American Institute of Architects: "Citizen Architect" features Dan Forest
Excerpt: As the major political parties prepare to hold their conventions later this month, I feel under siege by political advertising that sounds all the same and is out of touch with what is going on in our own communities. Wouldn't it be an improvement if candidates for elected office were a bit more like all of us? My professional association, the American Institute of Architects, is leading just such an initiative, an initiative that includes electing more architects to public office.
Architects have unique insights into local communities. They attend planning board meetings. They stay connected to community issues. They know when and where government money is being spent, or is likely to be. They have a first-hand insight into the ways and means of government in ways the average citizen doesn’t.
Does that mean they should run for office?
Yes, we think they should. Which begs the question: What makes an architect a good politician/lawmaker?
“We tend to look at things holistically,” says Soren Simonsen, an architect who is running as a Democrat for Congress from the Third Congressional District in Utah. “Even those architects that are partisan - what I’ve witnessed is that we are people that think more independently; we haven’t voted in lock-step.
“Our values and attitudes are much more into bridge-building, bringing a project owner and a user that are at odds and bringing them together,” Simonsen says. “To be honest, I’m running on Democratic platform because they asked me first but I’ve always been independent, using my independent-mindedness in my professional work as a way to attract voters, to get us out of the quagmire we’re in.”
As Chris Widener, FAIA, puts it, architects are ideally trained and educated to solve problems. “And public service, no matter whether it’s the school board, the Ohio House of Representatives, or the Ohio Senate, is problem solving,” says Widener, an architect who is running as a Republican in Ohio’s 10th State Senate District. “Architects have the ability to look at problems, design creative solutions to those problems, and more importantly, to go out and sell their solutions, which is what we do every day with our clients. Once we have a solution, it’s our job to gain the support of the consulting engineers and other interested parties, as well as the owner.
“We do the same thing we do in the legislature,” he says. “If you have an idea, your job is to craft it well and detail it as much as possible. Then you have to go out and get support. We have 99 House members in Ohio and 33 Senators, and you’ve got to have the support of the leaders of both the House and the Senate, and the [governor] to make something become law. So they’re very similar working environments, utilizing the same skills in different ways.”
But how do those skills stack up in this era of Congressional and partisan gridlock, in which any slight difference of opinion is magnified beyond its true proportions? How do these skills stack up in an era of difficult fiscal choices in which both state and federal governments are running deficits that simply cannot be sustained?
Dan Forest, an architect who is running as a Republican for Lieutenant Governor in North Carolina, argues that the consensus skills he has built running an architecture firm that specializes in office building design and workplace strategy makes him uniquely qualified to tackle the tough issues facing his state. He is used to putting as many as 30 to 40 clients in a room and helping them agree on a office solution that’s good for everyone.
“The skill-sets that we bring to politics are different,” he contends. “We as architects are very unique and very well-suited to the complexity of our challenges right now. We are visionaries. We are forward thinkers, planners, problem solvers, consensus-builders. In the world of politics, we too frequently talk in terms of two and four–year increments. Very rarely do politicians talk or know how to begin the process of thinking twenty, thirty, forty years down the road.”
Read more at: http://www.aia.org/components/AIAB095732