The theme of this year's AIA National Convention under way  in Denver ("Building Leaders") emerged in the Friday morning keynote address by Cameron Sinclair. He is the founder and CEO (self-titled "Chief Eternal Optimist") for San Francisco-based Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit that provides design help for areas of the world hit by disasters, severe climate change, poverty or other transformative life events.
Sinclair told the audience of 2,500 that they "need to take their skills into communities that never imagined having an architect or planner to help them."
Designers, he said, must ask themselves as community leaders how they can create "the most relevant and practical structures that can be replicated in a community." He challenged architects working in areas after disasters "to rebuild with communities, not just rebuild the communities themselves."
"The most sustainable buildings in the world," he said, "are those that are the most loved."
Cameron's organization is spearheading projects to build and rebuild schools, housing, hospitals, medical clinics, sports and recreation facilities around the world. Many of the group's efforts have focused on helping rebuild after natural disasters in Haiti, Japan, Africa, Louisiana and the post-Sandy East Coast.
His group asks architects and designers to "embed" themselves in communities that need their help, to partner with local leaders and transform lives by getting projects built, not just by designing them and hoping they will be built.
"You can do dignified, important architecture, not just pro bono architecture," he said. "Give people spaces that will inspire them. It's not just about how we build; it's about how we lead."
The quote of the day (so far) comes from AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion award-winner (for mentoring and teaching) Robert Greenstreet, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: Too many architects in a room all dressed in black -- the standard architects' uniform -- he said, "is starting to resemble a conference of slightly effeminate hit men looking for someone to kill."