AIA Pittsburgh Year in Review: 2020

By Posted on January 7, 2021

Looking Back at a Virtual Reality

Dear Members, Partners and Friends,

As expressed during our Annual Meeting, 2020 has honestly been the most unusual year to be Board President and Executive Director of AIA Pittsburgh. Regardless, we adapted and, in a year overtaken by pandemic lockdowns and social distancing, our Chapter found ways to continue our trajectory of increased outreach to our members, partners and the public; more collaboration, and more connectivity to issues and developments happening in and around the architecture community in western Pennsylvania.

While COVID-19 hindered some of our plans for the year, in other ways it presented new opportunities: learn new tools, re-evaluate creative approaches to connecting with one another, learn new words, i.e. “Quarantini”, deepen existing relationships and partnerships, and identify ways that architects can make a difference in the face of the unexpected.

Due to the uncertainty that COVID-19 brought, financial cost-saving measures were proactively implemented starting in April to ensure the fiscal health of the Chapter. These efforts were ultimately successful in allowing AIA Pittsburgh to end the year without dipping into our reserve funds. However, we were saddened not be able to work with our valued contractors and partners who bring their talents to our membership.

One of the greatest takeaways of the year is how valuable it is to be part of a community that remains resilient in the face of crisis. Members shared experiences and ideas across firms, local and state Chapters worked together even more to provide opportunities and resources for our members, and we collaborated with our partners to tackle shared challenges.

Following are Chapter highlights of a truly unprecedented year for our architecture community, our region and the world.


  • AIA Members: 601
  • Allied Partners: 33
  • Board expansion: AIAS President and two Public Directors (non-architects).

AIA Pittsburgh did not increase local dues in 2020, even though the organization’s expenses increase annually. We felt it was a good year to take stock of our members’ needs so we can ensure going forward that we offer architects the best value for their membership. However, the best way to derive value for your membership dollar is to get involved with the organization. We create opportunities for architects to leverage their knowledge and be continuous learners. The more member engagement we have, the more we can do in support of our community.

Committee/ Initiative Impact:

  • Advocacy Committee: Established quarterly meetings with the new Director of the Dept. of Permits, Licensing and Inspections (PLI); currently developing a 2-year local advocacy platform for the Chapter.
  • AIA-MBA Joint Committee: Published a paper and brochure for First-Time Building Owners; Created a task force to identify and address issues and best practices with PLI.
  • Blueprint for Better: Presented at Build Pittsburgh and received an $11,000 grant to continue its work in 2021.
  • Committee on the Environment (COTE): Held 3 seminars and established 3 sub-committees: Tall Timber, Deconstruction & Reuse/ Circular Economy; Seminar Series (anticipating a 2021 series based on the 10 aspects of the Framework for Design Excellence).
  • Design + Research Group: Established in 2020 to cross-fertilize knowledge and ideas across education and practice.
  • EDI Community: Evaluating member/ PA architect statistics to better understand our community; Cross-cutting outreach to other committees.
  • Healthcare Committee: Established 3 sub-committees: Knowledge, Emerging Professionals, Collaboration; frequent guest presenters to share knowledge and opportunities.
  • Outreach Committee: En Masse Mixer and outreach to welcome new members.
  • YAF: Held Sketch Challenge, Carpenters Training Courses, ARE support, 3 building tours, 2 studio competitions, game nights.

Events and Programs:

  • Build Pittsburgh: Pivoted to a virtual event and offered 22 CEUs (15 HSW); Keynote: Gunnar Hubbard, FAIA.
  • Design Pittsburgh: Shifted to a virtual event and garnered 1,012 views on YouTube as of December 31. Sixteen awards presented, including a rare Silver Medal Award and several Social Impact Awards.
  • Annual Meeting & Celebration: Holiday cheer, member accomplishments, chapter business and Archi-Pictionary ended the year on a festive note.
  • Town Halls to share information with members and hear their questions, re: COVID measures, lessons, best practices.
  • HR & Legal Roundtables with Lisa Miller and Mike Cremonese, re: COVID.
  • COTE seminars: C-PACE, Deconstruction & Reuse, EcoDistricts.
  • AIA-ULI joint program: Built by Women, with excellent attendance and takeaways. We plan to hold a follow-on event in 2021.

The Chapter continued to raise the profile of architects in our region by:

  • Publishing the 2019 Annual Report in June to members, partners and the public.
  • Issuing the Social Justice Statement, “What We Do Next Matters,” in July.
  • Engaging the City of Pittsburgh by working with the departments of City Planning and PLI, and the Public Art Commission.
  • Employing the Framework for Design Excellence as a voluntary part of all Design Pittsburgh submissions and receiving media coverage that allowed us to explain how architects address sustainability and climate change. Media coverage included: NEXT Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Business Times.
  • Increased public postings to two of our four social media outlets: Instagram and LinkedIn.

The pandemic made it difficult to move some of our more public-facing initiatives forward, like Blueprint for Better (B4B) and the work of the Pittsburgh Architecture Foundation (PAF). Efforts were re-directed towards research, planning, and good governance, resulting in:

  • Developing a Joint Operating Agreement between the Chapter and Foundation
  • Submitting 3 Letters of Intent (pre-grant outreach) for the Façade Renovation program
  • Supporting 2 scholarships (jointly funded by Chapter and PAF) for members to attend the Intercultural Training provided by AIA Minnesota.
  • Planning for Youth Outreach and Support to the Next Generation of Architects to become a stronger focus for the PAF.
  • Successfully submitting and receiving a grant for Blueprint for Better.

AIA Pittsburgh encourages members to share their ideas and views on how to make the Chapter even more supportive of the changing environment in which architects learn and work. Please send your comments to:

After a stormy year, we look forward to clear skies ahead with health, peace, and prosperity for all.

Joseph Chaffin, AIA, 2020 Board President

Michelle Fanzo, Executive Director





Comment Policy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *