In 2022, AIA Northern Virginia decided to let its lease expire on its c. 1870 Chapter House on Duke Street in Alexandria. Inform sat down for a conversation with AIA Northern Virginia Executive Director Jaclyn Toole, Assoc. AIA, to talk about the unique process that led to this decision, what it means for member engagement, and what it suggests for the chapter’s future plans.
What was the process that led to the decision not to renew the lease?
At the time I was brought on board in November 2021, the chapter house was still closed, and staff were working from home full-time due to the pandemic. I was spending one or two days a week there going through files, learning the chapter’s history and beginning discussions with the Board of Directors about the possibility of restoring some of the Chapter House hours — but then COVID cases spiked again around the holidays. At approximately the same time, the lease came up for renewal and it was suggested that, given the uncertainty of the pandemic and since things were shutting down again, we may want to consider letting the chapter house lease expire, and take some time talk to our members to identify a new location for the Chapter House. This would also allow us to choose a space with a program that fits in with the strategic growth and direction of AIA Northern Virginia for the next five years.
So, in January, the Board voted to not renew the lease at the Duke Street location and appointed a task force to conduct a programming analysis and market research, and ultimately make a recommendation to the Board later this year about what comes next.
How has the move to a virtual chapter presented opportunities for members?
Even in my short nine-month tenure as Executive Director, I have very quickly learned that the value of AIA Northern Virginia isn’t in a physical chapter house. The value AIA NoVA has to offer the region comes from its large, diverse, and passionate membership. As we move forward with the search for a new Chapter House, we hope to lead by example while creating new opportunities for members to showcase and demonstrate the value of architecture to the public and the communities in which we serve.
What are your plans for engagement with members in the future?
The Northern Virginia region is expansive, covering 27 cities and counties. Hosting events in any one location can often leave out some of the membership due to commute times. We are planning to continue embracing some of the virtual and hybrid technology that we were forced into using during the pandemic, but which ultimately allowed us to expand our reach and increase accessibility for our members.
I am also going to be starting a series of firm tours throughout our region, meeting with both members and non-members where they work and discussing what types of programming and member benefits they would find value in, both now at this stage of their careers as well as this stage of the pandemic.
Is stewardship for historic properties something that will drive the chapter forward? Or, are you looking at a range of options?
Not only am I the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the AIA, I’m also an Associate AIA member and have both a B. Arch. and eight years of experience working in an architecture firm. I think by living and working in the D.C. metro area, many of us have an affinity for historic properties and, when you add in my background, it is hard not to get pulled in by the charm and story that older buildings hold. That said, some historic properties can present challenges including ventilation, limited flexibility of floor plan, security, and accessibility. While we are keeping our options open, we are considering a variety of spaces, some historic and others modern.
Perhaps even more important is looking more closely at the location based on where the higher population of our members are located, plus easy access via both metro and automobile, while also looking for a space that allows us to operate the association with a new office environment and culture.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Learn more at www.aianova.org
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