to properly design and construct a building. We need to have both discussions going on simultaneously – how to design well and how to design responsibly. I believe California is headed in the right direction through the adoption of Green Building Standards Code (CALGREEN). We need to lead the effort so Nevada isn’t much far behind. Time will tell how the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) will impact our work. In the meanwhile, let’s do what we can at home to design and construct well.

That brings me to the discussion of the Committee on the Environment (COTE) and the Committee on Design (COD). Why is COTE separate from COD? COD focuses on good design practices while COTE focuses on good environmental design practices. What?! Isn’t it the same thing?

One of my goals for this year was to start a local COD. Another goal was to restart COTE. After much deliberation and some discussions with peers who will spearhead the effort, we have come to the conclusion that these two missions need to be combined. We are starting an AIA Las Vegas Committee on Design that will be based on the missions of COD and COTE at the national level. We will not engage in debates on LEED and how to design green buildings. The mission would be to acknowledge good design. We do not plan on separating the two issues of good design and green design, because they aren’t separate! If you believe in DESIGN, please keep an eye on the upcoming announcements when we head start this new committee. To committee on “designed environments”… to Committee on Design!

New Girl in the City

Like others who came before me, I brought some dreams with my luggage when I came to America. With an exceptional experience at University of Michigan and a successful career at Las Vegas, those dreams came true. I still remember the day I had landed at Boston after a journey of over 24 hours from Punjab. I came from one paradise to another, but felt the differences immediately. Time flies… I’ve spent one third of my life in this country now! Punjab was my home growing up filled with pleasant memories. In just a few years, I’ve begun to feel a strange love for United States as my new home. What lies at the core of this love? My exciting job? My involvement with AIA and USGBC? My cute little house? Or my independence? What has this country and Las Vegas given me that I didn’t have in India?

The answer has been in front of me all along… I just didn’t realize it until recently.

I’ve had some great experiences in this land of opportunities. Getting the architecture license in India was a process, but it felt like an achievement here. Being able to teach LEED classes has been marvelous. Serving on the USGBC Nevada Board has been absolutely brilliant. And the few years I’ve been on the AIA Las Vegas board are an amazingly different story. But these are not the central reasons for my love for this place. When I look back at all of these milestones, I wonder if the joy of making a new home here would have been the same without the people along the way!

James Chaffers trained me, while Allen Shaffer is the one who first showed me the direction towards advancement of my green building ambitions. Garry Hoholic encouraged me to get involved with USGBC, while Lance Kirk helped make it happen. Windom Kimsey’s voice is still in my head when he first introduced me to Wade Simpson, “Watch this girl, she’ll be on the AIA board someday.” I knew then that I will prove him right. Mark Hobaica gave me the confidence to run for the President-Elect position, while Mike Del Gatto stood behind my efforts towards EPYAF. And the person who motivates me every single day is my husband, Jagan Singh. He is the most ambitious and intelligent man I’ve met and he inspires me everyday to do better. The names are endless, but their invaluable support is limitless.

When I had first come here, I had my goals straight. But now I know that the joy of achieving these goals is meaningful only when shared with others. Only now do I see that my strange love for this city is actually one with the attitude of the people and the encouragement they offer.

United States is as tough as it is beautiful. If we pause for a moment from running after our goals and think of what really matters, life will appear spectacular! I am living the life of all those who came to this country before me with big dreams and aspirations. I hope you’ll join me in reliving the moments you or your ancestors lived. Join me in living the American Dream!