Drew White: Architects Institute conference would be win for city

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

When it comes to hosting large conferences, races at the Speedway, and sporting events—both college and professional—Indianapolis has a successful record. Each year, millions of people come here for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Big Ten Football Championship, and FDIC International. But what about the annual American Institute of Architects Conference on Architecture? While our city has the capacity to host it, we must ask ourselves: Do we deserve it?

The AIA conference attracts 20,000 attendees each year. This includes some of the 94,000 architects and architectural associates who are AIA members. Exhibitors, sponsors, educational presenters and keynote speakers invested in the future of architecture also attend.

Previous conferences have been held in Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago. With that kind of competition, how we do impress the AIA board and executive leadership and convince them Indianapolis is worthy?

To be selected, we would have to present a case that is attractive to all AIA members— from young practitioners at large, urban firms to sole practitioners in small, rural towns. One selling point is our proximity to Columbus, Indiana. Its modern architecture would add a surprising and authentic layer to the architectural tours host cities must provide. We also should explore every imaginable building product linked to Indianapolis’ racing legacy. Architects and designers appreciate technology, speed and innovation, after all. Why not embrace what we’re known for?

The AIA decision-makers should also know that the number of architecture- and design-related programs in Indiana is growing. In Indianapolis, Arsenal Technical High School offers an architecture, design, construction and engineering program. Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning now has an entire Indianapolis campus. The college also hosts an architecture and planning camp for high school students each summer.

And then there’s the new J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program, which is managed by Indiana University and housed in Columbus’ Republic Building. These programs are ushering in the next generation of designers.

In the meantime, I would argue we have plenty of work to do. Let’s ask ourselves, “Have we created a city worthy of a conference focused on architecture?” “Are we, as a community, invested in dialogue about design and its importance?” “What would an AIA conference attendee want to experience?”

To create a hook with our local design and design culture, we need everyone—the corporate community, the arts community, philanthropists, design activists, community activists, the local government and other stakeholders—to get on board.

If we can host a Super Bowl, we can host the national AIA conference. A group has been assembled to put together a bid to host the conference later this decade. But we must ensure our design and place-making efforts continue to grow stronger and more dynamic.

Our downtown, near-neighborhood and suburban projects must be thought-provoking, with top-notch design and materials. Indy’s historical fabric also deserves continued restoration. Adaptive reuse and mixed-use projects must make an impact.

Last, the design of cultural settings, public spaces, restaurants, entertainment venues and amenity structures deserve care and meaning. Let’s create a city that will stop architects dead in their tracks.•

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White is a partner in Axis Architecture + Interiors.

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One thought on “Drew White: Architects Institute conference would be win for city

  1. This is a somewhat strange op-ed. You don’t create a city (or state) in order to attract the annual conference of one specific professional associations. You create a city that enhances the quality of life for its taxpaying citizens. If that city has features which would then be of interest to various professions, you spotlight them in your bid to be the host. As White aptly notes, there are many Indiana and Indianapolis attributes which the AIA might find attractive for its annual forum (which I’ve spoken at previously). If the local AIA chapter wants to pitch Indianapolis right now, it would be wise to augment those highlights with case studies of other comparable associations who have successfully held major conferences in Indianapolis, how they leveraged other city’s assets, and what type of feedback they received from members. Visit Indy no doubt would be a knowledgeable partner to provide that information.

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