Friday, December 11, 2009

Doer's Profile: Dan Bankhead, AIA Houston

by John Gendall
Volume 16, AIArchitect, Dec. 4, 2009

As president of the AIA’s local Houston chapter, Dan Bankhead, AIA is closely invested in the organization and in its capacity to respond to the recession. When he was elected president, he set out to expand local AIA membership both in terms of numbers and diversity. Then Wall Street cratered. Despite financial challenges facing architects and design firms, the chapter has grown. And for good reason, argues Bankhead, since the chapter provides tools and the venue to practice amidst a recession.

Asked about the value of joining the AIA when finances are strained, Bankhead, an AIA member for more than 10 years, says, “I definitely think it is important to do so—absolutely. In this kind of economy, the AIA has so many resources.” He cited the larger, more systemic efforts at the national level to stimulate the industry, but he emphasized the critical role that all the local chapters play. In Houston, like in many local AIA components, the AIA has responded quickly and assertively, organizing business symposia, networking events, and making available resources directed at economic concerns.

To this end, Bankhead assembled a series of business seminars this year aimed at addressing many of the questions architects are facing in this current economic climate. “We developed this program to help teach firms to become more economically sustainable,” he explains. They cover issues ranging from business practices, marketing, and project acquisition.

He has also tailored the program for the local market. “Houston has one of the largest healthcare centers in the country, so this forms a significant part of the architectural business here,” Bankhead explains. “Earlier this year, the local AIA held a meeting about the healthcare market, and over 400 people attended. This was a case of the AIA giving practical tools to help with an important market.”

Though the session was informative and well received, its benefits went beyond the opportunity for education. “There was a lot of great material discussed in the meeting, but it also put architects in front of potential clients,” explains Bankhead.

For Bankhead, the AIA offers a clear competitive advantage for job seekers. “When there are just a few jobs that everyone is chasing, and if someone is looking at a stack of resumes, it’s going to help to have the ‘AIA’ behind your name,” according to Bankhead. But it goes beyond credentials: “The AIA network will put you in front of potential employers,” he elaborates.

He has organized a series of networking forums, including a “Speed Networking Event,” where firms that are looking to interview are matched up with interviewees in rapid fire succession. The event was a big success, with more than 200 people participating. “The event went very well, but what we noticed,” explains Bankhead, “is that people got a chance to network outside of the program itself. We got people together, and we hosted the program, but people had a chance to meet folks on their own, too.”

Bankhead is committed to the architectural profession’s vigor not only as an architect and local AIA chapter president, but also as an educator. He also teaches courses in professional practice and construction services at Prairie View A&M University. There, he reminds his students to get active in the profession and to chase down opportunities.

“There is an entire generation of architects that we can’t afford to lose,” he cautions. For this reason, he considers it important for younger, emerging practitioners and students to get involved with the AIA—and for more established professionals to encourage and mentor them. “The Assoc. AIA is a great way to get into the network early, and to get access to folks.”

“It’s been a tough year,” concedes Bankhead. “But altogether, it’s been a great ride. We just need to stay involved. And the AIA has a lot of resources to do that.”

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