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Apr 05, 2017

A good presidency: Not hard to find

Metzger header

Header image: North End, Boston. Credit: Sfoskett, creative commons license, modified.

About a decade after the Vietnam-Cambodia unrest, when some of us boomers had declared all organizations and people over age 30 suspect, I suddenly found myself over 30 and a newly elected member of the BSA Membership Committee. Thus began three decades of escalating BSA activities, during which I was constantly surprised and delighted to meet most of the living past presidents (legends passed on to me by senior partners who also encouraged my BSA involvement) and many other truly interesting, committed, and original thinkers in the profession. I recall one beautiful autumn day on the North Shore when president-elect David Lee FAIA spoke inspiringly about our collective responsibility to plan and design not just for our clients but also for all the others in society who know little about design but nonetheless live every day with our work as they move past, through, or in spite of it. From my own work with public-sector clients, I knew that the BSA had an important role speaking not just for member firms and architects but also for the power of design and design thinking in the public realm. I worked closely on advocacy with Michael Hicks AIA Emeritus, the BSA’s public-advocacy pioneer, taking his Public Affairs chair when he became BSA president and expanding our alliances with design, construction, and environmental organizations. I also had been on the periphery of BSA’s urban charrettes and David Dixon’s timely Density conference. The year 2005, when I became president, was a peaceful time at the BSA. The Broad Street bailout had succeeded, the shock and pain of 9/11 was fading, the Big Dig and its Greenway makeover were wrapping up, the financial collapse of 2008 was not visible, and Richard Fitzgerald’s retirement—the perennial angst of every incoming president—was still drifting somewhere off the coast. I succeeded Brian Healy and preceded Jane Weinzapfel FAIA, both extraordinary architects, and for the several years that I was on the BSA board, the monthly meetings served up equally delicious debates and food.

I am humbled to think about all that my fellow past presidents accomplished. For me, the BSA was and still is where the value of design finds its voice through our public discourse, conferences, exhibits, and advocacy. On the practical side, we expanded the BSA’s commitment to public advocacy, added outside directors who were also strong advocates, and founded the Community Design Resource Center. In addition to advocacy, my presidency was about making the BSA welcoming to a younger, more diverse group and more reflective of the society in which we build. Nancy Jenner Hon. BSA endured my regular critique of the gender split in architects’ photos in each monthly newsletter, for me a barometer of how well we modeled diversity in our member-facing communications. Presiding at BSA events that drew together such a variety of board members, practice leaders, and thinkers in related business sectors was always interesting, as were the Big Sibs meetings, a twice-yearly gathering of the largest AIA chapters, through which we learned that the BSA was on the cutting edge in many emerging issues, in our inclusive membership for nonarchitects, and in the collegiality with which we share information in defiance of traditional competitive instincts. In the end, the BSA presidency for me was about people, from the incredible staff that quietly and expertly worked behind the scenes, the incredible colleagues who were passionate about everything, the leaders from other business sectors and the design schools who joined in our work, and the relentless energy we keep putting into the BSA to ensure that design continues to matter and the profession continues to evolve. But perhaps my aging mother-in-law summed up my presidency best when she proudly told her friends in her Vermont retirement community that her son-in-law was to become the next president of the BSO.

George R. Metzger AIA, 2005 BSA president