The Visionary Value of Architecture

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Returning from the AIA Grassroots Leadership Conference in Detroit, I’m inspired by the messages of fellow architects who are doing great things in our communities. I’m reminded that many architects do so much more than design buildings. I learned about architects who are leading a riverfront revitalization effort, architects serving as Council Members in their cities, and architect residents of Flint stepping up to help solve the water crisis. What do these architects have in common? They are visionary.

This is a trait shared by many architects, and it’s an asset that should be leveraged by the communities they serve. Not only are architects dreamers, but they are well-equipped to turn a vision into a reality by tackling obstacles and finding solutions. Architects’ skills combine creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. Architects are trained to work collaboratively and synthesize large volumes of information.

Most importantly, architects are passionate about improving the world we live in through good design. This is not limited to building design, but includes finding innovative solutions for city planning and even infrastructure projects.

In a recent community charrette I participated in for the City of San Jose Urban Village program, architects teamed up with community members to envision a future for an underutilized neighborhood strip mall district in the Blossom Hill/Snell Neighborhood.  Most of the neighbors showed up to express their concerns about traffic, crime, and building heights. By collaborating with architects and city planners, community members were able to share their concerns but also map out the way their neighborhood could be revitalized to meet their needs. A conceptual plan of a safe, walkable, lively, and diverse neighborhood center was shaped by engaging the local community. With a little help, they began to see the big picture and explore solutions. It is only with this collective effort and consensus that a vision can become a reality.

Our future well-being depends on those who have the will and ability to think big and execute a plan. I challenge the architecture profession to increase the effort to be stewards of our communities.  Find your opportunity to have a positive impact on the world.

Recent winner of the AIA 2016 Young Architects Award, Stephanie Silkwood, AIA, LEED AP, is an advocate for improving and elevating the public profile of architects and the profession as a whole. Contact her at



Stephanie Silkwood