AGM 2020 Address by OAA President Kathleen Kurtin

In January, I sent a message to OAA members that began, “This new year, and new decade, arrives as the OAA is at a turning point!” 

I was writing to the membership about change and the two significant challenges lying ahead for the profession:

1. Achieving climate stability
and, equally important: 
2. Ensuring our profession is welcoming to all and truly reflects the composition of the province of Ontario.

I believe these two challenges are linked, and it is very difficult to achieve one without the other. 

When Council met in February for our planning session, I think it was safe to say that there was consensus on these issues. We decided to use equity, diversity, and inclusivity as the lens through which all decisions would be made, and we added climate stability to the other two priorities from last year: education and participation.

After all, neither climate stability nor equity inclusivity and diversity are possible without both education and membership participation. 

I was enthusiastic about the possibilities that lay ahead for the OAA in 2020. I was excited about our Council, with many new faces working alongside returning Councillors and experienced staff members. We were also poised to improve our communications with the launch our revamped website. We were ready to share our newly renovated headquarters, fine-tuned to meets its target of zero net carbon. And to mark an increased effort, we were about to launch a new logo that embraced the concept of an inclusive OAA. We were enthusiastic and optimistic about the possibility for change—after all, we had started to do some of the groundwork. 

And then came COVID-19.

The pandemic amplified everything while also bringing unprecedented changes for many of us, both professionally and personally. However, it also demonstrated that architects were up to the challenge. 

From large practices to sole proprietorships, I continually saw our profession pivoting—almost instantly—to new ways of working. 

For me, living through the almost daily changes as our understanding developed of the pandemic reinforced the importance of our provincial Act, and the OAA’s role in protecting the public interest when it comes to the built environment.

As a regulator, our role is to advocate for the public rather than for architects. This is something often misunderstood by the profession. Those who sit on Council, including me as president, are there to represent the general public rather than our peers and colleagues.

Now, more often than not, items that are in the public interest are also beneficial to the profession. After all, having a strong profession of highly trained, well-informed architects, supported with tools and resources, leads to our vision of a safe and healthy built environment that performs at the highest levels and elevates the human spirit. Or, more simply put: it helps us make this world a better place. 

The pandemic brought to the forefront many issues the OAA felt needed to be championed under its mandate of protecting the public interest, including infection control on construction sites and the importance of site inspections by both the architect and the inspector. We also emphasized the need for a collaborative relationship between architects and building officials, and, finally, reminded all levels of government of the importance of shovel-ready projects to help kick-start the economy. We also spoke to the need of using monies devoted to that kick-starting of the economy be spent on projects that worked toward achieving climate stability. 

At the onset of the pandemic, the OAA launched its COVID-19 Updates resource page, first on our old website and then moving it over to the new one. While our friends at Pro-Demnity Insurance Co. began releasing special bulletins to alert the members, the OAA complemented this with a continually updated portal that brings together useful industry links and general government information with the latest on policies and discussion points for practices, as well as FAQs for interns and students, and their supervisors and mentors. 

On that last point, I cannot say this forcefully enough—I recognize the challenges students faced graduating into this market and interns who are continuing their path to licensure. I’ve spoken at a few virtual convocations and graduations over the last few months. While I express my admiration for how quickly students and faculty adapted to distance learning, I also tell them their learning is by no means done.

The OAA is currently exploring ways in which we can continue to help support their development, such as enabling OAA Student Associates to submit up to a maximum of 760 hours of pre-graduation architectural experience toward the experience requirements of the IAP.

Of course, the Association also had to quickly adapt is programming due to COVID. As you all know, the pandemic meant the cancellation of the OAA’s annual Conference, which had been planned for Toronto in May. This in turn meant the Association needed to evolve quickly, including transforming our traditional AGM into this online event we’re all sharing right now.

It also meant finding a way to ensure members could complete their Continuing Education requirements. To do this, we not only extended our ConEd cycle from the summer to the end of the year, but we also moved many of the sessions planned for Conference into specially priced webinars.

These initiatives, and so many more like them, would not have been possible without the herculean effort of OAA staff, as well as Committee and Council volunteers as they took on these challenges while working remotely.

We all learned about Zoom, and figured out how to accommodate each other’s schedules. Each of us juggled our own particular challenges, whether that be embracing new roles as home-school teachers, taking care of parents or children, or adapting to having to share office space with our significant others or living in complete isolation.

With COVID also came the magnification of issues around discrimination, equity, and inclusion—not only in Canadian society, but also specifically within the architecture community. The OAA has been working to improve over the past number of years with our membership. In June, when we shared our solidarity with those speaking out against systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous practices in society and the profession, we received candid, constructive criticism on how we need to do better, collectively and individually. We continue to confront our unconscious biases and ensure all voices are being represented, and find ways to turn words into tangible actions.

What this amplification of issues has demonstrated to me is that while we have made some inroads as a profession, they have only been baby steps. Now is the time pick up the pace to ensure we have a strong profession for the future. So let me tell you the OAA has begun to address these priorities: 

1. Membership Engagement.

The OAA is continually exploring new ways to promote a culture of volunteerism and humanize self-regulation. Last year, we had many new, first-time members joining Committees and Council itself, but we have farther to go. Throughout this year, there has been ongoing conversation on how to make the profession more open to those who have been excluded. 

Information on the upcoming elections for OAA Council will coming shortly and I ask you to strongly consider running if you feel you can bring your perspective forward. Your profession, and the public, needs your voice.

2. Comprehensive Education.

Earlier this year, Council introduced our first Vice President Education. In 2019, the OAA’s Continuing Education Committee evolved into the Comprehensive Education Committee, with an expanded mandate to oversee the whole spectrum of education from primary and secondary school to universities, internship, licensure and the various phases of practice, and retirement.

Comprehensive education includes everything from teaching students about what architecture is and how to become an architect to showing the public why they should work with one. It includes helping those in the profession understand how to keep current with emerging trends, building sciences, and technologies as well as how to share knowledge with their peers. 

It also includes providing resources so OAA members can continue to develop their financial literacy at all stages of their career, from how much to ask to be paid in a job interview out of school to how to prepare for retirement.

Earlier, I mentioned how items in the best interest of the public are often also in the best interest of those who make up our profession. Strong financial literacy benefits owners and the public by enabling reduction of project risks and improving project outcomes. 

Finally, our third Council priority for 2020 is climate stability.

As I mentioned when talking about the Annual Report, I strongly feel the current climate change emergency is one of the two defining challenges of our times. That’s one of the reasons why Energy Use Intensity or EUI metrics were a mandatory requirement for this year’s Design Excellence Awards program. Resilient, climate-stable architecture is no longer an aspiration or a specialty—it must be the standard expectation for all our buildings, and the public must understand why.

The OAA’s Sustainable Built Environments Committee has hit the ground running this year, issuing an RFP for a new tool for EUI for the profession. It also has many more projects in the works, including further development of its Four Walls research and getting OAA members access to training for multiple sustainable initiatives. 

There is also the renewed and refreshed OAA Headquarters, which waits to welcome you all once it is safe again to do so. Its pursuit of net zero carbon saves on embodied energy, showing first-hand how existing buildings can be adapted rather than replaced.

Last year, we hosted a roundtable on resiliency as part of our efforts to gain insights into solutions for climate stability. But it turns out that not only do our buildings need to be resilient, but so do we as a profession. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how quickly paradigms can shift, and how critical it is that architects, individually and collectively, be able to adapt and continue doing what we do best.

Thank you.

Last updated: 2020/Aug/20