When contemplating the subject of this letter, it seemed timely to explore the topic of the Society’s annual conference. I decided to dig up some history on our annual gatherings and navigated to the archived issues of Texas Architect on txamagazine.org. There I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole and spent hours scouring old issues for tidbits about past conferences held in San Antonio, our host city for 2021.
Texas Architect started as a bulletin in 1950. By that time, TxA had hosted 10 conventions across the state. The October 1950 issue urged members to make their hotel reservations early by writing to the AIA Dallas secretary and noted that registration fees would be $20 for members and $8 for “ladies.” A year later, TA included a detailed preview for the 1951 convention in San Antonio. About 250 architects were expected to attend the event, which included a “Home on the Range” party requiring Western attire.
Flipping through the October 1963 edition, I found an article on the 24th Annual Convention in San Antonio headlined with that year’s convention logo: a marginally offensive caricature of a mariachi singer overlaid on the letters “TSA.” Fast forward to 1978, and convention coverage included a pen-and-ink drawing of the River Walk, a photographic portfolio of the city, and an article about San Antonio by Boone Powell, FAIA, and his wife. When the convention returned to the Alamo City in 1983, the September/October issue also devoted its content to the host city. In keeping with the 44th Annual Meeting’s theme, “Texas Architecture: Creating Tomorrow’s Heritage,” articles covered both new and nostalgic architecture and grappled with the impact of growth and prosperity.
By the 1990s, TA no longer devoted an entire issue to the convention and instead featured full-page advertisements for the event. An ad for the 57th Annual Meeting and Expo in 1996 posited that the convention in San Antonio was “where everyone joins together to celebrate the past and plan the future.”
Sentiments on the purpose of our annual convening were consistent across the articles and ads I perused. The feature I mentioned from 1963 began with this reflective question: “What are the ingredients of a really fine convention? Different entertainment? Meeting old and new friends? Intellectual stimulation?”
By the end of my quest, I too was speculating on the ingredients of a “really fine” conference. Our event program has certainly expanded in response to an evolving membership and society. Gone are the Ladies Style Shows and Men’s Buffets. Yet certain key aspects remain. Sponsors still host breakfasts and happy hours. Keynote speakers address our members about design and current topics. Educational sessions keep us learning.
After moving online in 2020 due to the pandemic, this year’s conference in San Antonio will once again be held in person (as of this printing). The theme, “Legacy,” was chosen well before COVID changed everything, but it seems even more fitting today. I look forward to exploring the topic throughout our three-day event. We will take a critical look back at our profession while also contemplating our individual and collective futures.
We are always making improvements to the conference. This year, you’ll see some new and reimagined elements that we hope better speak to all of our members. The local Conference Committee has dedicated much time to crafting a lineup of tours highlighting San Antonio’s unique architectural and cultural legacy. A networking center on the Expo floor will host meetups for statewide AIA networks. Sponsored by AIA San Antonio, the “Say It Loud” WiA Texas exhibit will feature work by women architects from across the state. We did not take a one-size-fits-all approach, and we hope the variety of opportunities will allow you to curate a personalized experience.
While I am excited for our full lineup of events, the opportunity to see colleagues from across our vast state remains my favorite part of the conference. The chance to catch up with friends I only see at this event or to have a casual conversation with the person sitting next to me in a session always refreshes me and reminds me why I chose this profession. If you’ve never attended, consider this my personal invitation. The Society has evolved and changed over the past 82 years, but the reasons for attending the conference remain: convening with professional colleagues and friends from across the state for fun, education, and inspiration. What is more, TxA’s 82nd Annual Conference and Design Expo promises to be a “really fine” time for all.
Audrey Maxwell, AIA, is a principal at Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects in Dallas and the 2021 TxA president.