A Letter from AIA Pittsburgh’s President, Alan Schlossberg, AIA and AIA Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Anne J. Swager, Hon. AIA
As you might imagine, we get quite a bit of feedback when an “out-of-town” architect is hired for a large local project. When this happens, we are often asked to “take a stand” against this practice. While we share some of the frustration many feel, it is perhaps too simple a reaction. We know the architectural talent in Pittsburgh is nothing short of extraordinary. Most in our design community work extensively throughout the region, but many also work across the country and around the globe without restriction.
The AIA will always advocate for good design, informed by a deep understanding of regional context, culture, and the value of design for our community. We also believe the ideas of the Pittsburgh design community are not the only, or always the best, for our community. In fact we have learned from the contributions of many national and international designers who highlight, interpret, and contribute to our city in unique and positive ways. As the AIA, we would never want to take a position restricting where architects could or should work. This type of protectionist stance could invite other cities, regions, or countries to behave in a similar manner.
The AIA does advocate strongly for the fair hiring practices of architects for public projects in our region. We promote a Qualification Based Selection (QBS) for architectural services. This is a process that begins with an RFQ, then narrowing the candidates to an invited shortlist for a detailed RFP. Final selection can be made on qualifications alone or in combination with a fee negotiation. As you can imagine, this is sometimes a difficult process to convince government leaders and governmental agencies to adopt. However, because they use taxpayer money, we feel empowered to influence policy whenever we can. In the case of BIG and the Arena redevelopment, the project has been privatized and specifically BIG was hired by McCormick Baron Salizar, a private developer. As you know in such circumstances, there is little opportunity to influence the process, unless our input and guidance is solicited.
It is always disappointing when such a talented local architectural community is passed over for jobs that they could and would do very well. However, both BIG (hired to master plan the lower Hill) and Interface Studio (hired as a consultant on the Uptown Eco Innovation District) are award-winning firms with innovative approaches to design and a deep commitment to creating vibrant urban communities. Great projects depend on great clients who share the vision of their architect and are willing to seek new solutions and approaches to problems. BIG and Interface will undoubtedly challenge ideas all of us have about how to successfully develop underserved neighborhoods and in many ways help repair important and neglected pieces of our city. Their success helps expand the design conversation and opens potentially new dialogue for local firms to leverage moving forward.
We hope we will see you at the Design Pittsburgh Gala on October 22, where we will be showcasing the talent and vision of our local architects. We have a record number of terrific projects to celebrate this year, proof Pittsburgh architects are rebounding from the recession and have a powerful design voice! Please consider inviting a legislator, developer, or other potential client. Design Pittsburgh 2015 is a perfect opportunity to showcase talent and communicate our value.