My father loves to tell the story of moving me to graduate school, the cars packed so full that he “was practically wearing a lampshade on his head.” While he’s always been one to use exaggeration for maximum storytelling effect, this particular tale is closer to truth. My entry-level salary meant doing the move on the cheap, so he gamely agreed to caravan in our own over-stuffed vehicles for the 16-hour drive from Dallas to Phoenix. As we drove through the rugged terrain of the desert Southwest, the rear of my Honda Civic dangerously low to the pavement, my thoughts were focused on the prospect of new friends, a new city, a new life. It was an intentional, orchestrated change, the outcome unknown but laced with excitement.
Two years later, I would make the same drive, in reverse, this time full of apprehension. The country was deep into the Great Recession, and my West Coast job prospects had dwindled. After months of job hunting and a failed attempt at substitute teaching, I secured an AmeriCorps position in Dallas and reluctantly decided to return to my home state. I would be making a whopping $12,000 that year and had accumulated many times that in student loan debt. It was not the future I had imagined when I made the first trip.
I often think back on those two road trips that bookended my graduate school years. Each represents a different journey with drastically different circumstances. The last 12 months, which encompassed most of my time as TxA president-elect and the start of my presidency, have brought similar dichotomies. My journey began with the best of hopes, and any contingency plans I entertained certainly did not include a pandemic. I didn’t spend much time contemplating what leadership would look like amid a crisis, but I’ve adjusted like everyone else. Unlike our most recent past president, Connie G. Rivera, AIA, I have had the benefit of time to adapt to a new way of doing business. By the time my term officially started, everyone was focused on forward momentum.
The year began with a renewed sense of focus and fresh perspective on the future of our organization. In the first quarter, our board dug into the strategic plan, outlining focus areas and strategies to reach our goals. TxA launched its search process for our new executive vice president, whom I hope will have been announced by the time this letter is published. Our Executive Committee is in more regular communication, working to improve our processes at the committee level with a focus on better collaboration. We are actively seeking ways to provide resources and support to our volunteer-led chapters and advance partnerships with staffed components. We have just scratched the surface of reimagining our Annual Convention and Design Expo and continue to pursue actionable ways to achieve a more inclusive profession.
I’ve said before that sudden change can propel us forward at accelerated rates. We are all watching this in real time. There are benefits to the disruption we’ve seen over the last year, including less restrictive attitudes toward change. It is our responsibility as leaders to guide those changes with integrity and purpose. In Bruce Mau’s latest book, “Mau: MC24,” his first principle for massive change is that design leaders should inspire. He says, “The only way to effect real change is to show people a future more exciting than the past and inspire them to work together on the journey.” Change can be uncomfortable and messy. Our role as designers and leaders is to convey a vision for real transformation. I hope to inspire a better future for the Texas Society of Architects that is supportive and inclusive. I care deeply about our profession and will continue to prioritize meaningful action over mere words.
March 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hours before completing this letter, I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. There is a collective sense that we as a nation are turning a corner. I’ve begun to feel the same anticipation I felt during that long drive to Arizona. There is hope on the horizon, and I am genuinely excited about a future where I will see colleagues in person. Our Annual Convention, which seemed so tenuous, now feels real, and I am anxious to unveil our plans. None of us knows what the future holds, but for now I’m content to drive onward without looking back.
Audrey Maxwell, AIA, is a principal at Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects in Dallas and the 2021 TxA president