Rideau Canal

The “Borderless” Nature of Architecture

By Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, 2015 President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)

With a suitcase packed with warm clothes, I flew to Ottawa last month at the invitation of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC). The occasion was the inauguration of their 76th President, Samuel “Sam” Oboh. The scarves and woolens came in handy when I stepped outside to watch entire families ice-skating on the city’s frozen Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Later at the installation, the hospitality of the RAIC leadership could not have been warmer. President Oboh and I remarked on the similar agendas of both organizations, especially the shared commitment to work for the kind of broader public understanding and appreciation of architecture envisioned by the AIA’s public awareness campaign. On a more personal level, both of us were struck by the extraordinary coincidence that the elected leaders of both organizations were born outside North America—Nigeria and China respectively. It seemed a snapshot of the borderless nature of architectural practice in the 21st century.

The evening’s keynote speaker—Canadian author, essayist, and president of Pen International, John Ralston Saul—addressed the social responsibility of architects and government working together to help create a sense of community and identity for the isolated aboriginal communities in Canada’s arctic north. One of the most memorable moments of the program came when President Oboh held the RAIC Lamp of Architecture during his induction, and recited the seven principles of architecture as defined by the English Victorian critic, John Ruskin: sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory, and obedience.

At the end of the evening, RAIC Executive Director Ian Chodikoff and President Oboh raised the prospect of future meetings to discuss how the AIA and the RAIC could build on our similar agendas to grow an even stronger relationship between both professional communities.