A19 Conference Experience

A’19 in Review

There are two things I try to do every year as an architect, professional, and firm owner: 1) speak at an architecture conference; and 2) attend the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) annual conference.

Since 2010, I’ve been a session presenter at conferences in the Midwest, South, and along the East Coast. And since starting my career, I have attended numerous incarnations of the AIA’s Conference on Architecture. Unfortunately, I did not make the 2018 event in New York, which some helpful wag managed to schedule the same week as the Pride celebration in Manhattan.

However, in the last nine years, speaking and attending have occurred exclusive of one another. Until this year.

For the A’19 Conference on Architecture, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on LGBTQ+ presence in architecture titled The Silent Minority: LGBTQ+ Voices in Architecture.

And like every session before this one, I had the usual moments of panic and doubt:

Will I be able to remember what I’m talking about?

Will anyone attend? (I’ve had attendance as low as 10 people. Surprisingly, that turned out to be on of the better sessions.)

Who will attend? Particularly for this session. Would people be willing to attend and potentially out themselves to their colleagues?

Will the audience participate in the discussion?

And like every session before, the presentation went well.

We had a larger than expected turnout and a more diverse group than anticipated. We made the straight architects stand up and be recognized, and a surprising number did so.

The panelists were well-spoken and engaging as was the audience. I’ve sat in numerous panel discussions where the panelists talked – and no one else got a word in. However, we were able to engage the audience members and take in their perspective on the subject.

And we even received a nice write-up on the AIA’s website: https://www.aia.org/articles/6161023-raising-lgbtq-voices-in-architecture?tools=true

Perhaps this year being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the conference occurring at the start of Pride had some influence on attendance and even acceptance of the program by AIA’s review committee. That’s hard to say. However, no matter the reason, we were able to present the session and have a positive experience.

Would I do it again? Yes. Will I continue to speak if given the opportunity? Yes. Will I continue to attend the national conference? Of course.

And hopefully moving forward, those won’t continue to be separate experiences.

 

Hotel Room or Harem?

I remember reading in a Stephen King novel a quote about how the phrase – the more things change, the more they stay the same – was crap. Because the more things change, the more things change. But how do you know when change is needed?

Our first (and only trip to Chicago) was around 12 years ago, and we found ourselves sleeping at the W City Center for the duration of the trip. W Hotels were just starting to open around the country, and the place was young, hip, urban, and even better, paid for by James’ office.

He had come for work and wanted to know if I was interested in tagging along. Interested? It’s Chicago. One of the most iconic cities in America. Home to the Hancock Tower, Sears Tower, and The Art Institute. Not to mention structures by Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham & Root, and Mies van der Rohe. How could I pass that up?

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to go a couple of times on my own, most recently this month for an American Institute of Architects two-day conference. Once again, I found myself at a W – this time facing Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier. And the hotel felt the way I remembered my first time. Not as dimly lit but arranged again so the social spaces were all out front, and you had to guess where the reception desk was.

However, from there on up, nothing had really changed from what we experienced 12 years before. Dimly lit hall. Dark carpet. Purple LEDs in the ceiling. Perhaps the only real update was to card readers on the hotel room doors. Then I went into my room.

I suppose for most hotel brands, staying current means increasing the likelihood that you’ll book more rooms throughout the year. And I’ve stayed at hotels that have undergone massive renovations from one year to the next. I even found myself on the unfinished side of a hotel renovation, complete with the original laminate bathroom counter from some time in the 1980s, while I could hear contractors working a few floors below.

By no means was my room unpleasant or uncomfortable. Don’t get that impression. Super-comfortable bed. Tons of space. A really cool rainhead in the shower. I just think someone needs to slip the W a note and let them know change is sometimes a good thing.

Had I opened my door and found someone passed out across the bed, sheets and pillows in disarray, and a couple of empty vodka bottles knocked over on the dresser, I would not have been surprised. My room felt designed more for a party, and perhaps not so much for sleeping.

The headboard for the king-sized bed continued along the wall to become a banquette that stretched onto the adjacent wall. Oddly there was a mirrored “coffee table” at the end of the banquette. Now what could I use that for? And a lamp attached to a pole that was mounted on the top of the bedside table and extended to the ceiling. I’m just going to assume it was always a lamp.

W Chicago Lakeside 

And while I appreciated the décor, most of my party days have long gone by, and I look at a hotel room for what it is – a place to sleep.

I was reminded of a past client who would come to Dallas and check on their project, staying in one of the more upscale hotels. Except the one time their usual room wasn’t available, and their son put them in one of the trendier boutique hotels that had recently appeared on the scene.

At our meeting the next morning, I asked them how their room was.

“Like a Turkish harem.”

That afternoon they switched hotels. I guess they just wanted to sleep too.