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Special Report   : Architecture


A more assertive AIA steps up


Jun 15, 2017, 10:40am HST



AIA Honolulu’s transformation and reorganization has already paid off. The local chapter of the nonprofit American Institute of Architects is in the black, increased its collaboration with other building industry networks and boosted turnout at its events.



It also reclaimed its seat at the table as the experts of the design profession, according to Chris Hong, president of AIA Honolulu. The changes that Hong and his predecessor Ben Lee laid out in 2015 started to have an impact in 2016. It started with the realization  that  the one-year  presidency at AIA Honolulu is not  enough time to enact  a lot  of change.









Chris Hong outside the AIA Honolulu office downtown



“Ben and I looked at that and said, ‘We really need to change that,”‘ Hong recalls.


Under the  leadership of Lee and Hong, the local chapter  has created a more unified organization that not  only represents local architects and design professionals but serves as a hub for the building industry as a whole. Many of  AIA Honolulu’s members are also members of other organizations, Hong    said.


To make sure those members do not hear the same speech on the same topic at a number of different industry events, AIA has reached out to sister organizations to reduce overlap and serve common  interests. AIA Honolulu is now holding quarterly meetings with sister organizations to work on common legislation,  shared  events and sponsorships.


“Overall, it’s about providing  a better value to  our  members,” Hong told Pacific  Business  News.


AIA Honolulu is also collaborating with the University of Hawaii, which produces the state’s next generation of architects. The organization will also hold the AIA Northwest Regional Summit in 2018 in conjunction with the Pacific Building Trade Expo. The Northwest region includes Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.


“We try to evolve this organization,” Hong said. “A new strategic plan will be rolled out in July at its annual membership meeting.”


The changes and freshening up of the organization has also impacted the organization’s bottom line.


“In 2016, we were budgeted to be in the red for about $9,000 to $10,000, and we actually made money that year,” he said. “We were in the black because of the reorganization.” AIA Honolulu is also seeing a lot of new faces at its meetings and events.


The one area where the restructuring has not yet had the desired effect is on the regulatory and governmental side, but Hong said, “We are working on that .”


Hong, who is also the vice president of commercial real estate development firm Redmont Real Estate Group, has recently been elected to the Building Board of Appeals, though he has yet to attend a meeting. Hong’s appointment to the board is an indication of local architects reclaiming their spot in the industry, which Hong argues they have lost in the past.


“HGTV and other television shows have made everyone an expert on flipping a house,” Hong said. “We’ve lost our seat at the table as the experts of the design profession. The appointment of various AIA members to regulator boards is a step to reclaim that spot.”


A big issue in the architecture industry, not only in Hawaii but nationwide, is the issue of sustainability and resilience. In the architecture and property development sector those topics have for years been marketed through LEED, a certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.


The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification rates the sustainability and environmental friendliness of buildings based on their design, construction, operation and maintenance. Introduced in 1994, it has only gained traction over the last 10 years. The standard is still important, Hong said, but the industry itself has moved beyond LEED.


“As design practitioners, we are trying to evolve,” he said. “While still recognizing that LEED is important, there are many other programs out there.” They include CHPS, the 2030 Challenge or the Living Building Challenge, among others.


The current political atmosphere with Hawaii Gov. David lge signing on to the Paris climate accord only a week after President Donald Trump announced the country’s withdrawal from the multi-national agreement, puts these issues in an increased spotlight.


“We as an industry are trying to push forward,” Hong said. “AIA national sent out an email on the day Trump announced the withdrawal, saying we are committed to this effort. You see states like California and Washington really leading the efforts in terms of energy conservation, net zero and resilience .”


On the marketing side, LEED-certified apartments and condos continue to have a higher value than non­ certified   buildings.


“LEED certified-condos are selling faster and at a higher rate,” he said. However, the high cost of living here in Hawaii, Hong believes, makes it harder to market the LEED standard to potential buyers on the Islands. The state’s high cost of living is also a challenge in attracting and retaining talent, Hong said.


“In terms of the architecture industry we are in the fun position of being in the bottom 10 of compensation and top 10 in cost of living,” he said. “Recruitment is very challenging.”


AIA Honolulu’s collaboration with UH and its professional development and mentorship programs try to combat this issue, but in terms of salary, Hawaii can’t compete with the Mainland and therefore it takes someone who is passionate about the state and its future.


HJ Mai

Web Editor/Energy  Reporter

Pacific Business News