• AIA Fort Worth past presidents gathered at the 75th anniversary party. - photo by Rachel DeLira

On May 14, at the headquarters of the iconic local company Acme Brick, the Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Architects, AIA Fort Worth, held a gala in honor of the 75th anniversary of the organization. The event was an opportunity to reflect on the history and future of the organization. 

In honor of the occasion, W. Mark Gunderson, AIA, presented an exhaustively researched history detailing the genesis of the chapter. An excerpt follows (with permission):

The earliest professional architectural organization in Texas the Texas State Association of Architects (TSAA) was founded in 1886 and the group elected Fort Worth architect J.J. Kane as its first president. In 1913 TSAA became the Texas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the larger organization having been established February 23, 1857, in New York City. In 1924 the North Texas Chapter of the national AIA was created along with South and West Texas Chapters. 

By 1937 a state registration law was passed, a ‘title’ act, which required licensing by registration examination and which created the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners. Two years later, in 1939, the Texas Society of Architects was formed with 47 charter members from around the state. The original Fort Worth Section of the TSA was created in October 1941; 80 years ago. In 1946, following World War II, the Fort Worth and Panhandle Sections of the TSA ceded to become their own chapters, and a month later in September Dallas became the third chapter, dissolving the original North Texas Chapter of the AIA. There are now 14 Chapters of the Texas Society of Architects (now TxA) of which 7 are staffed and there are 4 Sections.

Architect Joseph R. Pelich, AIA, a founding member of the Texas Society of Architects in 1939, served as the inaugural Fort Worth chapter president in 1946, and the 2022 president is architect Matthijs Melchior, AIA of Mel/Arch.

Suzie Adams, Hon. AIA and Hon. TSA, retired in 2012 after 40 years of service to the chapter and Alesha Niedzela, Assoc. AIA, now serves as Executive Director of the Chapter.

Predating the founding of the chapter but part of the architectural lineage of the community, several Fort Worth firms made significant contributions to the architectural history of the state. These include Sanguinet & Staats, Wyatt C. Hedrick, and Hubert Crane. After the formal incorporation of AIA Fort Worth, notable firms included the office of Preston M. Geren (later Geren/CRS), Kirk Voich Gist (later Gideon Toal, now Bennett Partners), Albert S. Komatsu (now Komatsu Associates), Hahnfeld Associates (now Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford), and the office of Emery O. Young, Jr. (deceased). Two of the aforementioned firms were named “Firm of the Year” by the Texas Society of Architects: Hahnfeld Associates in 1997 and Gideon Toal in 2007.

AIA Fort Worth members have consistently held leadership positions within the profession. Although the chapter has yet to produce an AIA national president, it has punched above its weight at the state level, contributing 10 (out of 80) presidents of TxA. The first was Wiley C. Clarkson, AIA, who served during the war years of 1942–1943; the most recent was Paul Dennehy, FAIA, in 2017. Two members have received the TxA Medal for Lifetime Achievement: Preston M. Geren Jr., FAIA (1984), and Robert LeMond, FAIA (1993). Within the AIA College of Fellows, A. J. Armstrong, FAIA, was the first member from Fort Worth, as one of eight Texans elevated in 1889. Subsequently there have been 24 chapter members named as AIA Fellows, spanning from Edward L. Wilson, FAIA, in 1957, to Bart Shaw, FAIA, elevated in 2019.

Today, with the multinodal metropolis of “DFW” forming one continuous development sprawl, with interstate highway and rail connections blurring the distinct urban boundaries of the past, an outside observer might wonder why Dallas and Fort Worth have separate AIA chapters. While downtown Fort Worth is only 35 miles from its counterpart in Dallas, it developed as a proudly separate place both culturally and physically, with the first highway connecting the two cities not opening until 1957. Despite this, the real or perceived political barriers preventing large national firms (mainly based in Dallas) from obtaining commissions in Fort Worth are no more, which has changed the profile of the firms comprising AIA Fort Worth. Other than firms specializing in educational projects, most of the formerly “large” firms are smaller than their peaks of recent decades, with a proliferation of mid- to small-sized firms predominating today. This is further illustrated in the growth of the chapter over the past decade, with AIA Fort Worth membership increasing 11 percent while the population of Tarrant County has expanded by 17 percent. During the same period, membership growth in the other “Big Five” chapters ranged from 16 percent (San Antonio) to 70 percent (Austin), with AIA Dallas growing by 26 percent.

As an AIA Fort Worth member for the last 25 years, I can attest, as both a professional and a resident, that Fort Worth is a wonderful city. With its embarrassment of architectural riches and a walkable downtown, it typically hosts the most highly attended TxA Annual Conference of each cycle. I suspect that many more entries will be added to the rich history of AIA Fort Worth in time for its 100-year anniversary in 2046.

Gregory Ibañez, FAIA, is a principal at Ibañez Shaw in Fort Worth.

Leave a Comment