Thought Leadership Forum Series Reports

Thought Leadership Forum I: Craftsmanship, Design & Cultural Heritage

On December 15, 2014, the American Architectural Foundation’s (AAF) Center for Design and Cultural Heritage convened its inaugural Thought Leadership Forum, “Craftsmanship, Design & Cultural Heritage,” in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the forum was to explore the role of craftsmanship and its role in design and cultural heritage in the 21st century.

Stakeholders in historic preservation, including architects, engineers, craftspeople, and public policy experts attended the forum. The 30 participants shared similar priorities and interests. Bridging the gap between architects/professional designers and craftworkers and rectifying the hierarchy between the two emerged as the primary issues of interest at the Forum. Participants also discussed fostering collaboration between architects and craftworkers and the use and promotion of technology in historic preservation.

To read about the Forum’s conclusions, please read the Final Report here.

Thought Leadership Forum II: Storytelling, Design, and Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century

On July 20, 2015, AAF’s Center for Design and Cultural Heritage held its second Thought Leadership Forum, “Storytelling, Design, and Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century,” in Washington, DC. During the Forum, preservationists, policy-makers, and other cultural-heritage stakeholders discussed storytelling’s role in greater preservation advocacy.

The Forum drew on AAF’s current partnership with the National Park Service’s grant, Save America’s Treasures. Over 20 attendees brought a variety of perspectives to storytelling’s role and impact in preservation, and discussed how audience, technology, narrative and advocacy can be used tactically to broaden preservation’s reach and ensure its livelihood in years to come.

A full report summarizing the forum’s proceedings is available here.

Thought Leadership Forum III: The Politics and Policy of Preservation – Changing Civic Practice in the 21st Century

On July 15, 2016, AAF’s Center for Design and Cultural Heritage held its third Thought Leadership Forum, “The Politics and Policy of Preservation: Changing Civic Practice in the 21st Century,” in Washington, DC. During the Forum, 22 preservationists, policy-makers, architects, and other cultural heritage stakeholders were led through a series of design thinking brainstorming exercises by AAF to generate ideas and issues surrounding the topic.

Some themes that emerged and were explored by the group coalesced around increasing cultural diversity and inclusion, broadening and explaining the values of preservation, creating an expanded and unified definition of preservation that illustrates it is more than just buildings, and exploring ways to increase organizational capacity and funding through new leadership models.  Additional promising ideas included a cultural emergency task force and the need to better use social media more effectively to reach across the generational divide.

A full report summarizing the forum’s proceedings is available here.

The Thought Leadership Forum was created as a series. Please contact Thom Minner at for the next installment of this series.

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The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.