At the first AIA Convention, in 1867, the Institute’s founding president, Richard Upjohn, FAIA, told attendees that he hoped the AIA would be “a source of public improvement and reform, beyond the mere scientific and artistic limits of the pursuit.” In short, he said, "a helper of civilization.” In the years since, the AIA’s leaders have lived up to Upjohn’s ambitious hopes, though their own design work, their public service, and their initiatives in office. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, for instance, then–AIA President John Anderson spearheaded the creation of a fund to aid architects who had lost offices and projects in the disaster.

Elections for national office will take place at the 2013 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in Denver. The 2014–2015 candidates for first vice president/president-elect, vice president, and treasurer have disparate resumes, but they’re united by their service to the AIA, by their commitment to the repositioning of the Institute, and by their desire to provide a continued “source of public improvement.” We spoke with the 10 candidates—about their backgrounds and their goals, their ideas about leadership and fellowship, and the ways they think the AIA can help emerging professionals advance their careers.


Kevin J. Flynn, FAIA
Executive Vice President, Kiku Obata & Company
Saint Louis, Missouri
First Vice President 2014, President Elect 2015

Background: In leadership roles at the local, state, regional, and national level, I’ve sought to create a more relevant and nimble AIA. At the AIA’s 2002 Leadership Institute at Georgetown University, I helped develop leadership education for our membership. As the national president of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES), I led a successful repositioning and rebranding of the organization to create a forward-thinking body.

Goals: Complete the repositioning effort of the AIA. I will be a front line leader to change how we operate. This would mean an AIA that promotes the interests of its members, advocates a strong entrepreneurial spirit, enriches engagement with the community, and identifies practice issues that affect our future.

Role Model: A quiet but strong leader in my career was my senior year studio professor at the University of Kansas, Dave Griffin. During my senior year I was actively involved with the University Student Senate at KU, and Dave understood my dual passion—for design and for engagement in the larger community.

Benefits of Membership: AIA membership has allowed me a range of professional opportunities, such as serving on the U.S. House of Representatives Capitol Complex Design Assessment Team (Capitol DAT). My involvement with the AIA Advocacy team has made me a more engaged citizen–architect.

Emerging professionals: In addition to reaching out to our emerging professionals, we need to integrate them into all levels of our organization. This will involve ramping up our mentoring efforts to encourage dialogue between our emerging and senior professionals. And we need to provide leadership training for our emerging professionals to give them the tools to ensure their success in their field of choice—be it employee, owner, or community advocate.


Debra S. Kunce, FAIA
Owner, CORE Planning Strategies
Indianapolis, Indiana
First Vice President 2014, President Elect 2015

Background: I spent 18 years with Schmidt Associates in Indianapolis, where I led the division overseeing program management. At CORE Strategies I help provide clients with project management services and help lead their project implementation. With the AIA, I’ve served as president of AIA Indianapolis, president of AIA Indiana, and as the regional director for the Ohio Valley. In my current role as the AIA’s vice president, I’ve been heavily involved in our integrated media partnership with Hanley Wood, and in the Council of Emerging Professionals.

Goals: One is to ensure that we’re supporting our members at all stages of their careers, not just those who are emerging, or just those focusing on licensure. Our challenge is to take a complex organization and simplify it to a strong concept, not unlike the challenge an architect faces when designing a building.

Role Models: The architects who have inspired me are those involved in their practice and their community—whether they’re on church committees, local zoning boards, or serving in leadership roles with the AIA.

Benefits of Membership: I was at a big firm, a year out of school, and one of my mentors—Dean Illingworth, who was a leader in the AIA—tapped me on the shoulder one day and said, “Deb, it’s your turn to be represented on the AIA board for the firm.” That sort of service wasn’t pertinent to me yet, but as I continued through the year, I began to look at the experience through a different lens. It’s so important to have a voice, to help guide the profession.

Emerging Professionals: We need to be willing to meet young professionals on their terms. In August, I invited three young women, all students at Ball State, to the AIA Indianapolis Golf Outing. They walked out of there with nine contacts for jobs, and, eight months later, I hired one of them as an intern.


Dennis Andrejko, AIA
Principal, Andrejko & Associates
Williamsville, New York
First Vice President 2014, President Elect 2015

Background: I’ve taught and I’ve practiced architecture almost my entire career. I’m a professor [at SUNY Buffalo] and an administrator. I got my AIA label right when I first became licensed. I’ve volunteered and participated at the local, state, and national levels of the AIA—from being on committees, to volunteer leadership, to my most recent role as vice president.

Goals: Making members matter more. We need to strengthen a supportive structure with our local and regional components, because they’re the backbone of the organization. It’s not about the national office making an agenda—I simply want to allow members to empower themselves. Expanding membership and diversity are other ways of improving our organization.

Role Model: Dr. Richard Jackson, who was at the Center for Disease Control, was very perceptive in understanding the relationship between health and design, and how architects can be better stewards of the environment. He underscored the collaborative dialogue. He was a great listener. That embodies the spirit of leadership: to listen carefully, to understand issues, to knit together a discussion. You want to be more of an orchestrator than a director.

Emerging Professionals: We need to continue our focus on education, the Intern Development Program, and licensure. I’d like to think about changing the IDP to a different title—I like “Architect Development Program.” I’d also like there to be additional creative credits [for those pursuing licensure]—community service projects, charrettes, outreach projects. We need to look at offering debt relief. And we need to create stronger mentor-mentee relationships. We’ve made a good start with the Council of Emerging Professionals.


Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA
Principal, Richter Architects
Corpus Christi, Texas
First Vice President 2014, President Elect 2015

Background: I’ve been an advocate for our profession for over 25 years at the local, state, and national levels. I’m also a co-owner of a small firm, so I understand our members’ struggles and aspirations—from managing cash flow to making payroll to achieving work-life balance to producing excellent designs. I’ve raised public awareness about the value of architects by writing op-eds for newspapers, and producing public-outreach programs, like the Shape of Texas—a statewide radio program broadcast on NPR affiliates that is devoted to stories about the state’s architecture.

Goals: There’s no better time than now to take a good hard look at the profession. I hope to leverage our collective energies to put our profession on track to be strong, profitable, and in high demand worldwide. We need to nurture a public that has good sense about design.

Role Model: My mother, Irene Chu, had the tenacity to lead six young children halfway around the world to a better life. We came by boat from Hong Kong to San Francisco, then took a train to Dallas. She didn’t know anybody, but we had a sponsor in Dallas, and that’s where we started over again.

Emerging professionals: The path to licensure—it takes a long time. Young people might be losing interest. The flow of architects into our profession may not match the growing need, as Baby Boomers retire. The AIA needs to be at the forefront of this issue. I think our profession is broader and more diverse today than ever, and though design remains critical, it’s not the only critical component of architectural education. The AIA can lead the conversation on the nature and the delivery of architectural education that’s appropriate for the profession in the 21st century.


James Easton Rains Jr., AIA
Principal & Founder, Rains Studio
Ramseur, North Carolina
2014–2015 Vice President

Background: I’ve spent my career as a construction contract administrator. We start our work once the project is designed and ready for bid. We turn architects’ dreams into realities. This field experience of organizing projects with time and budget constraints has made me a collaborator, a consensus-maker, and a doer.

Goals: We need to find ways to distribute our financial and personnel resources more equitably, so that we’re providing even the small component in Nebraska the service that makes every licensed architect look at our organization and say, “I have to belong to that group. They are doing it, and they are doing it right.”

Leadership: William J. Boney, my mentor for 10 years as a construction administrator, taught me my most important lesson: No matter the circumstances, the whole story and the truth are all that matter. Architecture has no place for embellishment, or misdirection, or games. What we’re about is the honest, open truth. That’s the way he practiced as a designer, the way he handled himself in the field. He was open, and honest, and fair.

Benefits of Membership: The professional relationships I’ve built through the AIA have resulted in business opportunities, friendships, and involvement in multiple organizations, including the Construction Specification Institute. In North Carolina we have a state construction office, and my AIA involvement has given me a level of credibility, because they look to us to be the knowledge base of professional practice.

Emerging Professionals: If we don’t empower our emerging professionals to step in front of us and be the leaders of this organization, then all of this isn’t going to matter, because we’re not going to exist. I sponsored a resolution at the AIA Convention last year, which is a bylaws amendment this year, to allow associate members to be officers, because they have the knowledge to do it. I hope that at the 2013 AIA Convention in Denver we have the smarts to adopt this bylaw, which I believe will help take our organization into the next century.


Nick Docous, AIA
Architect & Principal, Lionakis
Sacramento, California
2014–2015 Vice President

Background: I’ve been a member of the AIA since 1988, and I’ve worked at all levels of the organization. I became the director of AIA Central Valley, in 1998. Since then I’ve served as the organization’s secretary, treasurer, vice president, and president. Then I became involved with AIA California Counsel, where I was vice president for communications and public affairs, vice president, and then president. And I’m now the regional director for California on the AIA’s National Board of Directors. 

Goals: The Institute and the profession are in transition. My goal is to engage younger practitioners—give them a wider voice and get them more involved. I want to make architecture, as a profession, indispensable. To do that, we need to communicate the value of architecture to a wider audience.

Role Model: In 1998, architects in California faced an unprecedented threat—a ballot proposition supported by the Professional Engineers in California that would have given them the first option to design and engineer all projects the state planned. This was a direct threat to architecture and engineering firms across the state. Don Comstock, FAIA, from the Central Valley of California, put together a coalition of architects, engineers, surveyors, government leaders, and community members to oppose and defeat this ballot measure. And, in fact, the voters defeated it.

Benefits of Membership: The greatest advantages have been the leadership opportunities and the fellowship. Having been a director and officer with the AIA, I can say that it’s a true leadership academy. Those opportunities are there for the taking. Fellowship.

Emerging Professionals: We need to engage young leaders because the practice and the market are changing. Emerging professionals need to be officers on boards and key members of committees.


Sean O’Hara, AIA
Principal & Founder, EVStudio
Denver, Colorado
2014–2015 Vice President

Background: I started EVStudio when I was 29, so I’ve grown a company from humble beginnings. There were two of us, and now there are 32. I’ve also served on the board of AIA Denver for five years, including three years as the director.

Goals: I hope to focus what we’re doing as an institute. We have a lot of widely varied goals, and it’s hard for some members to understand the purpose of the AIA. We need to clarify our message and evaluate programs to see if they truly fit that mission. In addition, we need to put local chapters in a stronger position, to make ourselves less centralized as a national organization.

Role Model: A constant source of ideas and inspiration is dean Dalvit, AIA, my business partner for the past seven years. We push each other, but keep each other in check. He’s tireless—he’s always taking on new jobs, which inspires me to be a better leader and a better architect.

Benefits of Membership: Early in my career, when I was laid off, I was able to get a new job in five weeks because I knew people through the AIA. Membership in the AIA has also brought me business partners, and, as a business owner myself, I’m now hiring employees through connections I have at the AIA. We run a practice that’s an architecture and engineering firm. We know an awful lot of architects, but on the engineering side, we don’t know as many engineers. There’s an engineering society, but it’s not the AIA.

Emerging Professionals: In AIA terms, I am the emerging professional. A big part of why I’m running is to engage younger practitioners by rethinking our focus. How do we create events that work for these people? How do we create leadership positions for people in this stage of their careers? We lose people between the associate level and the period when their careers are more established, and that’s a glaring hole. We need to make that financial transition more doable for people.


Thomas V. Vonier
Principal, Thomas Vonier Architect 
Washington, D.C., and Paris
2014–2015 Vice President

Background: Early in my career, I was the youngest member of the board of directors of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the AIA. Then, exactly 20 years ago, I moved to Paris and founded a new chapter of the AIA in Europe, which now includes all 28 member states of the European Union. And I’ve just completed three years on the AIA’s National Board of Directors.

Goals: The AIA ought to be back in the research business, doing substantive and profound work on issues in the design environment in partnerships with academic institutions. Also, we need to make the fullest use of our assets—from the Octagon Museum to human resources. We need to give a lot of latitude to the components that have been successful, and provide them with greater resources.

Benefits of Membership: When I was young, I had a project working on the Smithsonian Institute, and Nathaniel Owings—a founding partner of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill—was in Washington working on the so-called National Mile of Pennsylvania Avenue. I was nobody—I’d just arrived from Milwaukee—and I had the chance to meet him, and he was so generous. He offered to write letters on my behalf. I remembered thinking, if this is the kind of person I’m going to meet through the AIA, then I want more of it.

Emerging Professionals: We must do everything we can to ensure that people who are determined and energetic and properly grounded can enter our profession with speed. Some AIA member firms pay unlicensed employees to study for the exam, provide compensated leave to sit for sections of the exam, offer bonuses to employees who pass sections of the exam, and provide raises to people who become licensed. We need to recognize those firms that are making those commitments to young professionals.


T. Gregory Ames Jr., AIA
President, Ames & Whitaker Architects
Southington, CT
2014–2015 Treasurer

Background: I’ve been a principal at my firm for all of my career, and that entire time I’ve been in charge of financial affairs. At the AIA, I’ve served as treasurer at every level except the national level.

Goals: I’d like to start by monitoring and stewarding the financial operations. Beyond that, I see the finance committee as important in helping all levels of the AIA understand each other, communicate with each other, have clear, straightforward, and complete financial information on which to base discussions and decisions.

Role Model: When I came to work at Ames & Whitaker—my second job after school—it was a sole proprietorship, and the fellow that ran it was a true mentor, a leader by example. He encouraged me to join the AIA, he paid my dues, he gave me tremendous amounts of responsibility. Ultimately, he created for me a lasting concern with helping our young people grow.

Benefits of Membership: The AIA is the core of our profession—it’s where our institutional identity resides. As such, it’s always been a touchstone to me, a place for contacts, networking, and information. Beyond that, because I’ve been as active as I have, it’s been an important resource for my personal growth, in terms of leadership and community life.

Emerging Professionals: At Ames & Whitaker, we strive to grow our own. It’s a relatively small firm, which gives us the opportunity to reward people with advancement. We pay well, we support continuing education, we pay their AIA dues. It’s a symbiotic relationship—we do this because it’s also good for us. Though the AIA is taking appropriate measures to support young people, I’d like to look at dues. It was anathema to me when in 2008 the board set up an emeritus program exempting people like me from paying dues. I thought that was incredibly unfair given the burden that dues are for young people.


John P. Grounds, AIA
Senior Healthcare Architect, HKS
Washington, D.C.
2014–2015 Treasurer

Background: My involvement with the AIA began in 1992. I’ve served as the treasurer of a part-time staffed component where I created the budgeting and financial checks. I also served as the treasurer of the California Council, the largest component in the country, and helped them integrate their budget and financial planning process with their strategic planning process. For the past three years, I’ve served at the national level on the Finance and Audit Committee. On the professional side, I’m a project manager for HKS, one of the larger firms in the country. I manage construction projects as large as a quarter billion dollars.. The requirements for the office of treasurer—forecasting costs, analyzing expenditures, measuring a project to a budget—is what I do every day.

Goals: My primary goal is to see a closer alignment of the Institute’s budgeting process with its strategic planning process. We need to ensure that we understand the financial implications of the tasks we take on, that we are allocating resources for them, and that we’re aware of the opportunity costs.

Role Model: Paul Welsh, the executive vice president of the AIA California Council, has been an inspirational leader. He’s helped us do valuable professional work in California and on the national level for over 30 years.

Benefits of Membership: The AIA has given me an opportunity to take on a leadership role beyond what might have been available to me in my professional career. And through that role, I’ve developed skills that have allowed me to excel in my firm role.

Emerging Professionals: I’d focus on two paths: fostering connections between emerging professionals and more seasoned architects, and helping to further the exchange of knowledge. Emerging professionals have a fresh perspective and a nimbleness of thought that can help the Institute pursue new directions that more seasoned professionals might not consider.


How to Vote

Candidates will make their final speeches at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 20, in the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theater. From 1:00–4:00 p.m. that afternoon, delegate accreditation and voting will take place at Booth 3157 of the AIA Town Hall. The process will continue the following day, at the same location, from 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

In order to vote, members must be accredited as delegates-at-large, member delegates, or state delegates. Delegates-at-large are the members of the AIA’s Board and past presidents of the Institute who are present at the meeting. One state delegate may represent each state organization chartered by the Institute. Member delegates represent each component of the organization; components with one to six assigned members will receive one delegate, and will receive one additional delegate for every 15 additional assigned members.

If none of the members of a component selected as member delegates are able to attend the AIA Convention, then the chapter president or a designated representative may distribute the component’s votes via written proxy to a member delegate or state delegate from the same state or region.

Voting will be conducted electronically; in the event of a malfunction, either a voice vote, roll call, or secret ballot will be administered, as per the Institute’s bylaws. Delegates will select one candidate for first vice president/president-elect, two candidates for vice president, and one candidate for treasurer. If no candidate for first vice president/president-elect receives a majority of votes, a runoff will take place on Saturday, June 22, from 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., and the candidate receiving the majority of those votes will be elected.

The two candidates receiving the most votes for the office of vice president will be elected to that office; they do not require a majority of votes. There are currently two candidates for the office of treasurer; if a third candidate is nominated at the Convention, and if no candidate receives a majority of the votes, then a runoff will be held in the same manner as described above for the office of first vice president/president-elect. Results will be announced the evening of Friday, June 21. In the event of a runoff, the results will be announced on the afternoon of Saturday, June 22.