Jeff Potter, FAIA, Inaugurated 2012 AIA President

Dec. 16, 2011

The Library of Congress was the inspirational backdrop for this year’s inaugural ceremonies. Here are excerpts from Jeff Potter’s speech:

The Library of Congress is a testament not only to the science and the arts, but to the acceptance that inquiry and aesthetics are the foundation of culture; of a free and advancing society. Architecture is unique because it lies at the intersection of science and art.

And, the spirit of Washington, DC, as conceived by the architect/statesman, Thomas Jefferson, whose books formed the nucleus of this library and after whom this building is named, is founded on a commitment to aspirations and ethics that soar beyond analysis and expression–an experiment in community where all have a vested interest.

The manifestations of culture in the built environment–edifice and landscape–serve as markers of time, exposing with only a little mystery the dreams, desires, and sometimes fears of their creators. I’ve always been fascinated by commitment to ideals so durable that generations contribute to the built places, which mark, sometimes literally, sometimes veiled in metaphor, the times of their creation. Places like Deir el Bahari, Machu Picchu, Chartres, and this great alabaster city.

When we think of great centers of design, Washington, DC, may not represent the avant-garde (or maybe it does–it’s one of the greenest cities in the world), but it is an extraordinary marker to the greatest experiment in community–democracy. This is a city through which policy flows–policy that affects design and is affected by it. So yes, in many ways, it is a center of design, a center of architecture. Friends, we are the inheritors of and actors in this vision–we are the American Institute of Architects.

Washington, both in its plan and character of edifice, celebrates the potential of our covenant with each other. That all of us can touch the spirit of the thing, and we all have a stake in it. Here, we look to the end of an axis, at the end of it, might lie something worth walking towards. Then, we realize that the journey might actually be the greater prize. The plan of the city suggests to us that tomorrow, we won’t have to start over again. And within the fabric, we often find symbol and metaphor, proof that the designers had at least a little confidence in their ancestor’s ability to advance democratic ideals.

If we weren’t faced with challenges from time to time, like we are now, how would we know what we are made of? Where our limits lie? What our privileges are? I have unshakable confidence in our currency: design thinking, place-making, professionalism, inclusion, and ultimately, the pursuit of beauty.

What then, will be our marker? How will we build upon the foundations and advance the vision of our predecessors?

I believe our mark will not be recognized so much by edifice on site, but in a broader stroke: a nation that honors its landscape by building, across its expanse, in a balanced and sustainable way, ensuring the experiment has a place to endure. And for our profession, I believe that our great challenge is to shape a sustainable future for the next generation of architects.

Continue reading here.