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AIAS Grassroots Conference. Photo courtesy of Julia Barksdale.

It is poised to be an exciting year for Northeastern University’s chapter of American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), a student-run organization that is dedicated to providing progressive programs, information, and resources on issues critical to architecture and the experience of education. The group is planning to host various events, represent Northeastern at industry conferences, and spark meaningful conversations surrounding the architecture and design fields.

Northeastern’s chapter president is Kathryn Platt, an undergraduate student in the School of Architecture. “AIAS as an organization is very focused on advancing leadership, design, and service, particularly among architecture and design students,” she said. “Its mission and goals have many applications to Northeastern.”

Many schools face similar industry challenges, and Kathryn and other NU AIAS members have attended conferences and events to learn about these trends. This is an opportunity to hear about the experience of others and determine some solutions have worked at other schools. For example, the students recently attended Grassroots, the national AIAS leadership conference, which is a chance for anyone working on their local chapter’s leadership team to come together and exchange ideas. One of the Northeastern students who attended was funded through a grant by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

“One of the most exciting parts of the Grassroots conference is the AIAS Council of Presidents, where the leadership body can propose resolutions to the way the whole organization is being run,” Kathryn added. “Our chapter just started getting re-involved at the national level over the past two or three years, so this type of engagement and exposure is incredible.”

School of Architecture student Julia Barksdale, AIAS Freedom by Design (FBD) Co-Director, also attended Grassroots, and had a valuable and memorable experience.

“I had never attended any kind of conference before this summer, so it’s safe to say I was a little intimidated walking into a huge ballroom filled with hundreds of architecture students who had done this sort of thing before. But as Grassroots began, I found my fears dissipate into excitement,” said Julia. “I got the chance to bounce ideas off of Freedom by Design (FBD) students from other areas of the country, learn more about how to make a difference in the community I’m a part of, and make meaningful connections with hundreds of my peers. It inspired me to get the ball rolling with our upcoming project in Boston, with the non-profit Horizons for Homeless Children, as well as apply to become an advocate on the National AIAS Health and Wellness Committee.”

Northeastern also had a presence at AIAS’s Forum, another national conference that is intended for networking, learning from other leaders, and discussing issues relevant to architecture and design education. Last year, three architecture firms and one architectural technology firm sponsored the Northeastern team through donations for both registration and lodging. Thank you to Stantec, utile, Hacin + Associates, and Graphisoft for their generous support.

A little closer to home, NU AIAS plans to host several events for students on-campus. Each is an opportunity to meet students from other years and to learn from them, which supports the theme of work / life balance the NU AIAS leadership team is promoting this upcoming year and beyond.

“We are planning a couple of big events that bring together our Architecture community, like a welcome barbecue in the fall as well as a dinner in the spring. We are also putting together a panel discussion that focuses on relevant social issues and ones where students share their experiences about co-op and study abroad,” Kathryn explained. “Whatever the event may be, they tend to have an angle of mentorship to them.”

One large event the team is looking forward to hosting is its first Beaux Arts Ball, an end of year celebration and tradition amongst design schools.

Another exciting aspect of the new academic year is the work coming from community service / design / build arm of AIAS, Freedom by Design (FBD), which, as previously mentioned, is led by CAMD student Julia Barksdale; this sector constructs small service projects in each chapter’s community. The Northeastern crew, made up of six students, will be working on a design / build project for the non-profit Horizons for Homeless Children. This local non-profit is involved in various homeless shelters in the Greater Boston Area, providing services such as adult education, childcare, volunteering, and the Playspace Program, which focuses on creating playspaces for children who have endured traumatic events so that they may experience the simple joys of childhood in a safe and welcoming environment. The concept for the upcoming project will revolve around creating a playspace for shelters in the Roxbury neighborhood, incorporating trauma-aware design as well as outdoor exposure. The project will be in production for several months, doing pre-design analysis, design, and fundraising – with construction likely happening in the spring. For more information on Horizons for Homeless Children, and what you can do to help their mission, visit their website.

Julia, in addition to this work with Horizons for Homeless Children, is also looking forward to becoming an advocate on the National AIAS Health and Wellness Committee, which is formed to define, advocate for, and support healthy practices of studying architecture.

“The romantization of sleep deprivation, starvation, and lack of self care and awareness of mental health issues has gone too far in today’s college experience, particularly in architecture,” she concluded. “This opportunity gives me the chance to both affect national change, as well as learn tactics to aid the local architecture community at Northeastern. AIAS is an organization that strives for greatness in the industry, but it’s vital that we make sure it is paired with a healthy, stable mindset – I personally believe that greatness is impossible without such.”

For a shorter term project, the NU AIAS team is partnering with Northeastern’s Student Alliance for Prison Reform (SAPR) to help design a mock-up room for a demonstration they are doing this fall. We look forward to hearing more about how the year unfolds! A full list of NU AIAS officers can be found below. The NU AIAS faculty advisor is School of Architecture Professor David Fannon, and you can read more about them on their website.

NU AIAS Leadership Team:

PRESIDENT: Kathryn Platt
TREASURER: Anita Goharfar
WEBMASTER: Sterling Yun
GRADUATE LIAISON: Estuardo Villatoro
FBD CO-DIRECTOR: George Hajjar
FBD CO-DIRECTOR: Julia Barksdale
FBD HISTORIAN/PR: Olivia Johnson