On June 14, the Texas Society of Architects welcomed Jennifer Briggs as its new executive vice president. Briggs was previously president and CEO of the Indiana CPA Society, where she worked since 2002 in several roles, including director of member services, senior vice president, and chief operating officer. Prior to that, she served as executive director of five state-wide associations as an association manager with the KWK Management Group. Recently, Texas Architect Editor Aaron Seward spoke with Briggs about her thoughts on associations, architecture, and Texas. The following transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.
Aaron Seward: Your background is in association management, so I thought I would start by asking you how you see the value of professional associations for the industries they serve. Why should any professional join an association? What is the benefit?
Jennifer Briggs: I ended up in association management almost by accident. As many people do. But I quickly found I was in exactly the right place. I believe simply that we’re all better together. Anyone who wants a career vs. a job knows that you get better by talking with, learning from, and engaging in activities with other people who do what you do and share your interests. I am a strong believer in continuous education, and joining a professional association is one of the best ways to continue to grow and challenge yourself to be your best — and not just from organized programs, but from meeting people, having a network to call on, being challenged in your thinking through volunteering, etc. All kinds of experiences contribute to enhancing professional competence, and associations make a multitude of experiences possible. Often, people only think about their professional association in difficult times (economically, personally, etc.), but having a sustained relationship with professional colleagues is always a good idea. Associations uniquely care about your profession as a whole in a way that an individual employer cannot do.
AS: This particular association serves architects. I understand that you have been the client of an architect. What was your experience like?
JB: Yes! My experience was fantastic. I have quite a few friends who are architects, and attempting to understand architecture and appreciating design have always been interests of mine. When I had the opportunity to work with a friend on a house, and then later on plans for an addition, it was so much fun. Talking through ideas and feelings and discussing how we wanted to utilize and feel in our spaces was challenging, but also almost magical. I think the client/architect relationship may include a little mind-reading on the part of the architect. It was incredibly satisfying. As someone who is simply an appreciator of beauty and function, to be able to have your general thoughts turned into something far better than you could have imagined and in a way that makes your life easier is incredibly special. We designed a modern house with lots of light and open spaces, but also lots of places to hide everyday clutter (which is important with a 10-year-old in the house).
AS: What is your view of architecture generally? Is there a historical era of architecture that particularly appeals to you? And what do you see as being architecture’s role in the society it serves? Does it have a responsibility to society, and if so, what?
JB: My view of architecture is that it is undeniably valuable to the human experience. Architecture contributes not just to the way individuals experience their day-to-day but to how communities function, and even how people feel during the most profound or vulnerable moments of their lives. Our homes, schools, hospitals, churches, and the like make an impact on our quality of life. As far as a historical era that appeals to me, while I have a penchant for Bauhaus, I’m also a fan of Gothic architecture, classical, and even (some) postmodernism. I don’t have a favorite. I think a building that fits perfectly into the landscape can be ideal, but a building that startles you and is unexpected can be just as valuable. As far as responsibility to society, I think any learned profession has a responsibility to develop, learn new things, and find ways that serve the greater good. Otherwise, anyone could do the job.
AS: Architects love hearing what people think of them, and the same is true of Texans. You are only now moving to the state, but I gather you have spent quite a bit of time here and have family here. What are your general impressions of Texas at this point?
JB: Three words immediately came to mind when I heard this question — pride, exploration, and future. I hear so much pride in the voices of the people I know in Texas. Not that they don’t recognize struggles, but generally there is a sense of “we’ve got this” about the Texans I know. There is strength and pride in their resilience. Exploration likely came from the fact that I have spent some time in all of the major cities in Texas over the years, and particularly in Austin, though there is so very much more to see, learn, and do, and I can’t wait to get out and explore. And “future” because Texas will be a part of my future, obviously, but I also get such a strong sense of change and enthusiasm from Texas. When I see all of the young people flocking to Texas right now, it feels like a place where the future is being made at a faster pace.