NUMBER 151 AND FAIA
My desk (photo by Grant Bozigian)
I pat myself on the back. Not just because I was recently accepted into the prestigious College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (known as FAIA), but because a few weeks ago, I published my 150th essay on this platform.
Setting goals can be a double-edged sword, both the evidence of ambition and a spectrum that includes disappointment. Having incentives and targets provide a road map and a destination. But a list of objectives, if not achieved, can also be a measure of where one has failed.
I reiterate what I proclaimed after my 100th essay, “I have avoided writing silly tweets, mere blurbs and convenient commentary. Instead, I have sought to author articles of substantial thought—researched, illustrated and well composed.” Have I achieve my goals within this venue? That is for my readers to comment.
The four letters of stature, FAIA, has also been a goal, but what is FAIA? For some, the black-robed “investiture ceremony” hints towards a kind of secret society, i.e., Skull and Bones, Illuminati, The Order, and such. From my colleagues, when you are bestowed the prominent title of FAIA, they proclaim, “You’ve been effed!” And self-satisfied laughter ensues.
In February 2022, I was honored with the elevated title of FAIA to replace my previous AIA. This national organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., explains, “The American Institute of Architects’ highest membership honor, Fellowship or FAIA, is bestowed for exceptional work and contributions to architecture and society. Only 3 percent of AIA members hold the distinction of being designated a Fellow.”
This essay is not about bragging rights, nor am I here to detail the logistics of an FAIA accolade, which are Kafka-esque to say the least. In short, I was nominated by the Los Angeles chapter of the AIA, then requested to submit 40 pages on why I matter. For example, why am I an architect? Why am I significant to society? What is my national “ripple effect” (a catch phrase of the FAIA process)? I found the submittal process to be a rewarding journey of self-examination and self-discovery—a drafting of a personal thesis.
I know a few unfortunate colleagues that pursued their FAIA year after year with no success. Some were talented architects designing the most beautiful homes around the globe. Sounds like a convincing story, but through the eyes of the FAIA jury, is there value to society when designing custom homes for the affluent? On the other hand, FAIA isn’t just given to architects doing, for example, pro-bono work and shelters for the unhoused, or healthcare projects focusing on cancer research. The admission into the College of Fellows might be based on any number accomplishments, i.e., teaching, impact on how our profession practices, community leadership, spearheading new technologies, and so on. A couple fancy buildings with design awards may not be considered worthy ripple effect.
For my submittal, I mined my three-decade-long career. I realized that I didn’t have a specialty, such as expertise in skyscrapers or shopping malls. No, I enjoyed designing at all scales, for all kinds of clients, for all forms of projects that engage society, that can bring communities together. Through my self-assessment, I realized that I advocated a noble and optimistic belief that everyone deserves good design. So Poon Design’s portfolio includes: mass produced housing as well as high-end custom homes; religious structures and a company logo; even a school, chocolate factory, wine store, and NCAA basketball arena.
Hence, my FAIA thesis is this, “Anthony Poon—architect, author, musician, and artist—juxtaposes discipline and improvisation to create transformative architecture and reimagine social engagement. His cost-effective designs, a new exemplar for the profession, assert that good design belongs to everyone.”