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A new home for architects

The Washington, D.C., chapter of American Institute of Architects will move to 7th Street, NW. (Courtesy of AIA | DC)

By Philip Kennicott

After years of working out of a small row house in Dupont Circle, the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Institute of Architects has leased space in the heart of one of the city's most active neighborhoods. Mary Fitch, executive director of the Washington AIA, says her group has found an 11,000 square foot storefront home on 7th Street, NW that will allow it to play a much more public role in the city's architectural life, mounting exhibitions, offering lectures and serving people who gather for its frequent architectural tours of the District.

The new AIA facility will be on the ground floor of 419 Seventh St. NW, currently a souvenir shop. The building is known as the Odd Fellows Temple, for its owners, a philanthropic fraternal organization that has owned the space since 1917. The group still uses the top of the building for its meetings.

The move to the 7th Street corridor (now "mosquito" free), will allow the AIA chapter to show the flag near some of the city's most consistently popular cultural attractions, including the International Spy Museum, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum and the Shakespeare Theatre's two venues.

"This has been a long process of 'what's our role in the city?'," says Fitch. "There is a sense that the AIA is bunch of old guys in a well-paneled club setting. We don't fit that definition any more. We are much more out in the city."

Along with a foundation that supports its outreach activities, the AIA chapter is engaged in educational efforts in local schools, an annual "architecture week," and an active schedule of tours. The exhibition space will allow it not only to showcase the work of local architects, but to present traveling exhibitions that are seen at other national chapters of the AIA, and to introduce the work of international architects to a D.C. audience.

Fitch says the space will be designed by the winner of a competition, which began yesterday. Applicants have until 4 p.m. on October 12 to submit their ideas. It's a fast track, but Fitch says the chapter is committed to the process.

"We are very serious that whatever wins we'll build," she says.

For more information, go to

By Philip Kennicott  | October 6, 2010; 4:20 PM ET
Categories:  Architecture, Philip Kennicott  
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