Report from Chicago: A’22 is In-person and In-spiring

McCormick Place Convention Center, site of the AIA Conference on Architecture 2022
McCormick Place Convention Center, site of the AIA Conference on Architecture 2022
Taryn's arrival in Chicago
A/22 Opening Keynote
A’22 Women in Design Social
Future leaders of NOMA speak on the Expo Floor at A’22
(L to R) Taryn Barrett, Dan Hart, and Graciela Carrillo at the A’22 Women in Design Social
The Day 3 Keynote with President Obama

By Matt Bushey, AIA; AIAVT President

AIA’s national convention recently returned as an in-person event after 3 years, and Vermont was well represented. The Conference on Architecture 2022 took place from June 22 to 25 in Chicago.

Joining me on the trip was AIAVT Past President Taryn Barrett (read on for her reflections from the week) and it was nice to see some of you make the trip as well, including Diantha Korzun, who is currently serving as our AIAVT representative on the Strategic Council.

The conference was held at the sprawling McCormick Place Convention Center, with nearly 12,000 architects and exhibitors. As a friendly attendee sitting next to me said, “that’s a lot of egos in one room!”

But for the most part, architects’ egos were set aside over those 4 days for thoughtful reflection on the state of our profession and the increasingly critical role we play in addressing some of society’s most pressing issues.

On day one, AIA CEO Lakisha Woods announced the newly elected members to the Board. Voting occurred 2 weeks prior during the AIA Annual Meeting, which was held remotely (next year, the annual meeting is expected to return as an in-person event, held in conjunction with the national conference).

The crowd enthusiastically welcomed the new AIA leaders: 2024 President-Elect Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, of the AIA New York Chapter; 2023-2024 AIA Secretary Britt Lundberg, FAIA, of AIA Silicon Valley, California; and 2023-2025 At-large Director Illya Azaroff, FAIA of AIA New York. Dowdell served as the 2019-2020 president of NOMA and is the first black woman to be named President-Elect in AIA’s 165-year history.

This was the first of many signs throughout the week that the AIA is focused on improving equity and access to the profession and positioning architects to work in service for the public good.

The high point for me was the following day’s keynote, with a panel discussion featuring three impressive architects and visionaries: Vishaan Chakrabarti, FAIA (formerly of SHoP Architects, now the Founder and Creative Director of PAU / Practice for Architecture and Urbanism), Renee Chang, FAIA (Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington), and Jeanne Gang, FAIA (Chicagoan and founding principal of Studio Gang).

Together, the trio discussed some heavy issues from the perspectives of professional practice, politics, and academia:

  • The challenges facing rural and urban America and architecture’s potential to address them. (“We are the tip of the spear” when it comes to tackling climate change and social division)
  • The need for diversity in architectural practice and how to open our profession to those historically excluded. The traditional image of the architect is itself a barrier to many.
  • And the role that architecture plays in the promise for public safety, a timely question in the context of rising gun violence in our buildings.

The discussion was open, honest and provocative. You can find a good recap at this link on

All of this led up to the celebrated finale, the closing session with President Barack Obama. In a friendly conversation with AIA President Dan Hart, the President touched on his relationship to architecture, including his newest role as a client working with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects on the Obama Presidential Center, currently under construction just up the street from where we were gathered.

In between the keynotes, I took in everything else the conference had to offer. My schedule included:

  • Sessions and seminars on topics ranging from practice innovation to the future of specifications
  • A 123,000 sq ft Expo Hall with over 400 exhibitors
  • Open Studio tours of architecture firms in downtown Chicago
  • A tour of historic buildings adapted into boutique hotels
  • And a bit of exploring through the city of Chicago, warmly illuminated in celebration of Pride month.

National conferences are always a great time to connect with others outside our state and reflect on how our work relates to what is happening nationwide.  In all, the week was full of inspiration, education and celebration.

Until next year, when AIA architects will come together again in San Francisco.


By Taryn Barrett, AIA; AIAVT Past President

She asked again, “Now is the jar full?" They nodded and agreed. 

By now we have all heard this metaphor for life - a jar filled with rocks, then pebbles, and sand.  Attending the annual AIA conference is kind of like that jar.  The highlight of each day, those big rocks, are the keynote speakers.  The scheduled sessions, round tables, seminars, and workshops are the pebbles, and you can still jam in more than you thought might fit on the expo floor.  The real question is how much of this can you take home with you, or rather, what will you choose to do with all of this new knowledge?   Whether you decide to fly or drive (and please tip to offset your carbon) it is going to be tight packing.

After traveling to several large AIA conferences in the past (Washington DC, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York City) I have learned to carefully balance time spent in the convention center with the time spent exploring the city beyond.  While the spaces are often very disconnected, the concepts are not. The walk is well worth the relief from the fluorescent lights, and the city sights and sounds help to connect the dots.  The two takeaways in 2022—climate and equity—sum up the event. 

Chicago was on full display that third week in June, my plane landed at the O'Hare airport on the hottest day of the month, it was a sticky 97 degrees late into the evening. Urban. Heat. Island.  One of the first things after landing was to purchase a pass to ride the “L” (short for elevated train).  Although there was an occasional Uber or convenient AIA bus ride, walking and taking the L had the most to share.  The music, sights, smells, and people lended a stark contrast to the convention center bustling with architects, all trying to solve all the problems on the outside.  Experiences from my short commutes strengthened my resolve for fair housing, equitable jobs, mental and health services, and the value of diversity.  Public transportation was the two-way reminder and time for reflection on the day’s lessons.

I reconnected with some incredible individuals from the Women’s Leadership Summit years ago at the Women’s Brunch.  These people helped shape my path from intern to owner.  Emily Grandstaff-Rice (2023 President-elect), Diana Nicklaus (CEO at saam), and Graciela Carrillo (advocate for immigrant and women architects) who then introduced me to Dan Hart (2022 President) and Pascale Sablan (just look her up!).  I learned that next year the Women Leadership Summit is coming to Boston – who’s coming with me?

A rock in my jar was President Obama, who also happened to be the one who broke the day’s news to me about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a moment I will not forget.   Pebbles included informative sessions on a number of topics: integrating energy modeling and carbon counting with the design software we use in our office; small business metrics such as utilization rates and forecasting; and inclusive spaces such as bathrooms and changing areas (formerly ‘gender neutral’); products and demonstrations on the expo floor, and inspiring stories of the future leaders at NOMA. The sand connecting and filling in the gaps came from the interactions as I made my way through the dynamic City of Chicago reflecting on our impact as planners and architects. There was a lot that came home in my jar.

Day by day I unpack a little more.