The new president and president-elect of the Idaho office of American Institute of Architects, or AIA, want to change that. Retired architect Jeremy Jeffers and John Day, a senior project manager with Slichter | Ugrin Architecture, have set out to shake their local association from its torpor and educate Idahoans about the architect’s function.
Both have been involved with the AIA for many years. Day, who has served in many different capacities with the state group, became the president of the Idaho AIA this year.
This winter, Jeffers and Day set out on a promotional tour of sorts. They’d like the group to start doing the kind of educational activities that their counterparts put on in cities like Seattle and Portland, where architect leaders come to a consensus on policy decisions, lobby the Legislature on building matters, and hold educational conferences for the construction and real estate industries and the public. Right now, the Idaho group is limited to an every-other-year awards event that the media is discouraged from attending. The last time the Idaho AIA had a regional conference was in 2000.
They have their membership work cut out for them. Right now, the group largely functions as an opportunity for retired architects to get together, said Jeffers. He said architects in Idaho have a culture of working in silos, not in cooperation with one another. And the association itself is fragmented in the far reaches of this large state, with Coeur d’Alene architects looking to Spokane for their association leadership, and Idaho Falls architects leaning toward Salt Lake City for theirs.
“Right now, it’s a very disorganized association,” said Day.
The association has about 250 members. Day and Jeffers don’t know how many architects there are in Idaho, but they’d like to increase the number who belong to the Idaho AIA.
To establish more ties in the business world, they’re strengthening their relationship with the Idaho Forest Products Association, with which they’ve run a student architect design contest for the last five years or so. They want to start holding regular educational events and to get involved in a movement that promotes the construction of tall buildings made of timber.
“We have some great facilities within the state of Idaho for manufacturing engineered wood products,” Jeffers said.
They also want to promote Idaho architects, many of whom do projects all around the world. Day said that Idaho firms feel obliged, when bidding on local jobs, to hire out-of-state designers to prove their credibility. Large recent Idaho jobs, like the J.R. Simplot headquarters and JUMP building, went to Adamson Associates Inc., a global firm based in Toronto.
Day said that when Idaho-based architectural firms bid on a project, they feel it’s necessary to pull in a designer from a larger city.
“There is an unwritten rule or perception that if you don’t have someone from out of state on the team, you won’t be selected,” Day said. “We don’t need to do that. We have just as much talent in this state as any other state, and we have the technical skills.”
Both think that younger members entering the profession want to see the AIA change from dedicated individualism to something more cooperative. Part of the reason is that these days, architects are seen as part of a team with the contractor and owner, instead of as a separate entity who drew up the plans and then handed them over.
“It’s no longer us vs. them,” Jeffers said of contractors, designers and engineers.
While architects themselves haven’t put themselves at center stage in Idaho construction and real estate, Idaho is not without its notable buildings. There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Sweet, and the Idaho Statehouse, a source of local pride, was designed by Boise firm Tourtellotte and Hummel. The concrete Intermountain Gas building in Boise, built in the Brutalist style, is the only building in Idaho that has received a national design award, Day said.
One of Jeffers’ favorites is a home called River Place, designed by Paul F. Hirzel, in the Idaho town of Juliaetta on the Potlatch River. Others are the Modern Hotel renovation in Boise, by Trout Architects; the University of Idaho’s J.A. Albertson College of Business and Economics, by Design West Architects; and U of I’s Kibbie Dome, which in 1976 won a structural engineering award from the American Society of Civil Engineers for its pioneering use of an engineered wood product.
“We do a lot more than just design pretty buildings,” Day said.
Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.