Together, We Can!

Thoughts on Building a Stronger Profession

By Paula Maynes, AIA Posted on March 16, 2015

maynesEditor’s Note: Last week, Paula Maynes, AIA passed away unexpectedly of a brain aneurism. As has already been recounted, she was an incredible architect, partner, and friend. In looking back, Columns unearthed this Viewpoint, written by Paula at the beginning of her term as AIA Pittsburgh chapter president in 2008. Her words exemplify her thoughtful and inclusive nature,  which she brought to both her professional and personal life. Her insights will be greatly missed. 

We can each point to moments in our lives when we grew a little more, when we realized that we had more to give, that we were bigger, braver, or wiser than we had previously thought. My abbreviated list includes some classic life-altering events:

  • Overcoming a fear by learning to float at age 7.
  • Collecting my first paycheck at age 17 (not to mention the shock of encountering FICA for the first time).
  • The excitement and trepidation of facing the future as a recent college graduate and moving to the vast and wild west, sight unseen, at age 22.
  • The awesome, terrifying, and joyful responsibility of thinking beyond my own immediate needs in becoming a caring parent at age 32.

At any age, it is a thrill to exclaim, “Hey, look what I can do!” if only inside your own head. I can easily declare that it is the daily problem solving challenges of an architectural practice that offer a constant, stimulating, and varied set of opportunities to learn and grow. The practice of architecture can call on such a broad array of creative efforts in design, marketing, and business management that there are occasions when I long for a sense of boredom.

During college, a professor and mentor surprised me with the suggestion that I could define for myself what it means to be an architect.  Would it be artist, designer, technician, businesswoman, marketer, historian, sociologist, mind reader, place-maker, advocate, . . ? To me, architecture is a team sport, which requires talent, enthusiasm, and leadership. My team is comprised of concentric rings of individuals beginning with my wonderful staff and partner, a capable consultant team, the extended project team including the catalyst – the client – and members of the community. Unless you have the rare luxury of executing a design/build project for yourself, architecture is a most public art. And it takes the meaningful, although sometimes seemingly small, contributions of a number of talented individuals to accomplish the goals of the project.

When I place my ear to the ground, I hear grumblings that the profession of architecture is at a crossroads of a sort. The information age continues to change the way we interact with others. New technologies demand that established professionals continue to incorporate new modes of production and communication into their practices. Yet, it is technological advances that have allowed the profession to press the envelope of creative expression through the ages: masonry domes, steel towers, computer-generated warped planes. I also hear that young graduates are both shrinking in number and turning to more glamorous fields that promise higher levels of compensation through the production of virtual architecture. This is potentially our great loss, our next generation. Perhaps we will step forward as their mentors saying, “There is still room to define for oneself what it means to be an architect.” I do not know any two practices that are the same.

With that said, I do find that architects have a special way of looking at the world and envisioning the great potential of any situation. What I love most about the AIA is the interaction I share with a group of individuals who recognize possibilities, who are strongly community-oriented, and who understand the link between quality of life and quality of environment (both built and natural).

As the 2008 President of AIA Pittsburgh, I would like to hear your thoughts about the profession and how AIA Pittsburgh can serve its members and the community. We will be redesigning our website this year. If, in the meantime, you haven’t explored the AIA National website,, you are missing out on a host of remarkable resources: the Knowledge Communities’ Best Practices, the Small Firms Resource Center, information for Emerging Professionals, and the recently launched SOLOSO, an online resource for architects. I embrace the idea behind SOLOSO: “When architects share and exchange information and ideas the architectural profession advances.” I have been actively involved in the AIA for several years and feel that I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what the institution has to offer. Please get involved, particularly if you have ideas about recruiting and mentoring a diverse and talented pool of professionals. We will be taking up this challenge during AIA Build Pittsburgh, our annual educational event. Hey, look what WE can do with your participation!

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