The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) is a student run architecture organization whose goal is to give leadership skills, additional architecture education, training, and to encourage the youth of the 21st century to pursue a career in architecture. The AIAS can be considered a discourse community based on John Swale’s ‘The Concept of a Discourse Community’. This community uses different mechanisms for communication among its members (Swales 221). They have what they call ‘chapters’, which are mini AIAS groups separated by region. They each have their own different meetings and events, but they all have ‘lines of communication back to base’ (Swales 221) which would be to other AIAS regions across the world, or to the headquarters in Washington D.C. Because of the close connection I have with the AIAS and because of the work they do outside of their community, I will be able to thoroughly observe and analyze the behavior, communication, and connections made through this community.
My methodology consists of information pulled from an interview and an AIAS meeting observation. The beginning of the process of collecting my methodology came from the AIAS lecture. The members of this group meet every Wednesday at 7:30 in the Park Avenue Building, room 122. During this lecture we had the pleasure of having special guest Kathy Velikov, a licensed architect who spoke to us about her work in architecture and ecology. During the lecture I took notes on the RVTR, a professional architecture practice that she is a founding partner of.
The RVTR “operates across scales to position design as an active agent in continually evolving ecologies” (rvtr.com). The projects of the RVTR focus on incorporating urbanist styles and high-performance designs into regional areas. Velikov has many projects that can be found on the RVTR website, and all the projects shown helped the people at the AIAS lecture, including
myself, explore different sections of architecture and helped us understand how much work goes into these projects. I also took notes on what I observed around the room as well. I noticed that everyone was very interested in what she had to say, many people asked questions about her work and its relation to the environment it was in. Communication was a very strong aspect of the lecture, and people were not afraid to voice their concerns, opinions, ideas, or general comments to Velikov herself, and to other members around them. Before the lecture began, I managed to speak with one of the members about conducting an email interview after the lecture was over.
My interviewee was Robert Toot, a graduate student of The Department of Architecture and Environmental Design, and the previous president of the BGSU’s AIAS organization, who has been part of the AIAS since February of 2016. He joined the AIAS because “it offered a substantial amount of professional development and also fostered many of my closest friendships” (Toot). Along with asking him about how he got involved, I asked about different roles played in the group, communication strategies, language/lexis, and goals of the community among other things.
The goals if this discourse community align with John Swale’s interpretation of the goals any discourse community should have. This particular discourse community, “has a broadly agreed set of common public goals” (Swales 220). Some of the goals the AIAS has, are giving its members professional experiences in architecture, to guide its members down the path to be a successful architect, and to help people feel like they belong to a purpose greater than themselves while making lifelong friendships along the way. In order to achieve these goals, the student body has taken to doing fun get-togethers, events, and activities to get people to join and to show the importance of the AIAS. One event that the AIAS holds to bring in new members and convince other members to stay, is a BBQ at the beginning of fall, where they sign people up for the organization and provide free food, live music, and games. Another larger event is the annual Architecture Career Fair. During the fair, the student body brings architectural firms from different places and give the students an opportunity to present themselves as potential employees (Toot). The fair is always a success and many people end up with positions at the firms. This fair has given the AIAS as huge boost in members has pushed the group to reaching their goals.
Intercommunication in this community is one of the strongest aspects they have. Their most prominent way of communication is through the meetings, lectures, and AIAS events. For all three of these, email is the source of where members get information about upcoming events and topics of these activities. During meetings and lectures, communication consists of a head speaker going through what is on the schedule, talking about current architecture news and
projects. Students take notes, ask questions and make comments about whatever topic they are discussing. During events such as competitions, communication consists of members creating, presenting, and talking about their project and the parti of said project. Communication is a major part of architecture. When explaining the design and parti (big idea) of a building you must be able to thoroughly explain why you design the building the way you did and how it fits in whatever context it is in. These AIAS competitions are great practice and exposure for its contestants to what project meetings will really be like. Another form of communication is through social media. The AIAS is on all major social media platforms and that is another way people can stay in touch with each other and stay up to date on upcoming events.
The piece of genre I analyzed was the AIAS website. The members of this group use the website to connect with others around the world, find dates and information about upcoming competitions and events, purchase AIAS merchandise, and other things. The very first thing I noticed when going on their website, was how colorful and chaotic the layout was. There are multiple sections and each section has different colors and shapes to them. For example, the very first section you see the ‘Welcome to AIAS’ banner and to the right of it are four colorful and offset rectangles. But then in the section below consist of six uniform circles with completely different colors from the first section. The final sections combine the shapes, and uniformity. It consists of a total of 21 uniform also just as colorful rectangles. This piece of genre is made the way it is, to show the abstract and creative way architects have to think, create and present their architecture to their preferred audience. In this case, the preferred audience would be young architects in the making wanting to catch a glimpse of the chaotic, bright and abstract world of architecture.
The second, and more miniscule thing I noticed on the homepage, is in the top right corner, there is a link that leads to the AIAS merchandise page titled ‘Swag’. This caught my eye because ‘swag’ is not a word that is used regularly in 2018 like it was ten years ago. I believe the creators of this website used this word to appeal to the youth in this community. I am not sure if it was intended to be humorous, but it is nonetheless. Everything on the website is formal and professional, then the use of a slang word for the merchandise title page, although a small part of the entirety of the website, adds a fun, humorous, youthful, and almost childish mood to it.
Language/lexis is a big part of differentiating and identifying a specific discourse community, and the people in it. While interviewing Robert, I asked what language/lexis is used in this discourse community to enhance communication and understanding between members? He stated that “BGSU is a very diverse campus. Part of entering such a community involves staying true to your inherent language/lexis. Establishing a universal/dialect/lexis/language/syntax devalues one’s own diversity and excludes non conformists. Communication and understanding comes from with empathizing with people from many cultures. This is something that takes time, experience, and an open mind” (Toot). Individuality and diversity are very important in this community, and although certain universal architectural words will need to be used, the AIAS does not want that to discourage its members from using language/lexis that they feel most comfortable with and will help them strive in the field of architecture. When members feel comfortable using their language/lexis, they will feel comfortable when speaking to others and have an open mind to the members who use a different language/lexis than them.
During my journey of researching the AIAS, I have come to realize that this community has really helped me understand John Swale’s characteristics of a discourse community, it also helped me understand the relationships people have with this group and others in it. The AIAS is an incredible organization and researching it has helped me answer the research questions I started with. The biggest thing I learned from this is that the members of the AIAS value communication, friendship, individuality, and diversity very much. Setting goals and having strong values has really set this community apart from the rest. The current members of this community have set high standards for how the AIAS will be viewed by future generations and how people will interact with each other within this community in the future.
- Toot, Robert. “Re: AIAS.” Received by Se’Maj Holiday, 8 Oct. 2018.
- Swales, John. “The Concept of Discourse Communities.” Writing about Writing. Ed. Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2011. 215-228.
- The American Institute of Architecture Students. Dupont Creative, 2018, http://www.aias.org/. 11 Oct. 2018.
- rvtr. Monograph, 2017, http://www.rvtr.com/. 11 Oct. 2018.