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In 13 years, AIA’s local chapter has transformed from an under-the-radar membership org tucked into a Midtown office to the public face of NYC’s built environment, complete with a storefront gathering space.


Yesterday at the Center for Architecture at 536 LaGuardia Place near NYU, we snapped chapter president Lance Jay Brown (also a professor at City University of New York and one of the leaders of the 9/11 Memorial design competition) and exec director Rick Bell. In May 2001, Rick took what was supposed to be a one-year leave of absence from the public sector (he was NYC public works chief architect) to help AIANY move from the New York Design Center and open the LaGuardia space, an open-to-all venue south of Washington Square Park. He never left.


The space has five meeting rooms, the largest of which can hold 200 standing (not necessarily on the chairs, as this staffer is). The center hosts 1,000 programs a year (like the most adorable group of grade schoolers building with cardboard while we were there) and 20 exhibitions (some curated in house, others visiting from elsewhere). Architects, elected officials, and anyone interested in the built environment also are welcome. About 80,000 walk through the doors every year, Rick tells us. Running now is an exhibition titled Polis: 7 Lessons from the European Prize for Urban Public Space, which will overlap with the AIANY-curated Open to the Public: Civic Space Now, opening June 13. Both shows fit the theme of Lance’s term as president: Civic Spirit, Civic Vision.


AIANY’s 5,000 members and the facility are served by 20 staffers, who handle everything from programming to continuing ed. That’s up from just seven employees in 2003. The org is both a 501(c)(3) for its educational efforts and a 501(c)(6), which allows it to engage in advocacy work. Rick is an architect and a registered lobbyist and tells us much of the org’s advocacy efforts are local facing, such as testifying before City Council. But he and Lance also headed to Albany for an April 29 lobbying day. One legislative focus: making New York the 29th state with a Good Samaritan Law. They’re close, Lance says, and if it passes, AIANY’s legion of architects will be encouraged to offer their skills after crises like Sandy without worrying about the long-term consequences, such as the litigation issues faced by engineers who worked at Ground Zero.