The Texas Society of Architects’ 78th Annual Conference and Design Expo, held at the Austin Convention Center on November 9-11, was titled Threshold – Bridges & Boundaries, a theme that manifested in a multitude of ways throughout the event’s tours, CE sessions, and keynotes.  This year’s conference drew over 3000 attendees and exhibitors from across the region.

Austin is home to numerous historic projects, as well as new and developing communities, and there were ample opportunities to view some of these sites during the conference. For example, on Thursday morning, just a short bus ride from the convention center, attendees could tour the developing Highland Mall ACC Redevelopment project, the master-planned Mueller Development, which seeks to reimagine the city’s former airport site in the style of new urbanism, or the recently opened South Congress Hotel, which features several retail and restaurant spaces housed within the boutique hotel block.

During the opening night Conference Welcome Party, the Design Expo floor was packed. Vendors put their wares on display, and hundreds of conference-goers flooded the space, enjoying the hors d’oeuvres, music, beverages, and lively conference. There was a buzz of energy palpable among the attendees, and the excitement carried over to the much-anticipated Pecha Kucha event later that evening, which took place a few blocks away in the small, intimate space of the Palm Door on Sabine.

The 20×20 presentations ranged from a quiet exploration of the passage of time and the patina of age, to a love/hate ode to Houston, and an exploration of the evolving role of women in architecture culminating in a revelation of a secret identity — from architect to superhero — complete with an on-stage costume change and a live musical performance.

About 60 newly licensed architects were recognized at the New Architect Convocation on Friday afternoon, and afterwards, they had an opportunity to celebrate with their contemporaries at the Emerging Professionals Party held at McGarrah Jessee’s offices. The agency’s headquarters is one of only a handful of mid-century office buildings in Austin and was recently renovated by McKinney York Architects.

Later that evening, attendees enjoyed the Form[al] Over Function, a new take on the gala of years past with a more casual and accessible format: Food stations, cocktail tables, and a dance floor replaced the seated dinner and encouraged a more festive spirit. The event honored the inspiring work of Max Levy, FAIA, recipient of the O’Neil Ford Medal for Design Achievement, and recognized Dallas-based Corgan as Firm of the Year. In the company of his peers, colleagues, family, and friends, Larry Speck, FAIA, was presented with the Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Honor of Llewellyn W. Pitts, FAIA, for his outstanding contributions to the profession. Special entertainment topped off the awards ceremony in the form of a traditional Afro-Cuban dance performance by Ricardo J. Maga Rojas, Assoc. AIA, and Jaymie Orozco Howard, owner of Danzversity.

During the keynote sessions, TxA honored several other community members and architects for their work. The 25-Year Award was given to the Moore/Andersson Compound, designed by Charles Moore, FAIA, and Arthur Andersson, FAIA. Melba Whatley, Hon. TxA, president and founder of the Waller Creek Conservancy, was presented with the Cornerstone Award for her advocacy and work in preserving the natural environment. Associate Member of the Year went to Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA, of Houston, and the Award for Young Professional Achievement was presented to Jesse Hager, AIA, founder of CONTENT Architecture, also based in Houston. For her dedication to architectural education, Nichole Wiedemann, AIA, currently a professor at the UT Austin School of Architecture, received the Award for Outstanding Educational Contributions. The Award for Community Service was given to Jim Susman, AIA, of Austin-based STG Design.

The keynote speakers this year were varied in their topics, but there were common threads pulling the them together: What is the responsibility of architects, and what role can they play in our changing world? As we cross new thresholds of sustainable design and resiliency, how can architects confront the ever-evolving challenges of our growing cities and shifting climate? Perhaps it is through reimagining new applications of design solutions that have been utilized successfully in previous projects, as proposed by Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX. Or, as Michael Ford, Assoc. AIA,  and his Hip-Hop architecture would suggest, it is also the responsibility of architects to design environments that serve their inhabitants and create spaces that promote well-being, and to reach out to hear those voices that have long been ignored. 

The final keynote session was a panel focusing on resiliency, especially poignant in the face of the catastrophe of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the surrounding areas. The speakers explored the role of architects in creating resilient structures and communities. Moderated by John Clegg, AIA, of Page’s Houston office, and soliciting the voices of Catherine Callaway, AIA, president of AIA Houston, and John Englander, president of Englander & Associates, along with Joshua Prince-Ramus and Michael Ford, the panel suggested that though incredibly tragic, these chaotic events bring an opportunity to hear from new voices, rebuild something better and smarter than what was there before, and create structures that are truly resilient and serve the whole community.

Missed the conference this year? Online video of some of the best CE sessions will be available online, for credit, beginning in January.

TxA’s 79th Annual Conference and Design Expo, themed “Place,” will be held in Fort Worth on November 8-10, 2018.

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