Ric Abramson, FAIA has been in professional practice as a licensed architect for 28 years. He established his small firm, WORKPLAYS, in 2003. He’s taught for over 18 years on the faculty of Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and USC School of Architecture. He’s been invited as a keynote speaker at the BIG Ideas Conference and has produced educational workshops around the country. He’s a small firm advocate, spearheading new California legislation protecting architects’ creative work.
This week on EntreArchitect Podcast, Taking Action to Maximize the Value of the Architect with Ric Abramson, FAIA.
Ric’s Origin Story
Ric’s story has been an organic process; he didn’t know he wanted to build things as a child. Looking back, he was always a “maker” of some sort, creating things and exploring. In high school, he was summoned to the counselor’s office to figure out what he wanted to pursue. His current class load and interests pushed him toward architecture school.
He earned his undergraduate degree at California Polytechnic State University, and his progression through the program created more passion for what he wanted to do.
His first job was with a small, well-established firm. It was a very old-school experience. That firm did primarily government work, but Ric stayed there for a year and a half before going to the next firm for 6 years.
After that, he attended UCLA for his Masters of Architecture degree and returned to begin a doctoral program. He was awarded a full ride scholarship to go study architecture in Italy. That had a profound effect on the course that Ric would embark on. After a year there, he came back, started his own firm, was offered a teaching position and has been growing ever since.
What kind of work do you do?
Ric does mostly residential work, with some commercial and consulting work. Lately they’ve been doing policy consulting in Los Angeles, California.
Like many growing urban areas, Los Angeles has a huge housing need. They’re looking for ways to be more innovative, integrating density and sustainable living. How can we house more people in closer proximity without giving up home ownership? WORKPLAYS responded to an RFP to write a new ordinance and design guidelines for a compact home ordinance in Los Angeles County.
Why did you move from design work to working with government?
Ric thinks it might go back to his Italian research roots. He was always fascinated with universal thinking, not only creating architecture, but the process by which it’s made and how architects fit into that role. Some of the control that architects once held has gone away, and that’s because architects aren’t at the table when housing policy is being made.
How can others get involved in policy-making?
There are so many ways to get involved. If you’re not already, get involved with a board, city commission, design review panels, etc. AIA National has a Center for Civic Leadership and a Citizen Architect Initiative, and they’ve been looking for those who want to get involved with making a difference in their community.
In smaller communities, go directly to your elected politicians and get to know them. Have coffee with your counsel member. Start to understand at a deeper level, how policy is made. Many elected officials aren’t experienced in land use, and many want to learn about it. Right now, the majority of the input comes from planning, community development professionals or private developers.
Relationships matter. We get caught up with the websites, marketing, blogs and everything else. The day to day, knowing the leaders, advocates and business entities in your community will help build relationships.
How can we change the conversation about the value of architecture?
We need to be able to communicate, in a very clear way, to the public why what we do matters. Ric has been working to explore a means by which the AIA would create a value index for new construction that could communicate to the public some things we do as architects that others don’t do because they don’t have the training. Scores could include measurables like energy efficiency, water consumption, building performance, sustainability, resiliency, and more. Architects can come together to measure the value in the things we do when we design. Assigning a measurable value to the work we do and comparing that to developed homes changes the conversation about what architects really do and why it’s valuable to homeowners.
What other ways can architects get out there and show their value?
The key for this idea is that it has to be flexible and scalable to local conditions. Architects need to figure out the key measurables in their local area.
Right now there’s a working group that Ric is the co-convener of. Contact him if you’d like to be a part of a national network of local architects who are passionate about creating a value proposition in their local area.
What is the influence of architects in society?
Ric is working with a local City Architect movement. In the formation of most American cities, there was a City Architect who was front and center with the planning and understanding of how a community would grow. Now, City Architects are few and far between. This person would be someone who was the visionary for the community, someone who would embrace the aspirations and goals, the sustainable and environmental interests and the cultural or social issues. How can we reinsert that person into the local government? Listen to this episode to learn more about how you can help promote the concept of City Architects.
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