There was an air of optimism in Chicago at the end of June as architects, manufacturers, and others in the design community came together for the annual AIA Conference on Architecture (A’22). As the first in-person AIA conference since 2019, the A’22 conference definitely had an upbeat feel despite the industry’s growing concerns over inflation, supply chain challenges, and labor.
I had the pleasure of attending this year’s conference, and though I was mostly anchored to one location, I noticed a couple of trends, both new and ongoing.
1. Happy to be back: There’s no doubt that a vibe of eagerness and enthusiasm was running through the halls of McCormick Place. Close to 12,000 attendees came to the show, and you couldn’t help but see how keen most were to be back in person, greeting colleagues and friends face to face. No matter how much the industry adapted to the pandemic with Zoom calls and new technologies, our industry will always thrive on in-person discussions, handshakes, and camaraderie.
2. Education is No. 1: I’ve attended several AIA conferences over the years, and one thing never changes: Architects value the education they receive at the show. The exhibit floor sees a lot of traffic, for sure, but the meeting rooms are always teeming with activity. Manufacturer-hosted CE classrooms on the show floor were among this year’s 328 education opportunities and were often just as full as the traditional sessions.
3. New products galore: We’ve heard reports that some manufacturers have held back on product introductions during the past year, with the most likely culprit being supply chain issues. But there were plenty of new things to see from the 400+ companies at the show, from window wall systems to faucets to software. See some of what’s new in AIA’s A’22 product roundup.
On the topic of products, a presentation by ConstructConnect noted that supply chain and material price challenges have elevated architects’ awareness of product substitutions, so manufacturers with the ability to provide a more stable supply or lower-cost equivalent products may have a potential advantage.
4. A twist on the typical expo: AIA made big changes to its exhibit floor approach this year, forgoing the typical grid setup for a more urban-like feel, with wide avenues running diagonally through “neighborhood” clusters of booths. One of the benefits of this format was a welcome blending of large and small exhibitors; no longer were smaller booths hidden off to the sides, but rather lining the avenues and clustered alongside the larger booths.
5. Architecture’s influence on social issues: Within the construction industry, architects are almost always on the leading edge of change, moving buildings forward with designs that address sustainability, resilience, human health, and more. Nowhere was this more evident than during the closing keynote with former President Barack Obama, who chatted one-on-one with AIA President Dan Hart in front of a packed house of attendees. Drawing on his experience as a longtime Chicago resident, in government, and building his new presidential library, President Obama discussed ways that architecture has both negatively and positively influenced social inequity in Chicago and beyond. He also touched on the efforts the architecture field needs to make in supporting women and the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
“The single most important thing I learned and carried through my entire career is listening to people. Turns out you don’t learn that much talking, but you do learn a lot listening,” President Obama said, as reported by AIA. “If people feel as if you’re actively listening and care about their stories and lives, they will tell you what’s important to them and who they are. That applies to every profession, including architecture.”
6. Architects aren’t immune from the industry’s labor challenges: On the AIA main stage, which featured 20-minute education sessions every half-hour throughout the show, staffing woes came up in multiple presentations. In fact, software provider Deltek’s 43rd annual Clarity Architecture & Engineering Industry Study found that “finding and retaining quality staff” was by far architects’ biggest financial challenge—beating out “increasing profitability” by 22 percentage points.
We always look forward to attending the AIA conference and never fail to leave feeling inspired for our work and that of our clients. Mark your calendars for next year’s event, which will be held June 7-10, 2023, in San Francisco.
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