Revitalization by design

July 01, 2001 |

Architecture's role in the revival of cities was a focus of the 2001 American Institute of Architects convention. Two speakers capitalized on the meeting's Denver location by referring to completed or planned Denver buildings they had designed. "Urban Thinking for the 21st Century" was the subject of a panel presentation by eminent architects Daniel Libeskind, Michael Graves and Santiago Calatrava.

Berlin-based Libeskind designed the planned addition to the Denver Art Museum. Princeton, N.J.-based Graves, who was awarded AIA's Gold Medal at the convention, designed the Postmodern addition to the Denver Central Library, completed in 1995. Zurich-based Calatrava, who is an engineer and a sculptor as well as an architect, is known for his bridges as well as his buildings. His first U.S. project, an addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, is nearing completion.

The convention provided an opportunity to unveil Libeskind's design for the art museum addition (see rendering), which has been described as a "New Age crystal." Libeskind noted that museums are no longer institutions for the elite, and that they can play a prominent role in city revitalization. When the addition opens in 2005, the angled planes of its roof will be visible from downtown office buildings. Denver officials hope the building will become a new symbol for the city.

Calatrava cited the ability of attention-getting design to help revitalize a city, as the Guggenheim Museum has done for Bilbao, Spain. Bridges can serve an aesthetic as well as functional purpose, he notes, citing one that he designed for his hometown of Valencia, Spain.

Advertising levy extended

The most contentious issue that arose during the convention's business session was whether to continue a special $50 per member annual assessment for an AIA advertising campaign. The campaign has included commercials on the NBC Nightly News and ads in Business Week, Inc. and Forbes. Its objective is to dispel the notion that architects sacrifice functionality for aesthetics. After a spirited debate, the dues assessment was approved through 2004, ensuring that AIA will have at least $2 million annually to fund the television portion of the promotional campaign.

The assessment for advertising was debated in the context of AIA's difficult financial situation. Its net assets dropped from $9 million in 1996 to $1.3 million in 1999. AIA lost $4.4 million on its 60 percent ownership of AECdirect, a now defunct Web-based information and service product. Its financial condition also was weakened after supplemental dues were rescinded in 1997 without a corresponding decrease in expenses or an increase in membership.

Opponents of continued funding for advertising argued that AIA should get its house in order financially before investing further in the program. Others maintain that they had not seen a measurable result from advertising expenditures to date. It was also urged that dues for younger architects be reduced as an incentive to boost membership.

Thompson E. Penney, president and chief executive officer of LS3P Associates Ltd., a 185-member firm with offices in Charleston, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C., was elected first vice president/president-elect. Penney's term begins in December, and he will become president in 2003.

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