For as long as I remember, I have been going to Chicago once a year to visit family. I even spent one very cold college spring break there. When I saw that this year’s AIA National conference would be there, I knew it was the perfect time for my first major conference experience. I had already visited many of Chicago’s landmarks, even going on the architectural river tour back in 2015. Being such a big city though, a lot had changed, and the conference allowed me to see the city through a different lens, participate in tours, and be part of interesting keynotes and lectures I wouldn’t have experienced as a tourist. Below are some of my conference highlights:

United States Post Office Building Tour

From rooftop gardens and tennis courts to a grand first and second floor market and event spaces, The Old Chicago Post Office has now become a unique space in the middle of downtown that shows how well these historic, more industrial buildings that once provided a service for many people can reinvent themselves without having to be torn down or sit empty. It was a great preview to some of the major ideas of this conference and was certainly a building I would not have thought to visit on my own.

Behind the Scenes Tour of the Shedd Aquarium

One of the coolest tours I was able to go on was a behind-the-scenes look at the Shedd Aquarium. It is not surprising how technical the operations behind an aquarium are, but the challenges the operations staff and designers with the firm helping to renovate the aquarium had to work through while updating the spaces were truly unique. It was fascinating to see a place I had visited many times before from this perspective.

Sessions on Adaptive Reuse

A trend I noticed with the sessions this year were the number of topics related to reuse. There is a lot of work going on in other parts of our industry to catalog and reuse existing materials and furniture for use on other projects across the country. There are so many great things in good condition that do not need to be thrown away, and when you look at the previous two years’ impact on the economy and supply chains, the business case for this concept is only becoming stronger.

Technical Case Studies

One of the more technical sessions that I attended was “A Zero-Carbon Hybrid Wood Supertall Future,” as I have been working on the 110/111 Ann St. mass timber projects in Savannah for a few years now.  The discussion with partners of DIALOG Design was centered around a white paper outlining how we can construct new supertall buildings out of a timber and concrete hybrid structural system. The session incorporated a lot of the ideas we discussed within the office when working on the Ann St. projects, but on a much grander scale. In essence the designers want to take all these great ideas revolving around sustainability and economy and combine them with the efficiencies (not to mention the captivation) inherent in supertall buildings.

Keynote with AIA CEO Lakisha Ann Woods

The first keynote I attended was a conversation between AIA 2022 President Dan Hart and AIA CEO Lakisha Ann Woods. They discussed the future of the AIA as a group for advocacy, and how the last few years have shown us that we need to speak up more and really focus on these ideas of equity within our industry.

Panel with Well-Known Architects

The second keynote was a panel discussion between Chicago’s own architecture critic Lee Bey, Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang, Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, and Renee Cheng, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. They talked about social equity and the environmental problems facing our industry today. I think that the biggest question they asked, and something we all have been thinking about in the past few years, was how to attract new people to this profession, and how to give them the opportunities they need to not only grow and share their ideas but also to stay in the industry.

Keynote with Barack Obama

The final keynote was perhaps the most exciting of the entire conference: being able to listen to former President Barack Obama have a discussion with Lee Bey. They discussed Obama’s lifelong interest in architecture (maybe he would have been a fellow colleague had he not gone into politics), similar topics as the previous keynotes on equity and advocacy within our industry, and the process he has gone through in the design of his presidential library on Chicago’s South Side. It was a cool experience to hear a former president talk about his experience with design, and his opinions on the industry.

Time with Colleagues from Other Offices

On the last full day of the conference, before the final keynote, I was able to have lunch with everyone from LS3P who attended this year. It was great to meet people I have not met before and see others whom I had. I was even able to hang out with colleagues on the tour of the Shedd Aquarium, later that night, and for the rest of the conference as I kept running into people I now recognized better!

I think that one of my biggest takeaways from the conference was that we can take these great experiences, and lessons learned from places so different from where we practice, and apply them here at home. We can also bring the values we have been practicing to the national level. It was a fantastic experience being in a city I know so well in a different way, and I would recommend that everyone tries to go to at least one AIA National Conference.

About William

Associate William Margulis, Assoc. AIA, is an Emerging Professional in LS3P’s Savannah office. William earned a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Miami University in Ohio and a Master of Architecture from Savannah College of Art and Design; he is passionate about sustainable design, watercolor sketching, and incorporating new building technologies into his projects. He works primarily in the K-12 and multifamily sectors, with major recent projects including cross-laminated timber projects at 110 and 111 Ann Street in Savannah.