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VOL. 7 | NO. 26 | Saturday, June 21, 2014

Koury Helps Local AIA Serve Community

By Amos Maki

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In 2010, the American Institute of Architects Memphis chapter launched lunITECTS, a non-professional group for people who have a keen interest in architecture and design.

Heather Koury, executive director the American Institute of Architects Memphis.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

During exclusive tours the lunITECTS visit neighborhoods, buildings and homes, all part of an effort to generate greater public discourse and involvement about architecture and design in the community.

“It became a perfect opportunity for us to step in and create a group for non-practitioners,” said Heather Koury, executive director of AIA Memphis. “It’s become this community of people who are passionate about architecture from the community side.”

The program is close to Koury’s heart. Having received degrees in arts history and arts administration, Koury is not a professional architect.

“Because I didn’t come from a professional architecture background I have a kindred spirit with them,” said Koury. “I wanted to be an artist and didn’t have a skill set for that so I went into arts management and got involved in community arts, which lead to AIA.”

Despite not having formal architectural training, Koury has risen to prominence in the field locally and nationally, becoming a vital voice for architects, designers, artists and the public.

Koury won the prestigious AIA Executive of the Year award in 2012, and in 2013 she was given Honorary AIA status, the highest level of recognition a non-licensed architect can receive in the organization.

More recently, AIA tapped Koury to be one of four chapter executives represented on a task force to assist the national organization in a “repositioning” for the future.

“Because I have a lot of great people to work with, AIA Memphis is seen as one of the strongest chapters as far as innovation,” Koury said. “It’s been an exciting couple of years for me professionally. It’s great to be recognized for what we’re doing in the community.”

Having an extensive background in the arts and a history of working with community-based groups, Koury joined AIA Memphis in 2002 as the organization sought to become more community oriented instead of just a support and networking group for local professionals.

“I was very interested in somehow bringing together my interest in the arts and the community, and I think it’s fair to say they saw my background as a perfect fit for where we were at that time,” Koury said. “At least for me I know I was able to see things with fresh eyes and see the public’s view of the profession.”

AIA has ramped up its public programming and engagement efforts. Events include Third Thursday, which is open to the public on the third Thursday of each month and allows architects and designers to share their expertise on local and national projects, and On the Boards, which gives members and firms the opportunity to publicly showcase their work prior to completion.

“As a chapter, there are so many programs we offer,” Koury said. “We’re beyond the first step. We’ve come a long way in the last 10 to 12 years.”

The overarching goal is to advocate and educate AIA members and the public on the principle of good, sound design.

“We speak up for good design not just through the architectural side but through the citizens’ side,” Koury said. “We serve the community as much as we serve our members but it’s through our members and all that they’re doing that we can be involved in things.”

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