Originally published in OAA Perspectives Spring 2015 on page 8.

The Theme of this issue of OAA Perspectives – Advice for Aspiring Architects – got me thinking. It’s easy to get “aspire” and “inspire” mixed up. Both words come directly from Latin. The first translates as “breathe towards”; when we aspire to something, we really do breathe towards our goal. The second word, from the same root, means “breathe into,” which can often mean encouraging others to breathe towards their own goals.

As the newly elected President of the OAA, it has occurred to me that aspiring is not entirely about reaching goals; the idea that we ever really achieve a goal may be a bit of a misconception, if it implies that we might stop moving once the goal is attained. I aspired to being President as the next step in my goal of helping to improve the profession, but it isn’t a stopping place; it’s a launching pad for achieving more for our members.

As a profession, I believe that we work towards continual improvement; there is always something that could be done better, something more to be achieved. Maybe this is because we are engaged in the practice of architecture and “practice” suggests that we keep trying, always aspiring to improve – looking for ways to grow and to help others achieve their goals.

We are a profession of mentors. Whether we are engaged in a studio design review, or we are participating on boards and panel discussions, we are engaged in mentorship – learning from others, listening to diverse opinions and sharing others’ experiences, seen through their eyes. Participating in a lifetime of being both mentee and mentor is a key to success – and it doesn’t end once the Intern Architect Program (IAP) is completed.

My thought when I started writing this piece was to tell you what inspired me to become an architect. Those hours of Legos, model trains, drawing and doodling and art class are classic examples of ways I imagined myself becoming an architect, and it’s easy to say that I drew inspiration from those experiences. Many of us came to architecture that way. But the real questions are: what inspires the profession? And what can we aspire to, as a profession? I have to think the answer to both questions is: the pursuit of design excellence.

Our profession tends to focus on design excellence as reflected in award-winning buildings, and that this will somehow provide inspiration for others. But design excellence means so much more; it’s about making decisions by looking at things through the lens of design in all that we do. Is this business card design the best choice? Is this local restaurant the best design experience for the meal I can have at this moment? Does my choice of car, suit or shoe represent the best design choice I can make at this moment in time? In this way, everything we do reflects our aspirations toward excellence in design, or at least the best we can aspire to at that moment, with the resources at hand.

What inspires us as individual architects is something that we can only decide for ourselves. What inspires us as a profession – the thirst for design excellence – is something that we share and that we can offer to the next generation. I believe this represents the best of the profession – a commitment to life-long learning; to mentoring others as we wish to be mentored; committing to design excellence in all that we do. When our individual aspirations combine as group aspirations, we have the ability to inspire others toward fulfilling their own aspirations.