When I became TxA president-elect a year ago, I was asked to identify a theme for the 2021 Annual Conference. It was akin to an icebreaker, when you’re asked to cite your favorite book or that one thing no one knows about you — it’s hard to boil things down to one word! I thought about my values, the issues facing our profession today, and the host city of San Antonio, and honed in on “Legacy.”
Legacy has many connotations. It speaks to achievements or inheritance. For many, it speaks to a system that has enabled the privileged to succeed while others are left behind. It can denote an emphasis on the past, an accounting of a person’s good deeds compiled once they are of reasonable age, or dead. I don’t intend it as a memorialization of the past. There is richness and value in our history, but it behooves us to look back with a critical eye.
I was confronted with this notion when I received “Since 1886: A History of the Texas Society of Architects,” a book published in 1983 that is passed down from one president-elect to the next. I had just turned one year old when the author’s note (dated June 1983) was written. Not surprisingly, mention of women and minorities is scant. One excerpt from the AIA’s journal of the time, The Octagon, chronicles a scene from the 64th AIA national convention, held in San Antonio in 1931: “The delegates of the West Texas Chapter … enlisted the assistance of their wives, and even went so far as to engage minstrels and dancing girls to beguile us. The success of their efforts was spectacular.” In a section on the 1950s, Alexina Watson, AIA, of Austin is afforded two sentences, one to note that she was president of the Central Texas chapter in 1950 and the other to explain that “though the field of architecture was dominated by men at this time, there were women who played important roles in the progress of TSA.” Those roles, however, are not explained. I was certain a strong female leader would appear by the 1970s, but I was mistaken.
I’m grateful I wasn’t exposed to this history when I was considering architecture school. Despite a high school friend and I joining a drafting class senior year as its second and third female students, I was naïve to the profession’s demographics. Had I read this book back then, I would have found no role models like me. In fact, it wasn’t until 1997 that Jan Blackmon, FAIA, of Dallas became the Society’s first female president. Ten years passed before there was a second: Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, of Corpus Christi. Fast-forward 23 years, and, by my count, I will be the 80th president of TxA and the sixth woman to hold the position. The list of minority presidents is even shorter. I say all of this not to disparage the significant contributions of our organization. I mention it to shed light on my experience and perspective as a woman, which is reflected now in roughly 20 percent of our membership.
I remain proud of the Society’s achievements. We continue to actively advocate for the profession at the State Capitol, an effort that began in 1886 when architects of Texas banded together to demand a registration law. This year will mark our 82nd Annual Conference, which has evolved into a significant member event with renowned speakers, architectural tours, and a trade show. Texas Architect magazine — launched in 1950 as a bulletin — now provides high-quality coverage of projects and architects across the state with support from a full-time editor. We have made meaningful strides toward equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are just a few of our notable accomplishments.
2020 brought a pandemic, a reckoning with racial injustice and inequality, natural disasters due to climate change, and a shift in our country’s leadership. What will the coming months produce? I worry about the financial and emotional well-being of my fellow practitioners. We are facing a legislative session like none before, with a remote Architects Day. The Society is transitioning to a new executive vice president. Much uncertainty remains, but our next step seems clear: We need to embrace this moment — embrace the disruption — and allow it to be a catalyst for change.
Which brings me back to “Legacy.” The 1886 charter of the Texas State Association of Architects reads: “The objects of this association are to unite in one common fellowship the architects of Texas.” We are now physically isolated and divided on many issues. But despite our diverse viewpoints, we share a common dedication to the architectural profession. We are in this together. I hope reflection on this theme will be forward-looking. It is intended as a prompt: What do we want our legacy to be?
Audrey Maxwell, AIA, is a principal at Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects in Dallas, and the 2021 TxA president.