It is graduation time; here is a guest essay on the topic of CULTURE — Studio and Practice from Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, former national AIA President.  

Congratulations, 2024 architecture grads! In 2002 – when most of you were just born – the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) published an awesome study called “The Redesign of Studio Culture.” Through their impressive follow-up, AIAS changed the face of studio culture and pretty much transformed architectural education. Since then, I have often compared and contrasted STUDIO culture and PRACTICE culture. As you now transition from one into the other, I offer thoughts on how you might enhance our profession’s culture – for you AND for us:

An unknown graduate before a well-known monument taken by Helene

A Culture of OPTIMISM … Be hopeful. Be healing. In the post-pandemic world, design might be just as important as science in contributing to the planet’s well-being and enhancing quality of life for all species.

A Culture of RESPECT … Be accepting. Be affirming. Look for a work setting that is supportive, nurturing, and constructive. One that holds in high regard the talents, skills, and intellect YOU bring.

A Culture of SHARING … Be collaborative. Be communicative. Architects once were notorious for being ‘close-to-the-vest’ and highly secretive. Now, with more openness and transparency, all boats are lifted.

A Culture of ENGAGEMENT … Be inclusive. Be involved. You possess the aptitude to see futures that don’t yet exist. This ability is unique and contributes mightily to the entities and individuals who propel goodness.

A Culture of INNOVATION … Be imaginative. Be inspired. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Architecture IS a small profession by all comparisons, but through the power of design you can help save the world. Welcome to your noble calling and honorable purpose in the profession of architecture. Be bold! Be brave!!!


Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, President, The Three Aspens

Ms. Combs Dreiling served as national AIA President in 2014; prior, she served for nearly ten years on the national AIA staff, having transitioned in 2000 from private architectural practice and national AIA volunteer leadership. In addition to having her own firm from 1989 to 2000, her professional experience includes work with several private architecture firms in Virginia, and she was employed early in her career by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Helene received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Virginia Tech in where she was named Woman of the Year for her academic excellence and exemplary student leadership.


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