Washington, D.C. consistently rates in the top five most desirable cities to visit by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and yet the last time the group held its annual conference there was over 20 years ago. The group has simply outgrown the old convention center. That changed with the opening of the new Walter E. Washington Convention Center, accommodating groups up to 42,000. The size of the convention center enabled the group to host its sessions, but the city’s “easy access to other major cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore and Atlanta, and the incredible wealth of magnificent and architecturally interesting buildings factored into our attendance,” says Christopher Gribbs, managing director of conventions for AIA. The city’s sustainability initiatives also played a role. “Architects are keen on being sustainable,” says Gribbs. This green sensibility propelled the need to secure lodging near public transportation, so D.C.’s citywide bikeshare system and the Circulator, an easy-to-use bus system, appealed to the group’s social consciousness. When it comes to unique spaces, few U.S. cities excel like the nation’s capital. In fact, Destination DC published a thick reference guide called Unique Spaces, which showcases the many special cultural venues in town.
The gala party for 1,200 pax took over the Newseum, a 250,000-sf experience chronicling five centuries of news history with cutting edge technology. “A helicopter hangs in the lobby and the rooftop patio offers an incredible view of the U.S. Capitol building and The White House,” remembers Gribbs. “It’s an amazing location directly across the street from the National Gallery of Art.” Another unique venue, Hirshhorn Museum played host to an exhibit called “Song 1”—an innovative artistic display of what Gribbs calls “fluid architecture.” Video images were keyed to a stirring musical score and projected onto the building’s round exterior walls. The group’s posh Investiture Ceremony was a highlight of the conference, where select members were recognized as exemplary peers for their outstanding standards. The event was held at the soaring Washington National Cathedral, built in 1904, which adds gravitas to any program. Gribbs says, “There’s a stained glass window high up with a solar system design and a piece of moon rock installed in the center. It’s magnificent.” During the 3-day conference, dozens of other city locations were utilized. There were fun runs, a golf tournament, and even a sold out night at the new ballpark designed by local AIA members. “We were lucky to have AIA’s president throw out the first pitch,” says Gribbs. “Washington, D.C. will certainly be on the conference schedule to return.”
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