ArchiTalks #13: What Should I Be But Just What I Am?

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the ArchiTalk Series by now. It is a series curated by Bob Borson over at Life of an Architect, where a whole bunch of architectural bloggers all blog about the same topic on the same day. The real name of this month’s theme is ‘Citizen Architect’. It’ll be interesting to see how everyone interprets this particular topic, and you can read all the posts via the link at the bottom!

Citizen Architect. When the idea for this topic came out, there was quite literally a flurry of emails between all of us bloggers. Everyone seemed to either have their own definition, or lack there of, and it certainly created quite a conversation. I, however, (I hate admitting this) had no idea what the term meant exactly. And I didn’t really want to go find out. I wanted to define it for myself first. So for a few weeks, I just gave it some thought…. an architect who works for citizens? Perhaps it was an allusion to the ‘social side’ of architecture- going beyond the built form in order to improve the world around us. And that’s pretty much where I stopped, because I don’t know a single architect out there who doesn’t want to improve a neighborhood, their community, or the world through architecture. Isn’t that why we got into this in the first place? Well, maybe you have different reasons, but that’s why I wanted to become an architect. I saw it as a way to creatively give back to society and the world around me.

After thinking about it even more, I began to think about an essay I wrote recently that pretty much sums up my path as a ‘Citizen Architect’. I’ll publish the essay below, but I need to point out that I am one architect, and I really think that every architect out there has a different definition of ‘Citizen Architect’- and that is a really good thing! We all have different points of view, different passions, and we all bring something different to the table. So I really encourage you to check out the links below to see how other people define this term.

Lastly, I did finally look up what the word meant. First I went to Wikepedia- which sent me to Samuel Mockbee’s page. If you don’t know him, look him up. Then I tried good ol’ Google, which lead me to the AIA. The AIA defines the word for us:

The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition. The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.

Do I fit all those definitions? Probably not. But I do fit some of them (I am writing and publishing here, right?!?). I might even say I fit a lot of them. I don’t know that I would ever call myself a Citizen Architect… but it does sum up a lot of my beliefs about how I should give back to society via my role as an architect. In fact, I revisited my ‘About the Blog‘ page where I talk about being a feminist. You could swap the word ‘Feminist’ for ‘Citizen Architect’ and it would express my feelings on the topic:

I’ve never really thought of myself as a feminist. But I am a feminist. Its so much a part of me, that I’ve never really thought of it being a descriptor. Its like being human. Duh, I’m a human. And if you know me… well, duh, of course I’m a feminist. Its a core part of who I am. And I never thought this was a big deal.

So without further ado, that essay I mentioned. Just to give it a little context, it is the essay I wrote for my AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award Submission (which I won!), and then I further refined it when I submitted for the National AIA Young Architects Award (the Jury is, quite literally, still out on that). This is who I am. Passionate. Citizen Architect? Sure, why not add that to the mix too. As the quote from Edna St. Vincent goes: “What should I be but just what I am?” How could I be anything else? So below defines Amy Kalar, Citizen Architect. But I do believe we are all Citizen Architects in our own right. This is just my personal definition. What is yours?


My practice as a young architect is driven by a passion to improve the health of people through architecture and to advocate for progressive cultural change in our profession so that our colleagues have more balanced and fulfilling careers. There is an inextricable relationship – an emotional connection – between place and person. It is this relationship that draws me to architecture. As an architect, I help others by creating healing environments that improve the quality of our daily lives. My desire to nurture others, however, goes beyond the built environment. My love of our craft is rooted in people; both those who experience architecture and those who shape architecture. Herein lies a second passion of mine: lifting up and supporting those in our profession. Architecture has enormous power to influence and it is our deep responsibility to nurture our profession in a sustainable manner – the world is counting on us!

These two passions have converged in my life – helping others through architecture and helping others in architecture. Concurrent with my role as a designer, I embrace my responsibility to support others in architecture, particularly women – through advocacy for women in my firm, in the AIA, and in our community. Architecture is at the confluence of my core values. This commitment enables me to embrace new challenges, drive design innovation, and influence cultural change in the practice of architecture.

My own challenges as a woman in architecture inspired me to create several support networks for women in the Twin Cities. Frustrated by cultural biases, I reached out to other women and quickly affirmed that our profession must evolve in order to retain its talented professionals. Statistics show that women comprise only 20% of licensed architects and 17% of firm principals and partners. Yet, women comprise over 40% of graduates from architecture schools. Our profession is experiencing significant attrition of women at critical times in their careers. We all know that women architects are essential for a strong and enduring architectural profession. The groups I founded have inspired similar groups across the country that will enable needed change to happen sooner. We must empower women, advocate for them, invest in them, and promote them into leadership roles so our profession may continue to thrive and reflect the diversity of our society.

As our profession faces dramatic shifts in practice, it is imperative that we have innovative thinkers, passionate leaders, and strong advocates within our ranks. As design leaders, we have a responsibility to support our profession from within, but also to reach out to our community and to future architects. We must work to ensure a vibrant and enduring profession. Accordingly, I energetically engage with the AIA, enthusiastically share new insights with colleagues in my firm, and fervently advocate in our community on behalf of our profession.

A strong sense of social responsibility coupled with a desire to make the world a better place has always been at the center of my purpose. Recognizing that designed space can influence a person’s well-being, I chose to study how architecture can be truly motivational and inspiring. With the rapid evolution of healthcare delivery, architectural solutions need to be innovative and adaptable. As a healthcare architect, I apply original research and evidence-based design to better understand how healthcare environments impact patients and caregivers. This knowledge is changing how we prepare for the challenges our healthcare system will face in the future. My contributions to a growing body of knowledge are already influencing the future of healthcare design at a national level.

Passionate. It is the single word others use most often to describe me. Passion is at the core of who I am as a mother, a leader, a colleague, and a citizen. As I look toward the future, I am thrilled at the potential of our evolving profession. The work that I have accomplished thus far is only the beginning of a journey that is boundless with inspiration and opportunity. I am excited to continue pursuing my passion for helping people by creating innovative healthcare environments. Equally important, I am grateful for the opportunity to empower others in our profession by being a progressive voice for cultural change.

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Citizen Architect … Seems Redundant

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Citizen Architect

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Good Citizen Architect

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Does it Mean to be a Citizen Architect?

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
small town citizen architect

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: The everyday citizen architect

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Citizen Architect: #architalks

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Architect as Citizen

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
My Hero – Citizen Architect

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
We are the Champions – Citizen Architects

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Meet Jane Doe, Citizen Architect

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Help with South Carolina’s Recovery Efforts

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Senior Citizen, Architect

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Citizen Architect

Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
Citizen Starchitect’ is not an Oxymoron

Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Citizen Architect – Form out of Time

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[cake decorating] to [citizen architect]

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Citizen of Architecture

Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Protecting the Client – 3 Ways to be a Citizen Architect

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Citizen Developer??

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Citizen Architect

Courtney Casburn Brett – Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)
“Citizen Architect” + Four Other Practice Models Changing Architecture

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
How Architects Can Be Model Citizens

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Citizen Architect: The Last Responder

Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Inspiring a Citizen Architect

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