7 Reasons Why You MUST Attend the AIA Convention as a Small Firm Architect

July 08, 2014 4 min read

Editor's Note: we asked Marica McKeel to share her impressions of the 2014 AIA National Convention. Marica is the founder and owner of Studio MM, pllc, an architecture firm based in New York City and focused on contemporary modern design. 

This year was my first year attending the AIA convention and I had such an amazing experience that I’ve already made plans to go to AIA Convention 2015 in Atlanta next year! Studio MM is still a young firm and the expense and time away was difficult to muster in years past, but I was proud to be able to attend this year and am happy I did. I now understand the invaluable experience the convention provides, especially for a small firm. I’ve listed below many parts of the convention that made my experience so great, and 7 reasons all small firm architects should attend the AIA convention.


Welcome to Chicago!: Sears Tower peaking through the clouds.

1. Three full days of all things architecture.

It’s like being back in architecture studio!…well, the good parts about studio… If we were up too late at the Convention it was because we were having too much fun.

2. Expo.

The expo is there for you to take advantage of as much or as little as you like. I sought out vendors who offer solutions for residential projects and tried to ask them as many questions as I could. Especially as a small firm – where lunch and learns basically don't exist – I find it's not as easy to access all of the information on a product that you need. Sure, everything is online, but face to face conversation about quality and function is not the same as reading product information from the web. As an added bonus, this year we could gain CES credits for many of these "expo chats."


3. Town Hall.

The Expo Town Hall is the meet and greet area. It’s like Twitter in real life. Conversations are going on everywhere; people are milling around chit-chatting with new acquaintances; and information sessions are happening in various spots teaching you all you need to know to make your small business work. I sat in on Jeff Echols’ Social Media Strategy, watched Mark LePage's discussion Business Plans for the Small-Firm Architect, and Enoch Sears' presentation on Winning More Projects with Social Media and Online Tools. (Also very proud and surprised to see Studio MM’s website as an example in Enoch's presentation- Thank you Enoch!).

Marica_McKeel_AIACon2014_EnochSears presentation

4. Seminars and Presentations.

This isn't like going back to school where you have to learn x, y and z…. there are so many options from which to choose, you pick only what interests you. I focused my time on seminars aimed at residential design and "how to" for a small business. One I especially enjoyed was Starting Your Own Architecture Firm: The Young Architect's Perspective. This was a 2 hour seminar led by 3 architects who had been there/done that in creating and successfully growing their small architecture firms.


5. Guided Tours.

Architecture, architecture, and more architecture. I may have been spoiled this year by the architecture in Chicago- Atlanta will have some heavy lifting to do to keep up – but the architecture tour was one of my favorite “learning” events at the convention. Bob Borson who has been to many of these, has said that for him the conventions are more about tours than seminars. I now understand why. As I mentioned in my post last week, Celebrating Architecture: #ArchitectureoftheDay: Chicago, "One of the highlights for me was touring the city and looking up!" Our tour: 3.5 hours “chauffeured” around Chicago from the Rookery to Mies’ IIT Crown Hall to the Robie House and more, with others as excited to look at buildings as I was, AND a guide to tell us about each one and answer all of our architectural questions. It was great, geeky-architect fun!

6. Events and Receptions.

One of the events that most sticks out in my mind was the CRAN (Custom Residential Architecture Network) reception I attended on Thursday evening. I met many folks that I had connected with online either through CRAN or social media as well as new friends – all also mainly residential architects. This reception- and there were many others similar, but focused around other topics or groups – provided another opportunity for connecting with people with similar interests. While the convention overall is enormous and somewhat overwhelming, it’s the smaller groups and meetings and resulting discussions that make such a difference.


The AIA Party at The Art Institute of Chicago/ Modern Wing was also a fantastic event and a fun evening. It's a nice change of scene to take the conversations to the cocktail party level…all while looking at fabulous art and architecture!


7. Pizza Night!

This was absolutely my favorite part of the convention. Mark LePage organized dinner with a few Twitter folks so 14 of us showed up for fun, friends, laughter, and Chicago Pizza! I guess what I take from my entire experience in Chicago for #AIAcon14 was exactly that, PLUS a lot of architecture! Archispeak summed up our Pizza Night, and the convention, very well in their latest podcast #37: Architecture is the Sh!t! I’m pretty sure you didn’t need to be there to know how much fun was had… next year you MUST join us!

Visit Studio MM's website to see Marica's work. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

You can also read our interview with Marica here and watch her speak in this episode and this episode of Novedge's original series How to Succeed in Architecture.

For more about next year's AIA Convention, check out the official website.


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Interview with Marica McKeel
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