Heather Baugus Koury has been executive director of the American Institute of Architects Memphis chapter for more than a decade, and although she was just named to the distinguished status of Honorary AIA, she’s never considered becoming a practitioner.
Instead, Koury prefers to leave the design to the professionals, allowing her to play to her strengths of organizing, programming and building community partnerships.
“One of the great things about my position beyond the programming, which is fantastic, is it’s been like auditing a class for 10 years,” Koury said. “It’s been really exciting, the opportunities that I’ve had to learn about what architects do, how buildings are built.”
After approaching college with the “fantasy career” mindset that she’d be a visual artist, Koury quickly realized her “brain didn’t function that way.” Koury received her undergraduate degree in art history at the University of Memphis before attending the University of Oregon for a master’s degree in arts administration with a focus on community arts.
She’s also certified in events management.
“I’d always focused on the visual arts or public art from an event standpoint – festivals and things and how they literally bring the community together,” Koury said. “I never really thought about how architecture was kind of the ultimate form of the arts that really has such an important part in the success of a community or the failure of a community, depending on whether or not good design was applied.”
Koury joined AIA Memphis in October 2002 as its first full-time director since being founded in 1953. Last August, approaching her 10-year tenure, she was named the AIA Executive of the Year – an honor that’s traditionally gone to state-level AIA chapters or those in the largest metro areas in the U.S.
From an internal perspective, Koury has elevated AIA Memphis’ brand and credibility by increasing its membership services and scholarships for emerging professionals. In fact, under her leadership, education grants to the chapter have increased by 500 percent.
“Everything that AIA Memphis is being nationally recognized for is because we see the value in community partnerships and creating the programs.”
–Heather Baugus Koury
Moreover, Koury has grown the organization’s programming from an annual calendar of 25 programs to more than 70 events, and special initiatives a year including significant and ever growing partnership-based programs.
That includes partnering with Memphis in May International Festival for the Discovering Architects of the World speaker series as well as teaming up with the University of Memphis for the exhibition of 20th century African-American architect Paul Revere Williams at the Art Museum.
AIA Memphis has also been instrumental in helping realize the Discovering Architecture summer day camp for high school students and the Junior Girl Scout Architecture Badge Camp.
“Everything that AIA Memphis is being nationally recognized for is because we see the value in community partnerships and creating the programs and educational outreach efforts,” Koury said. “A lot of what has gotten great exposure is through that constant dialogue that we have with partners in the community about what more can we be doing.”
Building on the AIA 150 national initiative to encourage communities to focus on legacy projects, Koury steered the founding of the Memphis Regional Design Center under the AIA Memphis umbrella into the separate 501(c)(3) entity that it is today. She’s currently working with archimania’s Matt Seltzer to launch a local design alliance.
The collaborative is in the early stages right now, but has already established Crosstown Arts as one of its community partners.
“One of the things that Memphis is missing is an opportunity for creatives to get together and share not only information and knowledge, but also collectively get inspired,” Koury said. “The idea is to bring together some of the substantial art communities – whether it’s music, film, architecture, product design or our tremendous literary community – and provide programs, social opportunities, lectures and things that have kind of a cross disciplinary appeal.”
Koury said the architecture industry’s greatest economic obstacles are starting to dissipate, as evidenced by the Architecture Billings Index showing an upward movement in recent times. She expects that to result in practitioners getting more projects up and running and securing funding for projects that have been on hold.
“We’re really seeing that that’s starting to finally take a turn,” Koury said. “It’s not only a sign that things are improving within the architecture industry, because so many industries are touched within architecture and construction.”