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Small Practice Group: AIA Potomac Valley’s Longest-Running Committee

By Helen Crettier Wilkes, AIA, SPG Coordinator

As a long-standing member of the AIA Potomac Valley’s Small Practice Group (SPG), I can testify that it was the chapter’s only standing committee when I joined the committee around 1992. It was relatively new then, and it had a robust early following. Most among this core group of architects have remained part of the SPG, while others have joined and remained over the years. I attribute the committee’s success to its responsiveness to the needs of the individual architects who make up the group. It is both a committee and its own following, since members help plan and decide on the programs that serve their needs. As programs are advertised in chapter newsletters as well as through emails to self-identified members, any small-practice architect is welcome to attend programs anytime.

At the time I joined, I was a part-time architect working at home while raising three daughters. I found, in this group, a way to stay connected with my profession and my sole- or small-practice architect peers. The national AIA’s continuing education requirements were a relatively new phenomenon, following upon states’ professional licensure requirements for the same. SPG members in particular welcomed the opportunities inherent in continuing education, as the requirement paved the way for increased access to information and education more readily available to architects within larger firms. At the same time, we all discovered the multiple benefits of gathering with other architects who share in many of the same small practice issues and concerns or who have questions about topics ranging from architectural details to best materials or construction methods to client issues – and everything in between. In the beginning, the Potomac Valley chapter’s Executive Director worked with SPG members to identify industry representatives, consultants, and other experts to provide courses of interest to members. Meetings then, as now, were held once a month, typically on a Friday morning. Because the C.E. landscape was new, there were few vendors or service providers who offered AIA-accredited courses, so we, the members, often had to write the course description, tailored to what we wanted to learn, and submit it to the national AIA for accreditation so that our members could receive proper credit.


SPG January Round Table Discussion

Flash forward to how the SPG operates now: The January meeting is always a roundtable discussion (photo above), in which attendees suggest program ideas or topics on which they would like to learn more. Group members suggest, discuss, and decide on a slate of potential topics for the year’s meetings – and yes, this meeting, too, is accredited by the chapter, for its educational value to attendees! There are many AIA-accredited courses available for the group to choose from today, which makes the work of the group coordinators much easier than in the SPG’s early days. Still, we as a group sometimes create unique courses in the form of talks, or tours of interesting local projects, such as a recent tour of the masterfully designed and landscaped Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. Other unique programs have included a talk on “bird-safe glass” as applied to small projects, presented by a local architect-expert; a presentation on “marketing in the age of social media”; “plasterwork restoration in historic buildings”; a construction tour of the steel-framed home of a local design-builder architect; a tour of a fascinating exhibit at the National Building Museum called “Making Room: Housing for a Changing America”; green roof tours; and a construction tour of a rowhouse renovation project in the Mt. Pleasant Historic District in DC – to name just a few.


Tour of the Pavilions at Glenstone - May 2019

Programs are presented at the offices – often, home offices – of group members; in vendor showrooms; or at tour sites in the local area. The meetings are usually in the early morning of the last Friday of the month, which can vary according to circumstances. Food and drink, and the discussions and fellowship borne of a gathering of architects who share interests and concerns in common, are always at the core of SPG meetings. And even during in-the-can, polished presentations by vendors, we engage in questions and discussions that get at small practice concerns, because we are an inquisitive group. If any or all of this appeal to you, we encourage you to attend a meeting and find out for yourself why local small-practice architects – not only from the Potomac Valley chapter but from other local chapters as well – enjoy and value the benefits of participation in the Small Practice Group.

For more information, contact me, Helen Crettier Wilkes, AIA, SPG Coordinator, at [email protected] or my Co-Coordinator, Sharon Washburn, FAIA, at [email protected].

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