Making Choices

Kathleen Kurtin, OAA FRAIC

As I write this in mid-October, it is a critical time for architects across the country to make important choices. In Ontario, as well as many of the other provinces, our professional self-regulating organizations are holding elections for their councils. Meanwhile, the RAIC, our national advocacy body, is also running elections. And, of course, on the federal stage, various political parties are trying to sway our opinions over who is the best person to govern the country.

Having a federal government that understands issues like the climate crisis and the need for a resilient built environment as well as affordable, accessible housing is vital, but so too is having strong governing councils for our professional regulators and advocacy bodies. This requires architects across the county to take the time to thoroughly research the candidates running in our professional organizations and federal election, and then vote for the choice that reflects their aspirations.

As president of the Ontario Association of Architects, I wrote an open letter earlier this year, challenging members to be more active in our Association’s decision-making. Today, I am challenging all architects across the county to participate in the decision-making of our profession. We are relatively small in number, but a strong architectural profession is critical to the future of our built environment—each of us has a responsibility to contribute to the profession’s continued stability.

Earlier in my career, I volunteered with the Toronto Society of Architects, joining their executive. Through that experience, I realized it was possible to make a difference by getting involved. After a few years, I passed the baton to others as parenting and work took priority. Then, six years ago, I felt it was again time for me to contribute to the profession that had provided me with such a rewarding career. I’ve been an OAA councillor, a vice president, and now the president—the experiences have been both challenging and gratifying as I’ve had the opportunity to work with provincial regulators, national advocacy bodies like the RAIC, and more focused groups in specific areas of allied professionals as well as various levels of government.

A lot has been written about how wonderful it is to be a volunteer, and how great it can feel to give back to your profession, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the amount of time, hard work, and commitment required. I forever express my appreciation to those who helped pave my path as well as to those new volunteers who join the fold.

Some joined a committee for the first time this year, while others have a long history of involvement in various facets of the Association’s work. But for all their differences, they share at least one important thing: a recognition that being part of a self-regulating profession comes with a responsibility—a duty—to participate.

We have been invested with responsibility to our profession and our community to ensure the strength of the architecture profession as it fulfils its critical role in creation and development of the built environment for our communities. It is a privilege for architects to be able to govern themselves, and to be responsible for ensuring we practise architecture in ways that protect the public. In giving the profession the power to set standards, as well as to license and discipline, the provincial governments trust architects to put public interest ahead of personal interest. To maintain this trust, we need strong councils that encompass the skills, knowledge, and experience of our profession.

In the federal election, we see many of the parties striving to put forward candidates reflecting the diversity of our country. As a profession, we must similarly strive to be inclusive, both with our profession, and its governance. To achieve this goal, we need to not only volunteer, but also encourage and support our peers to also volunteer to run for various governing councils and committees.

I know it can be daunting to volunteer, and it can be hard to find time as you balance your career with your personal life. At the very least, for principals of architectural practices, the culture of volunteering should be promoted, supported, and considered part of the cost of doing business in a self-regulating profession.

At a minimum, as a member of a self-regulating profession like architecture, “participation” through voting is critical—not only for your professional association and regulatory body, but also all levels of government. Always make a conscious choice about who you would like to represent you.

Kathleen Kurtin, OAA, FRAIC, is the president of the Ontario Association of Architects. After launching her independent practice in the 1980s, she joined Scotiabank the following decade as its chief architect and director of design, leading architects and designers in the development of the bank’s real estate portfolio globally. In 2014, she re-established her independent practice. Kathleen was instrumental in establishing the OAA’s Safe Work Places Committee, which has sought to make the architecture profession more equitable.