A friend to budding architects and a supporter of the Chicago design community, Legat Architects’ Justin Banda accepts a leadership role on the American Institute of Architects’ Chicago Board of Directors
After they enter the workforce, architecture program graduates often feel lost when it comes to connecting to the larger Chicago design community. Fortunately, the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is there to help . . . as is Justin Banda, who has a passion for involving emerging professionals in programs intended to build their skills and their professional networks. In December 2020, Legat Architects’ Banda was elected associate director of the AIA Chicago Board of Directors.
During his two-year term in the position, Banda will draw from his experience as the Chicago delegate for the AIA Illinois’ Emerging Professionals Network (since 2020) and as co-chair of AIA Chicago’s Young Architects Forum (since 2019) to help his peers by better connecting them to AIA resources.
Banda said, “In this new role, I want to tap into the energy among Chicago’s vibrant network of emerging professionals and increase their involvement in advocacy, and by extension, membership.”
Looking Out for the Newbie
The American Institute of Architects Students (AIAS) chapter at Judson University (Elgin, Illinois) had been slowly disintegrating until it had only one member. Then Justin Banda, a junior at the time, joined. Banda and his peers (including future Legat coworker Tyler Wade) worked to restore the chapter. Within two years, more than 20 students in the university’s architecture program had joined.
During the next 10 years, Banda would earn his master’s degree from Judson, join Legat’s studio in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, grow his network, and work on high-profile design projects throughout Chicagoland. Throughout this time, however, Banda remained attuned to the plight of the emerging professional.
Not only does Legat’s leadership encourage Banda and his coworkers to be active in AIA, but the firm also covers all employee membership dues. “Legat’s 100% coverage is incredibly rare among architecture firms,” said Banda. “I’ve seen most firms pay around 50% or less, if anything. For a young person coming out of school without a job lined up, the cost of membership can seem daunting, and yet the opportunities that AIA provides can be priceless to someone looking for work.”
Thus, one of Banda’s missions as an AIA Chicago board member is to make the transition into professional life easier to navigate for emerging professionals. Part of that means incentivizing other Chicago design firms to cover all or most employee membership dues, increasing equity in access to AIA benefits, and highlighting the AIA Chicago platform to city leaders. To that end, Banda will be joining the Membership, Advocacy, and EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) committees.
Think Tank Expansion
In 2019, Legat appointed Banda coordinator of its Think Tank, an annual symposium that brings together architecture/engineering/construction professionals and building owners to discuss current design challenges. Relying on his academic and design community connections, Banda helped align Think Tank topics with broader discussions happening in Chicago, the state of Illinois, the Midwest, and beyond. He not only broadened the event’s audience, but also helped expand its subject matter by introducing diverse speakers ranging from academics and policymakers to urbanists and critics. All these efforts, of course, brought more emerging professionals from colleges and design firms to the event.
Ted Haug, Legat’s head of design, said, “Justin’s ability to take the reins, combined with his familiarity with the most pressing regional design issues and his passion for making connections, has helped make the Think Tank a prominent event in the Chicago design community.”
Paying It Forward and Showing Up
From the older students at Judson who encouraged him to get involved in AIAS to coworkers who celebrated his role in AIA Chicago, Justin Banda has learned about the importance of supporting young designers. “Those small pushes in the right direction made a world of difference to me,” he said. “That’s why it’s important that I pay it forward.”
Banda believes that there is a prevalent myth that people in leadership roles are chosen to lead because of some indefinable quality.
“The truth is that half the battle is showing up,” he said. “When an emerging professional attends a workshop, regularly participates in an AIA Knowledge Community, or otherwise becomes a reliable face, it shows that the person is at least partially invested. Those in leadership positions notice this commitment. When the question of who will represent the next generation of designers arises, the answer is often a simple one: the person who shows up.”
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